The biological family of two small California boys who authorities say were killed by their adoptive parents has filed a federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations and wrongful death.
Ryan Dean and Dana Moorer, the boys’ biological mother and grandmother, allege the toddlers were taken from their mother unlawfully and placed into the care of the couple who now face murder charges in their deaths.
Classic Pettus, 4, and 3-year-old Cinsere Pettus were reported missing from their foster parents’ backyard in California City on December 21, 2020, the Associated Press reports. The boys’ bodies have not been found, but Kern County prosecutors said in March that an investigation determined they are deceased.
Their adoptive parents, Trezell and Jacqueline West, have pleaded not guilty to multiple charges including two counts of second-degree murder and felony child abuse. Their criminal trial is set to begin next month.
The civil rights and wrongful-death suit filed on Friday includes a lengthy list of defendants including the Wests, the California Department of Social Services and its department director Kim Johnson, the Kern County Department of Human Services and its former department director Dena Murphy, county social worker Ana Zavala-Garza, and several individuals whose identities are not yet known, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Dean and Moorer’s suit alleges the foster home was a “state-created danger” that led to the eventual disappearance and deaths of the children. They are seeking $40 million in monetary damages.
“I just feel like I didn’t deserve this,” Dean said during a San Francisco press conference on Tuesday, according to AP. “I’m not a criminal. I don’t have a bad record.”
Dean’s custody battle began Nov. 13, 2016 when she returned home from work to find her older son—who was three months at the time—crying uncontrollably, the lawsuit states. The child’s biological father, Charles Pettus, said he had given his son two baths that day and nothing else happened, but when Dean took the infant to the emergency room, it was determined that he had two broken legs, according to court documents. Kern County social workers removed him from Dean’s custody later that day because “they believed he had been abused,” the lawsuit states.
When Dean gave birth to another son in June 2017, a sheriff’s deputy took him away because Human Services officials said “they like to keep siblings together,” according to the lawsuit. The children were placed in the foster home of Latoya Spry who allowed Dean to make weekly visits, the Times reports.
But by late 2018, the boys were removed from the Spry’s home, and placed with the Wests—a move Dean and Moorer allege that the defendants made “for financial gain,” according to court documents.
The lawsuit alleges that California Department of Social Services officials incentivize Kern County to remove children from the foster care system within two years.
“At this time there was no reason given why Cinsere and Classic were moved from Ms. Spry’s care to the Wests’,” the lawsuit states. “After the children were in the foster care of the Wests, Ms. Dean was not allowed to bond with the children as often as before.”
During subsequent visits, Dean began to notice that her children were losing weight and that the younger boy had scratches on his face, the suit states.
“In November 2018, Ms. Dean wrote a letter expressing her concerns about the lack of proper care her children were receiving while in the foster care of the Wests. No one ever provided a response to the letter,” the lawsuit states, further claiming that Dean filed formal reunification requests which were also ignored.
Dean’s attorney, Waukeen McCoy, said Moorer also completed parenting classes and a psychological review in an attempt to get her grandsons but was denied, AP reports.
The Wests renamed the boys Orrin and Orson West, but the lawsuit refers to them by their birth names.
McCoy told the Times that under the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, enacted in 2018, social workers are expected to prioritize placing children who are taken from their parents’ custody into the home of a relative. He said that Kern County and state officials failed to abide by this act.
“They failed this family,” he said.
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