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Repeatedly raped by a 14-year-old foster child

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Lukes Dad's picture
on Thu, 06/07/2012 - 07:24
Fight Child Protection Department Corruption: 

Kenny Bryan told jurors his future was derailed at age 9 when he was repeatedly raped by a 14-year-old foster child whom Erie County caseworkers had placed in his adoptive parents' home.

A federal jury deliberated about five and a half hours Friday before giving the now-20-year-old Bryan an $8,654,769 new start.

The panel meant the award to cover Bryan's past medical bills, his lost earnings, and his emotional suffering, juror Bridget Swick, of Meadville, said.

The verdict also was meant to send a message and spare any other child Bryan's fate, she and other jurors said.

"Maybe they will think twice about their procedures," Swick said of the Erie County Office of Children and Youth.

With the verdict, the jury accepted Bryan's claim that former Erie County OCY caseworkers Cindy Baxter and Renie Skalko violated his civil rights when they placed the foster teen, J.O., who had a history of past sexual offenses, in the home of his adoptive parents in 2001.

Bryan was repeatedly hospitalized after the assaults and suffers from debilitating mental-health conditions that were either exacerbated or induced by J.O's sexual assaults.

The jury rejected the defendants' claim that the Bryans had adequate notice of J.O.'s problems and facilitated the assaults by placing him in a bedroom with Bryan.

Bryan and his parents rejoiced with their lawyers, Jay Paul Deratany, Jeffrey G. Mashni, and Andrea Mac Iver, of Chicago, and Timothy D. McNair, of Erie, after the verdict was read in U.S. District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin's courtroom. For long minutes, they stood in the hallway and talked with the jury.

Bryan said he hopes to earn his general-equivalency diploma, possibly attend a Christian college, and one day "help other troubled kids."

Bryan's mother, Bonnie Bryan, stressed her gratitude to the jury. "Thank you for listening. Thank you for hearing the truth and recognizing the lies," she said. "This family has to heal, which we have not been able to do for 10 years."

The Bryans first filed the lawsuit in 2003. At one point, it was thrown out of court before a ruling from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put it back in motion in 2008.

Bonnie Bryan said the verdict was important to the family, "but more importantly," she said, "what kept us going, it is for all the families in the country who have been hurt by the very broken child-welfare system."

Deratany said the verdict reached beyond the trauma inflicted on the Bryan family.

"The foster-care system in this entire country is broken," Deratany said. "There are too many kids who are placed too quickly without enough thought. In defense of Erie County Office of Children and Youth, they need reform, but they also need help for making those reforms. We need legislation to guide it. It goes all the way up the chain."

Pamela V. Collis, of Pittsburgh, who represented the caseworkers on behalf of Erie County, declined to comment after the verdict was read.

The jury award brought to an end a trial that began May 22. The county's insurance is expected to cover the award.

Kenny Bryan's legal team presented evidence that he had suffered abuse at the hands of his biological family and lived in eight different placements before Paul and Bonnie Bryan took him in at the age of 6 in 1998. He had been diagnosed with multiple mental-health problems, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, reactive attachment disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.

Deratany argued Kenny Bryan improved under the care of Paul and Bonnie Bryan. Kenny Bryan, at one point diagnosed as possibly mentally disabled, was doing grade-level school work by the fall of 1999. He was formally adopted by Paul and Bonnie Bryan on April 24, 2000, a day, Kenny Bryan told jurors, was the happiest in his life.

Deratany said Baxter and Skalko derailed Kenny Bryan's fragile recovery when they placed J.O. in the Bryan family's Cambridge Springs home in 2001. Kenny Bryan was repeatedly assaulted before he reported the abuse and J.O. was removed from the home in August 2001. The rapes inflicted post-traumatic stress disorder and exacerbated Kenny Bryan's earlier diagnoses.

Records in J.O.'s OCY file contained multiple reports of sexually aggressive behavior toward younger children, and before his placement in the Bryan home, he was in a residential treatment program for sexual offenders.

Deratany argued that Baxter and Skalko could have foreseen the assaults and were deliberately indifferent to the risk of harm that J.O. posed to Kenny Bryan.

The Bryans, he said, had specifically indicated they did not want a sexual offender in their home. Moreover, the document that OCY gave the Bryans about J.O.'s background skipped any reference to his sexual problems.

Collis countered the caseworkers had a duty to place J.O. in the least-restrictive environment possible. She claimed the Bryan family was aware J.O. was in treatment for sexually inappropriate behavior.

Collis also argued Kenny Bryan's problems predated the rapes. She argued he was not due any damages because he would never have been employable regardless of the assaults.