Kristen Stillman can't sue Colorado, but judge finds a loophole in Chandler Grafner case

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Kristen Stillman.
When people hear Kristen Stillman's story -- how her mother left eight-year-old Kristen and her twin brother, Will, at a house where they suffered horrific abuse for a decade, with Kristen giving birth to four children by head of the household/rapist Eric Torrez by the time she was twenty -- they cannot believe it happened in Denver. And then they wonder if the Stillmans are suing Denver.

Short answer: no. Even though the Denver Department of Human Services received numerous tips that something was going terribly wrong in that house, and social workers even called on the family, no action was taken to help Kristen, who finally found the will and means to break free when she learned that her oldest daughter was being abused by her rapist's father. But the department is protected by Colorado's Governmental Immunity Act.

I first told Kristen's story in September 2010, when she was giving up custody to her four children so that they could grow up in real families, an experience she'd never had. At the time, she wasn't looking to sue anyone; all she wanted was for the county to quit billing her for the foster care for those children -- all of whom she loved, all of them the result of rapes that would never have happened if the Denver Department of Human Services had taken care of her and Will when they were kids.

But as the Stillman story spread across the country -- in Glamour, with Anderson Cooper on CNN -- lawyers who wanted to help the twins looked into whether it was possible to sue the Denver Department of Human Services, despite the strict law that gives state agencies immunity.

Jaycee Dugard got $21 million from California, but it's unlikely that Kristen and Will Stillman will ever see a dime from this state. Attorney John Sciopione signed on to help Kristen, looking for loopholes but not finding any. The best route, he says, would be for legislators to take up this cause and pass a law that would give an exemption to victims in very unusual circumstances -- and hold government agencies accountable when they screw up this badly. And that's all Kristen really wants.

But on Tuesday, a federal judge found another way to let a wrongful-death lawsuit go forward against two employees of the Denver Department of Human Services in the case of Chandler Grafner, the seven-year-old boy who starved to death after his foster parents locked him in a closet. A school worker had warned Human Services of suspected abuse; the employees who investigated decided the tip was unfounded.

While the agency itself has immunity, U.S. District Judge William Martinez decided that its two employees did not. "Had Defendants properly exercised their professional judgment in response to the April 17, 2007 referral, these injuries may well have been avoided," he said, allowing the lawsuit filed by Chandler's actual mother and father to go forward -- at least against the two employees, whose failure to act "shocked the conscience."

Sadly, this is not the only shocking situation in Colorado. Sciopione is still looking for a lawmaker willing to give Colorado a conscience.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Molly Midyette denied a new trial after judge rules she wasn't a battered woman (VIDEO)."

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9 comments
michele
michele

These stories need national attention via Bill O'Reilly.. Nancy Grace.... the state MUST be held accountable for turning their backs on thise innocent children.

fratdawgg23
fratdawgg23

The silence of the pro-life hypocrites on this issue should prove to everyone just how mentally defective and sexually deviant their platform is.

Lizzie Gowers
Lizzie Gowers

I firmly believe she's being denied the ability to sue because her rapist is (was?) a judge. As for DHS, I have always maintained that they're where they don't need to be and never where they should be; they're so rarely doing the right thing.

Agreed
Agreed

I believe so too.  When minimal intervention is needed in a family, they come in and muddy the waters until it's a full blown crisis.  Meanwhile, children are disappearing while people collect money from the state and a boy starves to death in a closet.  It's outrageous and people should be made aware about just how much power this agency has and how absolutely powerless families are to fight them.

Lgoodwin69@msn.com
Lgoodwin69@msn.com

It seems this a shield to protect these agencies that are suppose to do their job and clearly don't!! This is absolutely appalling that the state of Colorado does not hold these departments accountable and continue to let them have jobs where they are endangering more children's lives than they are helping them!!! Sickening!!! Wake up Colorado!!!!!

ListenWell
ListenWell

The Department of Human Services is unacceptably flawed on so many levels.  They take advantage of and bully uneducated parents who are scared to lose their children so they agree to plead in D & N cases.  They separate siblings and then step out once placement is made, giving people no ability to enforce the court order that says the siblings must be able to see one another.  They do not follow-up when placement is made and therefore, children who have had issues or trauma, recieve no counseling or services to cope, let alone a social worker making sure that the placement has been successful and the children are adjusting and doing OK.  Why should DHS be immune from being sued? Their job is to protect and help families, and if they blatently fail to do so, they should be held accountable.

Shannen
Shannen

I wish there was some sort of petition we could sign to help her case. This is so horrible.

Wjosler
Wjosler

A point of discussion. Who would want to work for DDHS when you could be individually sued for every decision made. House, savings, retirement at risk for a relatively low paying job. The problem is usually the system, overwhelmed with too many cases, not enough resources, confusing law.Are you, the readers willing to pay more taxes? Work for DDHS?Rather than giving $20M to an individual and 40% to the lawyer, why not fund the services?(For the record, I do not work for DDHS, nor any govermental agency. I do provide healthcare.)

Guest
Guest

this law needs to be changed. there MUST be accountability.

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