Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday permitted a $1.85-million cost to settle a whistleblower lawsuit introduced by a former county social employee who alleged he had uncovered a sample of systemic misconduct that endangered hundreds of kids, information present.
In line with an amended civil grievance filed in L.A. County Superior Court docket on June 23, 2020, Dennis Finn was a social employee with the county’s Division of Youngsters and Household Providers for twenty-four years when he was fired on Could 22, 2019, after repeatedly elevating his considerations with the division and turning into a whistleblower for California state officers.
Finn’s suspicions of misconduct arose following the death of Gabriel Fernandez, the grievance acknowledged. The 8-year-old boy died on Could 24, 2013, two days after he was crushed in his Palmdale dwelling.
A Instances overview of confidential paperwork within the days after his dying revealed that county social staff left Gabriel within the care of his mom and his mom’s boyfriend regardless of six investigations into abuse allegations involving the mom over the earlier decade.
Gabriel’s mom, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, was sentenced to life without parole in 2018. Her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, obtained a dying sentence.
The case put DCFS beneath intense scrutiny. Officers assembled a Blue Ribbon Fee on Youngster Safety, which recommended a series of reforms.
Finn, in the meantime, began digging.
By 2016, he’d famous ongoing points much like the delayed or inappropriate responses main as much as Gabriel’s dying, the grievance acknowledged.
Finn found that calls reporting suspected baby abuse, neglect and exploitation, which ought to have warranted fast motion by authorities, “have been being systematically delayed,” in line with the grievance.
Some calls weren’t entered till later dates, the paperwork acknowledged, and others have been put into DCFS techniques beneath an improper code, as consultations as an alternative of emergency response referrals.
“These situations of delays and miscoding resulted in deep systematic flaw[s] whereby youngsters suffered continued abuse, extreme accidents, and different brutal acts resulting from a failure of defendants to make sure that their reporting and intervention have been being carried out correctly and in a way compliant with related rules,” the grievance acknowledged.
Finn reported the issues internally however later took his considerations to union representatives, hotline supervisors, the California Division of Social Providers and different county businesses after his preliminary efforts have been ignored or retaliated towards, court docket paperwork acknowledged.
A county spokesperson didn’t provide an announcement relating to the case or the settlement.
Finn’s lawsuit alleged the retaliation “initially took on three principal varieties.”
The division undermined Finn’s long-term incapacity lodging that had beforehand allowed him to work at home, court docket paperwork acknowledged. He was returned to work in December 2016, after he filed a grievance with the U.S. Equal Employment Alternative Fee and mediation.
In early 2017, Finn was reassigned “the place he confronted much more hurdles and retaliatory motion,” the grievance acknowledged.
The division’s senior administration accused him in February of that 12 months of falsifying medical information he’d submitted in assist of staff’ compensation and incapacity claims, in line with the grievance. The investigation remained pending for weeks till he was cleared and advised the allegations couldn’t be substantiated on April 10, 2017, the grievance acknowledged.
“Only a few months later in August of 2017, he was summarily downgraded on his annual evaluations,” the grievance acknowledged. “In earlier years, [Finn] was held in excessive regards as an ideal worker and advocate of DCFS.”
He had been tasked at numerous factors with coaching new hires on the division, and from 2013 to 2015 his efficiency evaluations rated him as “excellent,” the grievance acknowledged.
“Moreover, Plaintiff Finn had garnered quite a few awards, commendations, distinctions, and constructive evaluations all through his many years with DCFS,” the grievance acknowledged. “The downgrade of Plaintiff Finn’s annual efficiency abruptly in 2017, after he started reporting flaws within the DCFS system and retaliation, is a trademark of systematic retaliatory actions taken towards Plaintiff Finn by DCFS.”
By June 2017, he had grow to be a confidential whistleblower with the state’s Division of Social Providers and a state investigation was launched, the grievance stated.
State investigators discovered, by that December, a number of entries within the county’s system that weren’t in compliance with “state rules regarding correct date on referrals,” the grievance acknowledged.
In late October 2017, state investigators requested Finn for present examples of misconduct or dangerous practices, court docket paperwork stated. He browsed by the county’s reporting techniques and “rapidly discovered an entry of kid fatality and a number of other different harmful entries.”
“Probably the most notable was the Jaliyah Hickman and Camille Brewster case … which had occurred just some weeks prior,” the grievance acknowledged.
In that case, two sisters, ages 1 month and seven years, have been killed by their mom, Jasmine Hickman, “who was within the midst of reported weird habits, psychotic and unstable habits,” in line with the grievance.
Finn discovered that a number of individuals, together with the ladies’ grandmother and Hickman’s landlord, who was required by legislation to report suspected baby abuse, known as a county hotline to share considerations that Hickman was behaving erratically and posed a hazard to her youngsters; there have been not less than three calls to the hotline, “none of which have been correctly evaluated, recorded, or acted upon,” the grievance acknowledged.
In a single occasion, a social employee needed to advocate extra fast intervention, however a supervisor overruled the worker and downgraded the response “regardless of two prior calls, a 911 name and a supposed police go to,” the grievance acknowledged.
Early on the morning of Oct. 19, 2017, Hickman was seen strolling on public streets, carrying and breastfeeding her new child daughter and holding her 7-year-old daughter’s hand, in line with the paperwork. The three have been bare and lined in a white powder. As they walked, Hickman tried to open the doorways of parked automobiles.
“Finally, all three have been discovered unconscious, laying on the bottom, in a parking zone a number of blocks from Jasmine’s dwelling,” the paperwork acknowledged. “The new child daughter died that day. Shortly thereafter, the 7-year outdated daughter died.”
Hickman was arrested and charged with two counts every of homicide and baby abuse, court docket information present. Her felony case is ongoing.
Though state investigators advised Finn he could be protected by whistleblower legal guidelines after they requested him to entry county information, retaliation by county officers continued, in line with the grievance.
Round Could 18, 2018, he was accused by DCFS of improperly accessing a referral within the Hickman case and of fixing the unique date and time of the referral, the grievance acknowledged. He was fired on Could 22, 2019.
In his discharge papers, division officers faulted Finn for accessing information a couple of high-profile case and made “extremely particular allegations” about which information he accessed and the file he supposedly fabricated, the grievance acknowledged.
However the county’s claims ignored that Finn was performing beneath the course of state investigators, “and was doing so rightfully and within the title of kid security,” the grievance acknowledged.