April 17, 2014

Elyria
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Father sues Children Services over child endangering case

ELYRIA — Rayshaun Powell, the father of three of Erica Perez’s children, has filed a lawsuit against Lorain County Children Services and the caseworkers involved in his children’s case, alleging that their actions put his children’s lives in jeopardy.

Powell, who is currently incarcerated at Lorain Correctional Institution on a rape charge, was in jail when Perez, to whom he is married, was charged with seven counts of child endangering in July after police found her home in disarray and seven of her children dirty and neglected. Another child had been staying with relatives and was not at the home.

Perez, who is pregnant, was intoxicated at the time of her arrest, which was prompted after she started yelling at neighbors, who called the police.

The lawsuit, a handwritten document filed by Powell without the benefit of an attorney, is seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages from Children Services. It alleges that Children Services, its director Gary Crow, caseworker Steven Silva and his supervisor Nancy Griffiths violated several civil rights by failing to report neglect and dependency of a child, depriving the children of their health and welfare and inflicting emotional distress on his family.

Children Services has been involved with the Perez family since 2001, according to court documents.

The agency was involved in 15 investigations of Perez’s family since that time, in 13 different residences, according to a case plan. Several family members expressed concern over the years about Perez’s ability to care for the children.

The children were taken away from Perez in 2008, but they were returned to her months later and remained in Perez’s care until her arrest.

Powell referenced court documents in which Silva reported visiting the home in January and observed it in a filthy condition. Silva reported that the home had very little furniture, and the children slept on a mattress on the floor.

On Feb. 2, Silva again visited the home and found the children alone with a lit candle in the house, according to court paperwork.

Powell said in the lawsuit Perez has been unfit to care for the children since 2001, and Children Services knowingly allowed the children to reside in an “unsafe, unhealthy and unsupervised home.”

Silva resigned during an internal investigation of the agency’s handling of the case. Griffiths was placed on unpaid leave for two weeks, and Children Services spokeswoman Patty-Jo Burtnett issued a statement following the investigation that “Lorain County Children Services clearly should have taken more definitive action in February 2012, especially since there have been multiple referrals to the agency.”

In the lawsuit, Powell alleges that Children Services’ actions were reckless and they ignored “duly-appointed duties to protect the children of Powell and Perez from a mother who Stephen Silva, the caseworker, claimed was mentally ill.”

In a case plan made by the Children Services board and caseworker Jennifer Stopper that was reviewed May 21, the agency noted that Perez may have been suffering from a mental illness and was recovering from a cocaine addiction.

The agency noted in the plan, “LCCS has concerns that Erica Perez may suffer from an undiagnosed mental illness due to (her) inability to recognize some of the extreme parenting methods used.”

The case plan noted that Perez had a history of recurrent depression, and she was sent to the Nord Center for an assessment and treatment. Perez reportedly did not follow her treatment plan.

Perez also provided one negative drug screen during an early intervention by Children Services. The agency noted that she had a history of chemical dependency treatment for cocaine abuse, but Perez did not follow the plan to be re-evaluated, and Children Services wrote that the present status of her chemical dependency and sobriety was unknown.

During Children Services’ intervention, Perez’s children remained in her care, but the agency petitioned to move the children to Florida with Perez’s mother. According to the plan, Perez agreed to the custody arrangement, and protective supervision was supposed to be granted in court May 31, but the children remained in Perez’s care until July.

According to the plan, a friend was living with Perez during that time to help her care for the children.

Burtnett had declined to comment on specifics of the case, citing confidentiality laws. She said Thursday that the agency has not received notice of the lawsuit as of yet, so she could not comment on the allegations it contains.

Powell alleges that he suffered “physical injury and mental anguish in connection with having to watch forcefully his children being treated like animals, and being depraved of life, liberty and the future of property …”

Powell said his mother petitioned for custody of the children, but Children Services would not recommend her for custody.

Esther Wyatt, grandmother of Perez’s three other children, had also contacted Children Services for custody of the children but was excluded as a placement option. According to the case plan, Perez did not want Wyatt’s son, Travis Wyatt, to have custody.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.