Man says DHHR failures led to sister's death

CHARLESTON -- A man has filed a suit against the state Department of Health and Human Resources and the Office of the Attorney General, stating the department is responsible in overseeing his child abuse case, leading to the death of his sister.

Mark Dwayne Spradlin, formerly known as Mark Dwayne Bennett, is the brother of Alisha Bennett, who passed away in 1992. Alisha Bennett died from the results of abuse inflicted upon her by Thomas M. "Mick" Ewing, who was living in their home at the time.

In August 1991, the DHHR filed a verified petition in the Circuit Court of Pocahontas County, seeking emergency custody of Mark and Alisha Bennett.

The department sought custody because of allegations the children had been abused and neglected while in the care and custody of their mother, Lisa Bennett.

The suit state specifically Ewing, a live-in boyfriend, physically abused and mistreated the Mark Bennett, and Alisha Bennett also showed signs of abuse.

Custody was awarded to the DHHR, pending a 6-month improvement period, during which Lisa Bennett had to demonstrate she could protect and care for her children in complying with a "Family Case Plan," prepared by employees of the DHHR.

However, prior to the end of the six months, custody was returned, although the DHHR retained legal custody of the children.

Ewing remained in the Bennett home.

The suit states that in the time following, "Lisa Bennett did not comply with the terms, conditions and requirements of the Family Care Plan," and permitted Ewing to frequent the home regularly, if not constantly.

The DHHR was given several reports Ewing was in the home, yet "took no steps to prevent Mick Ewing from being in the home or to protect the Bennett children, other than to talk to Lisa Bennett about the reports."

In January 1992, a new guideline was set forth to keep Ewing out of the home, yet he continued to live there. Allegations came on Feb. 24, 1992 that Ewing was still in the home and Lisa Bennett "is a young, sometimes irresponsible, mother who has placed a low priority on her children and failed to protect them."

The DHHR then closed the case, yet remained involved, mandating counseling and parenting classes for Ewing.

"Tragically and disgustingly," on Aug. 8, 1992, while living in the Bennett home, and while the DHHR continued to provide services, Ewing beat Alisha Bennett to death in the Bennett home.

Mark Bennett, now Mark Spradlin, is seeking recovery under and up to the limits of the state of West Virginia's liability insurance coverage for the actions, or inactions, of the DHHR.

Spradlin seeks judgement entered in amount excess of the court's jurisdictional minimum, award pre- and post-judgement interest; attorney's fees and costs; liquidated damages; compensatory damages; annoyance; inconvenience; mental anguish; insult; indignity; humiliation; and such other full relief as court deems appropriate under the circumstances.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 06-C-2652

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