CHARLESTON - A Clay County woman seeks accountability from a state agency she alleges falsely accused her of abusing one of her children.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources and Cabinet Secretary Karen Bowling are named as co-defendants in a civil rights lawsuit filed by Kelli Eagle. In her complaint filed Sept. 3 in Kanawha Circuit Court, Eagle alleges DHHR improperly separated her from one of her sons for nearly six weeks following unsubstantiated allegations she abused one of her other children.
Under state law, Kanawha County has original jurisdiction in suits involving state agencies.
According to the complaint, Leah Bush, a Child Protective Services worker, on Sept. 2, 2011, filed an application in Clay Magistrate Court for emergency removal of Eagle’s then-six-month old son, Lathan. In her application, Bush asserted that “sexual abuse had occurred against a half-sibling at the hands of the mother.”
The half-sibling is not identified in the complaint. Sometime thereafter, the complaint states DHHR was granted permission to remove Lathan from Eagle’s care, and begin formal abuse, and neglect proceedings against her.
Information DHHR later disclosed to her, Eagle says, revealed the allegations of abuse were lodged against Lathan’s uncle in Marion County on July 1, 2011. In response to the allegations, DHHR’s Marion County office conducted a forensic interview of Lathan’s half-sibling six days later.
According to the complaint, the person who interviewed the child “determined that no sexual abuse had occurred at the hands of the uncle.” However, “amid the confusing and inconsistent statements of the child, there had been a vague reference of abuse at the hands of the natural father and that a follow up investigation of the father would be appropriate.”
As a result, the Marion County office two days later transferred the case to the Clay County office for it to open an investigation into Eagle, and the natural father, who is not identified. However, the complaint states that DHHR “did admit that absolutely no investigation had been performed between transferring the case to Clay County and the filing of the aforementioned request for emergency removal.”
According to the complaint, following a hearing in Clay Circuit Court on an unspecified date, Lathan was ordered returned to Eagle’s custody after DHHR failed to prove he’d either been abused, or neglected. She avers they were separated for a total of 43 days.
The separation, Eagle says, was traumatic for both she, and Lathan, who she alleges, still suffers emotional distress two years later caused by the negligence and fraud of DHHR. In her suit, she seeks unspecified damages.
She is represented by Gassaway attorney Dan Grindo. The case is assigned to Judge Tod J. Kaufman.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 13-C-1665