PORTLAND — The state of Oregon has agreed to pay $15 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of nine children abused by a Salem foster parent. The payout is a record for wrongdoing by an Oregon agency.
Attorney Steven Rizzo filed the suit against the Oregon Department of Human Services on behalf of infants and toddlers ranging in age from 2 days to 3 years, reported The Oregonian. It claims department employees ignored signs of abuse by former foster parent 31-year-old James Earl Mooney, who is serving a 50-year prison sentence.
Court records show that Mooney pleaded guilty in 2012 to sodomy and sexual abuse charges. Rizzo said officials became aware of Mooney’s crimes in 2011, when a 3-year-old said Mooney had sexually abused her.
“The settlement reflects the agency’s accountability for failing to ensure the safety of these children in its care,” the department’s interim director, Clyde Saiki, said in a statement Monday.
Saiki said he is holding an internal investigation to see how the agency missed signs of abuse is the Mooney case. He said Gov. Kate Brown has also ordered an inquiry into the agency and is “deeply concerned about what has been happening at DHS.”
According to Rizzo, the agency made several mistakes, beginning with making Mooney and his then-wife foster parents. The lawsuit says department employees ignored escalating signs of abuse, like the children’s complaints of pain while using the toilet, redness on their buttocks and behaviors like biting and pulling out hair.
Mooney was certified as a foster parent in 2007 at the age of 22.
He told detectives that he couldn’t remember the names of all the children he’d abused and that their crying upset him.
According to Rizzo, about 30 children were placed with the Mooneys over four years. The plaintiffs in the case were all children who stayed with them for several months and were repeatedly abused.