WA Department Of Social And Health Services Served With $27,000,000.00 Tort Claim For Fiendish Child Neglect Case

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

WA DSHS LOGOIt was nearly two years ago that I featured strong showing of just how uncaring and incompetent DSHS/CPS in Washington can aspire to with a terrible case of child abuse mentioned HERE.

In my previous article I wrote how in March of 2013 the children’s parents Sandra and Jeff Weller of Vancouver were each sentenced to twenty years in prison after having been convicted of fourteen counts of child abuse; double the statutory determinate maximum sentence. Clark County Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson levied the exceptional sentence due to the severity of the crimes.

The claim against the state on behalf of five children alleges nearly ten years of abuse of the children by the parents where little to no action was taken by Child Protective Services to address the issues and protect the children from further crimes by the parents.

Now we have another example of the incompetence, indifference and permissible atmosphere the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, allowed for what reportedly amounted to a fiendish and unconscionable maltreatment of a blind, developmentally disabled child afflicted with cerebral palsy. This person suffered torturous neglect over another ten year period–despite ample amount of complaints and reports that should have directed the agency to find another foster home for the child.


According to a Tort Claim marked Received by the Department of Enterprise Services Risk Management Agency on November 23rd, 2015, Claimant Heather Curtis who is now an adult claims she suffered great harm between August of 2003 and October 25th of this year at the hands of her foster care guardians who were later convicted of abuse against her. The claim names the state’s Department of Social and Health Services as defendants. DSHS is the parent agency of CPS and APS. Under Washington State Law, a claim must be filed before a lawsuit may proceed against political subdivisions and the state and if no satisfactory response is afforded the claimant after sixty days a lawsuit may proceed.

The claimant is represented by Attorney David Moody of Seattle.

The claim alleges the following events and facts, in summary with comments in italics:

Heather Curtis was a client of DSHS and is profoundly disabled. She suffers from cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia. DSHS characterized her cognitive ability as so serious it is unmeasurable. She is noncommunicative, wheelchair-bound and blind. She requires assistance in all personal care tasks and is completely unable (according to DSHS itself) to defend herself from abuse or neglect.

Heather was placed with Jeffrey and April Henderson after Heather’s previous caregiver died. For a decade thereafter Heather suffered horrific abuse and chronic neglect at the household. The Henderson’s received in exchange for care of Heather increasingly large checks from DSHS and for this Heather suffered what I would consider a torturous environment where she was shackled to a bed, covered in vomit and feces, deprived of food and basic necessities of life including medical and dental care and the right to live in decency as a human being.

Despite repeated official reports filed with CPS and APS, DSHS failed to respond within statutorily mandated time frames. Bureaucrats at DSHS reportedly just filed away paperwork and were lax if not motivated to provide follow-up investigation.

One caseworker at DSHS received multiple referrals of neglectful conditions Heather suffered yet did nearly nothing to resolve the matter.

Some noteworthy evidence came about in 2012 when an intake report indicated that Heather had lost forty pounds over six months and that her then current weight was only 68 pounds. Heather was scheduled to be taken to a nutritionist during that time but April failed to do so. A visiting NP who visited Heather once per month remarked that Heather’s home was filthy and had animals running through it. The stench reportedly was so great that it “burned”. She stated the last time she visited Heather she was dirty and covered in vomit. Heather was in “terrible condition and significantly underweight.”

The Henderson’s do not work outside the home, essentially living off Heather. Reportedly $3,850.00 to $6000.00 per month. Heather receives the payment from the state while Jeffrey is the payee of record for Heather’s SSI and government benefits.

After a referral to APS from employees of Children’s Hospital. DSHS waited five days to provide a caseworker who met with law enforcement officials to provide a welfare check on Heather.

When the caseworker arrived at the Henderson Home, Jeffrey answered by looking out a window and asking what they wanted. April then came outside and closed the door behind her. At first, she refused the team entry to check on Heather but when pressed she went back inside and closed the door.

After several minutes wait, law enforcement officials (The King County Sheriff’s Office) knocked again at the door. Jeffrey came outside and attempted to engage in small talk after he closed the door behind him. After LE told Jeffrey that they needed to check on Heather without further delay Jeffrey attempted to re-enter the residence and close the door behind him. A sheriff’s deputy shoved his foot into the door, announcing they were coming in. Jeffrey then let the team inside.

Heather's Bedroom
Heather’s Bedroom

It should be noted that law enforcement officers in Washington State have both common law and statutory authority to enter a dwelling if they suspect that a person inside is at risk of injury or to perform a welfare check on a person who the officers have information leading to a probability of harm to an individual inside that can be relieved by the entry.

When the team went upstairs to check on Heather, the social worker in her report noted that the stairs were stained and had animal feces strewn about. Other greatly unsanitary conditions were immediately visible elsewhere.

The social worker stated that upon she and a deputy entering Heather’s room, a detective turned around and immediately told others in the team to dispatch medics.

Here is a word for word account of the caseworker’s report as dictated on the claim form:

I entered [Heather’s] room. The room’s floor was completely covered with garbage such as papers, food, wrappers, medicine bottles, soiled paper towels, clothing, and other extraneous items. There was a wheelchair right in the way of the door, it was surrounded by debris, so much so I don’t see how it could be rolled out of the room. The head rest was broken and was resting sideways. The seat was covered in a new clean diaper pad that was attempting to cover stains underneath […] There was a massive pile of clothes on the other corner in which there was bedding that was completely soiled with stains, some appeared to be old vomit. It appeared as someone tried to conceal this dirty bedding from being seen under some clothing. There was a bunk bed. The bottom bunk had [Heather] laying in it. There was no bedding on the mattress. There were a couple clean diaper pads crumpled up beneath {Heather}. The top bunk had supplies on it such as diaper pads.


[Heather] was in a fetal position. [Heather] had no underwear or any clothing on her lower body. Her buttock was exposed and revealed an enormous amount of dried feces on her entire bottom. There were feces marks/stains on her legs. [Heather] had very long, yellow, dirty toenails. [Heather] had all over red skin from her feet up to about her mid calf which appeared infected […] THis may have been from her long toenails scratch that area over and over. [Heather] appeared thin and frail. Heather] was moaning in distress […] [Heather] would hide her face with a blanked when I would get near. I didn’t attempt to take the blanket away to observe her torso more because I didn’t want to scare her. […] [Heather] would open her mouth to moan and I could see her teeth, the[y] appeared to be in very poor condition […]


She described the condition elsewhere in the kitchen as being greatly filthy and unsantitary. Jeffrey said that he couldn’t understand why this situation was such a big deal. April claimed that she didn’t have time yet that morning to change Heather’s diapers and that she had a BM earlier that night.

[April] couldn’t understand why there was any concern about [Heather] and her health, the care she was receiving from them, and the condition of the living environment.

The [Hendersons’] reaction to the APS/LE investigation was dismissive and basically very nonchalant about the situation.

AT the conclusion of the investigation, APS determined that Heather had in fact been physically restrained in her filthy, feces and vomit-stained room:

[Heather’s] feet are poorly cared for with a possible fungal infection. […] [I]t is clear that her toenails are quite long and both her lower legs were quite red from just above both ankles to about five inches proximal. The red areas would be consistent with restraints on the ankles […]

The [Hendersons] also kept the investigator/police from entering the home for several minutes. The bed had been stripped and clean pads put under [Heather] as well as on her wheelchair. There was enough time to remove restraints if they had been in place. When the investigator/police entered [Heather’s] bedroom she was screaming as if she had been upset by quick activity around her or someone providing her with hurried person care.

A King County Detective concurred with the investigator/caseworker’s assessment and provided similar information with several additional evidence:

April Henderson
April Henderson

…April did not want us to go into Heather’s room, she said she would bring her out to the living room area. We immediately walked towards Heather’s room. The odor in the room was overwhelming. The room was filthy, littered with used diapers, trash, etc. Heather was lying on the downstairs bunk of a bunk bed. […] Heather was flailing and moaning, crying. She was severely thin, skeletal like. I immediately requested to have an aid unit respond to the residence. […]

[April] continued to be aggressive. She tried to interfere with our inspection of Heather and her surroundings. [Another detective] firmly told April she needed to move into the living room area (where her husband was) and to allow us to do our job. […]

April continued to make excuses for the state of Heather, her room and the house. She told me we caught them on a “bad day.” Jeff said we caught them on a “bad week.” […]

Medics arrived and eventually transported Heather to Children’s Hospital (per our request) IT is obvious the responding Firefighters, Medics were affected by Heather’s appearance and environment.

Heather lived in the worst conditions I have experienced in 16 years of law enforcement. Her room was covered in feces, vomit and debris. Her wheelchair was covered in filth and had an overwhelming odor of feces and urine.

During our initial arrival at the house, it was apparent April tried to clean Heather up before we were able to see her. This was alter confirmed by April’s 12 year old son.

A first responder provided this statement

As we entered the residence I first noticed [the] house was very cluttered and smelled of feces. We were led to a back bedroom. On the bottom bunk of a bunk bed set was the patient under a blanket. I uncovered her to find a small framed, frail, low weight female trying to keep her head covered. The patient was on a pee pad that was on top of a plastic mattress cover. She was wearing a diaper that was partially pulled off and she had soiled herself, that looked as if it was dried on. […]There were piles of garbage on the floor including dirty diapers. On the ceiling there were many flies. Amongst the garbage were two space heaters one plugged in and on, that posed a fire hazard.

While in the room I observed [April] come into the room. She also noticed that the diaper was off. And she stated in disgust that [Heather] would piss all over. There was absolutely no kindness, love or humanity observed during this brief interaction.

Our crew of 3 has a combined total years in the fire service of approx. 75 years. We agreed that we have been in worse surroundings as far as the mess. But not by much. But we have never seen a worse case of neglect inflicted on another human being, that was still alive.

The staff at Children’s Hospital were also horrified by Heather’s Condition: A statement from an employee in summary:

Heather’s case was particularly egregious and definitely is prominent among the many hundreds of cases I have been involved with.

Her “care” was abysmal. […][The Henderson’s] made a conscious choice not to provide basic care to Heather. She never received dental care during the nine years she lived with them because “It is so difficult to find anyone who will accept Medicade,” April told me. [Heather] was kept out of school because the family had a “steep driveway” that made travel diffisult and the school would not “take as good of care of her as I can,” according to April

Instead, this couple kept [Heather] in filthy, dangerous conditions. She was not fed or clothed appropriately. I have no question that the poor and rough care she received in their home contributed to her self-injurious behaviors; behaviors which greatly decreased when removed from their home and Heather received behavioral interventions that addressed these behaviors (an intervention that had been previously recommended and ignored by this family.)

The day Heather was brought to our emergency department after she was removed from the Henderson home; it took nearly thirty minutes for the nursing staff to remove the hardened, caked on stool from her genital area. She was covered in vomit. [the Hendersons] knew they were being abusive and neglectful. And their children were exposed to this absolute disregard for Heather’s rights as a human being.

At the conclusion of its investigation, APS determined that Heather had been neglected for nearly a decade.

April and Jeffrey failed to follow the HCS CARE plan and medical recommendations for Heather, including but not limited to:

  • Not taking Heather to the dentist for over nine years. Heather had 19 root canals that need to be attended to at the time of the APS investigation.
  • Not scheduling and/or assuring that Heather receive medical procedures that were/are necessary…
  • Not allowing Heather to attend school
  • Not providing a clean and safe environment for Heather to live in
  • Not providing safe and essential medical equipment, such as a new wheelchair.
  • Not keeping Heather well-groomed, not changing diapers in a timely manner, not bathing Heather, not brushing her teeth, not keeping Heather in clean clothes, not cutting nails
  • Not following the diet as directed by nutritionists
  • Making no accommodations for any external social stimulation.

In Heather’s complaint outrageous failures by DSHS were manifest from the beginning of Heather’s horrific ordeal. Law Enforcement investigators discovered that April and Jeffrey that upon DSHS placing Heather with the Hendersons in August of 2003, they were profoundly unsuited to care for a child having disabilities to the extent of Heather. They had no familial relationship to heather, there was no dependency or administrative hearing afforded to Heather to grant her guardianship, no meaningful assessment of the Henderson’s qualifications was ever made, and there was no meaningful oversight made by DSHS during the entire time Heather suffered in the custody of the Hendersons.

In October of 2012, Heather’s DSHS case manager admitted that she never conducted an inspection of the Hendersons’ North Bend home and never had seen Heather’s bedroom. DSHS never provided Law Enforcement with requested documentation demonstrating that April was capable of caring for Heather. A DSHS contract nurse admitted to visiting Heather on behalf of DSHS in 2012, inter alia.

In the immediate aftermath of Heather’s rescue, APS itself confirmed that all interviews with the contracted nurse and case manager were done in the living room, without any access to the bedroom in which Heather languished. (In a news report of this matter, interviewees noted that sometimes five days notice was given to the Hendersons before any inspections were done, long enough for them to clean up the mess.)

DSHS was fully aware of Heather’s 30 pound loss, (nearly one third of her body weight)that the Henderson’s were refusing to enroll her in school and refused advice and training to prevent self-injurious behavior exhibited by Heather. Despite having this foreknowledge the case worker failed to report these findings to any investigator or agency.

The complaint also listed events that were most certainly red-flags that Heather’s welfare and living conditions were highly unsatisfactory:

In 2004 CPS received a referral from a school official alleging the Hendersons were sending Heather to School without a coat and in thin, worn clothing. The referral also warned that Heather was not bathed regularly, and expressed concern for her general care.

Heather’s special education teacher, mentioned that on one occasion she saw Heather cleaned and her wheelchair in a proper state of cleanliness in months. But noted however that her teeth were unclean.

CPS also visited the home in December 2004 and noted several safety issues, such as then 11 year old Heather was forced to live in a crib and did not have a proper bed because asserted that this was because “the state would not pay for a bed.”

On January 4 of 2009 Heather special education teacher warned CPS that Jeff would not let her into the home, and had “mentioned that he was not sure how much longer he would be able to care for the child.” Heather’s teacher further warned that April “reported being somewhat overwhelmed” by Heather, a new baby (who the teacher reported “smelled bad”) and having to care for an elderly member of the family. Heather’s teacher further warned CPS that Jeffrey had expressed frustration that “you are probably going to take this farther by calling CPS” and mentioned “how he was surprised she was not intimidated by him.”

There were several other reports that DSHS reportedly should have acted upon but did not, they were of similar nature to what had been happening before and since.

KING 5 news provided an investigative report that shows a side of the Hendersons absent from the complaint yet provides a disturbing account of the depravity occurring within their home.

What the video in the news report shows is truly shocking to the conscious. The team that responded to Heather’s rescue shows that they continue to suffer distress when reflecting back upon events of that day several years prior. One of the detectives describes hearing Heather wailing and moaning like nothing she had seen before, like a wounded animal. Another described heather appearing to be a seven or eight year old child when she was actually nineteen.

“Heather was a meal ticket to the Hendersons; no one should ever treat another human being the way that they treated Heather,” said Ian Bauer, another attorney on the case.

Jeffrey Henderson
Jeffrey Henderson

Reportedly when Heather was rescued, severely emaciated and frail, Jeff was a portly 500 pound man with various big ticket items paid for by DSHS via robbing Heather of her care and dignity. They had a big-screen TV, exotic reptiles, laptops and other electronics. It is particularly shocking to see that Jeff’s precious reptiles were afforded a profoundly better life then a blind, disabled, and completely vulnerable human being that was trusted to his care.

Both April and Jeffrey were arrested and charged for their abhorrent treatment of Heather. She was reportedly near death when discovered. I would have expected a similar treatment in the criminal court as described in my previous article. I quote:

“In March of 2013 the children’s parents Sandra and Jeff Weller of Vancouver were each sentenced to twenty years in prison after having been convicted of fourteen counts of child abuse; double the statutory determinate maximum sentence. Clark County Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson levied the exceptional sentence due to the severity of the crimes.”

But it was not to be.

The April and Jeffrey Henderson pleaded guilty to second degree criminal mistreatment and sentenced to 9 months of home detention.

What a complete and total disgrace for King County’s criminal justice system, which completely dropped the ball on this. Why this happened, I don’t have the information but someone failed miserably at putting these two away for a decade or more. Either the prosecution failed to make a good case, the judge failed to refuse the plea agreement as a “manifest injustice” or someone was trying to cover their tracks. Whatever the excuse it is unconscionable. I don’t know about King County’s Superior Court environment but if this case was tried in Eastern Washington, they would have received the stiffest sentence imaginable.

The “punishment” the Hendersons received was non-existent. Jeffrey could still plop his fat, lazy, quarter ton body on the sofa and eat Cheetos in front of his big-screen TV all day and night long. And certainly to his satisfaction Jeffrey won’t even have to lift a finger to help Heather live.

The fruits of Heather's suffering.
The fruits of Heather’s suffering.

Heather’s attorney in her complaint provided an almost prophetic description of what will happen when her case goes to trial:

The graphic descriptions provided by Ms. Senne, Law Enforcement, the first responders and medical personnel speak for themselves. However, at trial, the photographs of Heather’s living environment and condition will shock and horrify the jury at trial, triggering a visceral reaction combined with intense sympathy for Heather – whose total vulnerability and fragility will touch the heart of every juror.

The jury’s reaction will turn to unbridled outrage when they meet Jeffrey and April, examine how this tragedy was permitted, and comprehend the depth of negligent acts and omissions attributable to DSHS.

I generally do not accept inordinate demands for millions of dollars in compensation but in my view $27,000,000.00 for a lifetime of private duty medical care is probably the only justice Heather Curtis will receive from this state.

By Darren Smith


Document Cloud: Complaint Form.
KING-5 News
Photos from screen shots of KING-5 Video

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

33 thoughts on “WA Department Of Social And Health Services Served With $27,000,000.00 Tort Claim For Fiendish Child Neglect Case”

  1. Is slowly dropping the people responsible into acid where they watch themselves slowly disappear into liquid too strong a sentence? With a pain-killing drug that dulls the pain but allows them to stay conscious?

    Nine months of home detention? This is worse than that sick disgusting Brad Pitt produced about the teenage girl that murders about 1000 innocent people.

  2. Stories like this one lead me to think there should be criminal liability for those responsible for oversight of her care. The case (non)workers should be held responsible for their negligence and dereliction. There are just too many cutouts between those who end up paying the judgement (taxpayers) and those who were directly responsible for allowing this situation to occur and go on for so long.

  3. Perhaps if CPS agencies across the country would stop harassing parents who let their children play outside unsupervised they would have the resources and focus to deal with real abuse.

  4. I don’t understand the Washington process. In my state, a child in long term foster care has regular court reviews (every 6 months), requiring reports from schools and health care providers as well as the supervising social worker. It was my understanding that the federal funding requirements made similar review arrangements present in other states.

  5. The Agency should be legislatively destroyed and recreated from the ground up. Everyone in the Agency should be legislatively barred from ever working for the state again. Texas did it with the Water Development Board…

  6. Wow! This reads like a fictional horror story. Unfortunately the taxpayers will be the one’s paying for the state’s conduct. Is that the root cause of the routine failure of government agencies? No accountability? If the government simply hands out paychecks regardless of competency, capability or accountability for performance, then we get people like the Henderson’s as “licensed” caregivers and the equivalent of the Henderson’s sitting at desks in the government bureaucracy.

  7. I worked for a Juvenile Court in KC and worked alongside workers who handled these cases. As in any organization, the workers ran the gamut, from aces to incompetent. That’s where supervisors come in. They are all former field workers who ostensibly were promoted for being good workers. However, this is the govt., and the best often leave and the average get promoted. If a case like this is not caught by the supervisor of the field worker, this happens. There were no other safeguards unless a cop responded to the scene and wrote up a report that gets to a judge, or if the cop calls someone they know in the press.

    Great post, Darren. Tough for me to read.

  8. These perps are not humans so there is no need to inflict “humane” punishment upon them.

  9. I agree with Andrea: Closing of the state hospitals was misguided in a way. I was one, forty years ago, who pushed to close state mental hospitals in Mizzoura.
    This case here though has a correct punishment solution. Take those two custodians and lock them up in the kid’s room with all the trash. Throw them food through a hole in the door. Ten years. Pay custodians to guard the house and the two perps. The custodians need to be certified jail employees. Three shifts a day. Its cheaper than prison and more fitting for these creatures.

  10. I totally agree with Ninian

    The officials who are not doing their duty, ignoring decades of complaints from relatives, medical professionals, teachers, and who allow these children to be tortured and crippled for life emotionally and physically should be punished. They would be strung up in my hypothetical world!

    Not only didn’t the professionals let these children be harmed, they were getting paid handsomely for it and I suspect that they are now living on a big fat pension paid for by the taxpayers. It was probably too much work to do the inspections, file the complaints and actually take care of the children. Instead, they sit on their own fat bureaucratic @sses and clip coupons and collect their taxpayer funded money.

    There is a special place in hell for those who mistreat children and animals. I hope all those “social workers” get there soon.

    Also…..just another symptom of what happens when you have a bloated government stealing money from taxpayers and which has no accountability. Do harm…..oh well….we’ll fix it next time. Riiiiiiight.

  11. What this comes down to is the dysfunctional distribution of government funds. The US has a dozen + super carriers and is about to begin on a trillion dollar program of ‘Cold War’ type long range bombers. The wars of the future will involve, primarily, special forces and drones. The government is funding the military/industrial complex with tax dollars and allowing the basic welfare of its citizens to wallow in what’s left.

    Government has proven that it can revamp itself. HUD was totally dysfunctional, some recipients didn’t even have the buildings that they were claiming, there was no oversight. The Senate and Congress demanded that HUD clean up its programs of flittering hundreds of millions down the drain through corruption and negligence. HUD created REAC, a division that would inspect and oversee all 40,000+ properties receiving government aid. Today, private contractors bid for inspection contracts to inspect properties for everything from health and safety hazards to construction problems. The requests for funds are matched to the existing properties. The savings have continued to be in the tens of millions year by year. HUD’s existence was threatened and they cleaned it up.

    However, the funds must be there along with the ‘gun to the head’. A gun to the head should not be a problem in these here United States of America.

    Instead of suing for $27,000,000 why not fire a few of the top people and take away their pensions. Put a few in court. Make some charges. This concept of suing slips right by the issue. In the end it will go on the same way because the US needs more bombers and super carriers instead of more well paid and accountable people. Pay them well and whack them when they screw up: social workers, cops, judges, all public employees.

  12. This is why state hospitals are the best place for non-verbal people. I did home care for quite a while in my life (attorney by day and moonlighting in one position or another) and some of the other care workers were abysmal. When you have non-verbal people living in small group homes where some don’t attend outside activities, or when you have a non-verbal adult in the “care” of other adults who have the option of hiding her away, this is what happens.

    In contrast, there are always other staff members around, and inspections, in state hospitals. Closing so many of the state hospitals was misguided in a myriad of ways.

  13. There was a lot to read up there. What state is this? This would not happen in Missouri.

  14. When a government bureaucracy is in charge it is to be expected that incidents like this would be common. It is an over-generalization to say that *everything* government bureaucracy does is like this, Nonetheless bureaucrats should never be in charge of the welfare of persons in their state. Foster care should be in the hands of local people who actually know the people who are foster parents. (Similarly, adult healthcare run by bureaucrats will work as well (i.e. not work); it should be left in the hands of physicians who actually know the patient, but that’s a different topic.)
    There should be no such thing as plea agreements like this. This is a case where the plea agreement system failed miserably. These greedy should be in jail for the rest of their lives. The betrayal of trust is that bad. Impeach or fire the judge that accepted this agreement. Sanction the prosecution for even proposing such an agreement given the facts of the case. (Polishing my crystal ball: neither will be done.)
    When the government does it (for every “it”) it will almost always go wrong due to excess bureaucratic rules. Bureaucracies (including the legal system) are likely to deliver injustice.

  15. This is an horrific story. I would like to ask if criminal neglect charges are brought against the authorities in such cases? Isn’t this a better method to enforce responsibility and accountability?

    I understand the issue over damages but isn’t the punitive nature of damages hemorrhaging funds from a limited pot for childcare? Presumably the tax payers foots the bill?

    Isn’t a better way to award damages and link this to a criminal prosecution of officials with a statutory duty to provide care and protection. Shouldn’t punitive measures include custodial sentences for those officials found to be guilty of neglect?

  16. Sad to say this problem is not limited to WA. Arizona had to destroy its CPS and start again. It was the only way to make it work. You cannot fix bad.

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