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

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

  1. She should sue twice as much for the right not to have been born. But the mom is judgement proof. Obe. Fact is “foster” parents had all her expenses paid. And didn’t perform. Did they also pocket cash? Often fostering us a cash cow. Like all the immigrant kids …..feds (us taxpayer) puck up the dime with extra cash to the “caregiver” often another illegal….aka, the gravy train. Here were the fosters too just collecting the cash part. Maybe if we didnt piss off the nuns with birth control ….they’d without greed look after this girls soul.

  2. Money is part of the accountability problem. If you have objective measures (regulations, for example) but those measures cannot be met by employees because of the workload, attempts to discipline the failure to perform will inevitably fail in the course of the due process hearing procedures. If the regulations require that a social worker obtain reports from medical providers, teachers, therapists, etc., find placements, investigate available services and resources, complete training in the everchanging documentation requirements, while also requiring that the worker conduct face to face monthly contacts with so many people that it cannot be done in the course of 30 days without simply flying from one household to another, the whole system fails. An ethical worker will either quit or become an unethical worker because being an ethical one is not possible in the long term. Not every agency is so underfunded, and that is certainly not the only explanation (and possibly not an explanation at all for the failures in this case), but it is an ongoing problem which interferes with the provision of services and any attempt to hold employees accountable.

  3. It’s not only a matter of not enough funds. There is the matter of accountability. Most government employees are protected by government unions which fight meritocracies. Good job, bad job, you get paid the same. One is to recall that our honored soldiers actually died as a result of fraud in the VA, and yet no one went to jail. No one got fired. In fact, they got bonuses. The head of the VA resigned, but that was it. Same old thing.

    When all you have is a hammer, every problem you encounter is a nail. Liberals have a money hammer, their sole solution to most problems. Raise taxes. Spend more. Bloat the bureaucracy. But that’s not always the best solution.

    The glaring lack in the DSHS was accountability. You cannot tell me that not getting paid enough, or not having enough employees, excuses neglecting this precious, vulnerable child for 10 YEARS. You can’t tell me that even an overworked, underfunded agency couldn’t make a decision tree, prioritize, and check on her at least one SINGLE TIME in 10 years to save her from languishing from starvation. They clearly checked on at least someone else, at least once, among all their other responsibilities. The pain this young lady must have felt, from hunger pains and thirst alone, is unimaginable.

  4. Double the budget and you’ll double the caring, right? Gosh, let’s triple it then. In reality there were numerous opportunities for DHS to act and no amount of money will make people care more. This agency has one primary responsibility and that is to the best interests of the children. If that is their mission then measuring how well they are doing that should be their key business driver. Of course in the private sector job retention and performance bonuses would be affected by this driver but not in government service. Does it appear they are actually focused on that driver or does it appear they are merely checking boxes? Can’t tell? Well then just give them more money because nothing motivates good performance better than increasing the budget of incompetent government agencies.

  5. You want to boil DHS in oil? You must join the party. This is what happens all the time. Not enough funds. Not enough caring people. Too much cruelty. This is what you get. You’ll get worse when you decide the government is wasting your precious tax dollars and you want charities to take “loving care’ of the helpless and vulnerable.

    YOU are to blame.

  6. And I agree with previous posters that they should bring charges of criminal negligence against any employee who ignored reports of abuse.

    We do so with cops who engage in wrongdoing, so why not DSHS?

  7. That poor girl. What a terrifying, painful, unimaginably horrible existence she must have had. Who is caring for her now? Is someone else going to bilk her out of those millions, or will she finally get the care and compassion she deserves?

    I hope they sue the DSHS into the stone age. The consequences need to be so severe that they will never, ever, harm a child like this again. Ignoring all of those complaints was just as bad as what the Hendersons did. They knew she was in trouble but did nothing. DSHS was supposed to act as her White Knight.

    My God. What all of this must have felt like to that poor child.

  8. DeShaney only concerns whether a failure to rescue a child from a parent can be an actionable constitutional violation. Once the state takes control of a child through foster care, other duties come into play. There may also be an action for violations under the Rehabilition Act or other statutes. There may also be liability under state law. These vary depending on the specific state’s laws and applicable governmental immunities. For example, in my state the social workers and their employing agency would not be liable under some general theory of negligence, but could be liable for violating specific regulations such as those requiring monthly face to face contacts, failing to conduct minimum investigations of allegations of abuse or neglect, failing to report suspected neglect or abuse to law enforcement, providing false information to the supervising juvenile court, etc. I couldn’t find a quick answer as to Washington law, but the article would seem to suggest that there must have been a significant number of violations of statutes and regulations by public employees.

  9. I used to train CPS workers in NY state. It’s the same story everywhere. These services are never fully funded. Like schools in poor neighborhoods, mental health facilities, prisons, and so on. There are a lot of good people trying to make a difference in these burnout jobs, alongside the incompetent ones who couldn’t get a job anyplace else. This is the grand failure of our 50 state social experiment. Never enough money, and only attention given when something goes horribly wrong. Sad, sick and sorry

  10. This piece was so difficult to read that I was unable to finish. That is from a former EMT who has seen a lot. While the foster non care givers were directly held accountable for this horror, what of the individuals in the Washington DSHS/CPS system who knew or should have known and should have prevented this? Seems there are some folks out walking around who ought to be sharing a cell with the Wellers. I am not in the least speaking rhetorically. There are individuals within the Washington DSHS/CPS system who are a mere rung on the ladder removed from the Wellers in culpability. Problem is that we refuse to tax ourselves in order to pay for those things that we, as a society must provide. That would include adequate care for those unable to care for themselves. As has been pointed out here, these sorts of things happen in underfunded CPS systems all over.

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