State to pay $15M in sexual abuse of babies case

Federal lawsuit filed on behalf of 9 children abused by a Salem foster parent

A gavel in a U.S. courtroom. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, file)
A gavel in a U.S. courtroom. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The state has agreed to pay $15 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of nine children abused by a Salem foster parent.

The Oregonian reports 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.

The lawsuit 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 he pleaded guilty in 2012 to sodomy and sexual abuse charges.

The department’s interim director, Clyde Saiki, said in a statement Monday that the agency takes responsibility for failing to ensure the victims’ safety.

The settlement reached last week will be a record-setting payout.

The following is the full statement from interim director Clyde Saiki:

“In March, 2007, James Mooney and his wife requested foster parent certification from the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS). After undergoing the agency’s screening process, the Mooney’s were certified. Over the course of the next 4+ years, the agency placed dozens of children in the home. The couple was re-certified in 2008 and again in 2010.

On April 29, 2011 a three-year-old revealed to successor foster parents that James Mooney had sexually abused her. The foster home was shut down, and law enforcement began an investigation. James Mooney was arrested and admitted sexually abusing the three-year-old and other children. He was sentenced to fifty years in prison.

Upon review of all of the information available, DHS discovered that there were errors with regard to the certification and recertification of the Mooney home. On December 17, 2015, DHS agreed to a settlement in a civil lawsuit involving nine children. The settlement was for $15 million.

DHS knows, understands and admits responsibility for the damages suffered by these innocent victims. The settlement reflects the agency’s accountability for failing to ensure the safety of these children in its care.

As you are aware, Governor Brown is deeply concerned about what has been happening at DHS and has commissioned an independent third-party review of the agency. That review is currently underway.

Additionally, as Interim DHS Director, I am already conducting an internal investigation of this particular matter to determine how it happened and why we failed to protect these children. As soon as possible, I will take the appropriate action to see that system failures are corrected and that the appropriate personnel action(s) is taken.”

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