By Ed Runyan
Judge Thomas A. Swift of Trumbull County Probate Court has refused to approve a $150,000 settlement for a now-3-year-old girl who was raped by her biological parents at the Trumbull County Children Services offices in 2011.
Judge Swift approved the recommendation of Atty. Martin F. White of Warren, whom Judge Swift appointed in January to represent the girl and review the proposed settlement.
White said the settlement was not sufficient in light of an entry Judge Benita Y. Pearson, of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, filed in the case Dec. 31 — just after children services and the child’s attorneys reached their settlement.
In the entry, Judge Pearson indicated that children services was not entitled to the type of immunity from damages that many government entities receive because of the details of what happened when the girl was raped by her biological parents, Felicia and Cody Beemer.
The Beemers were convicted in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court of rape and sentenced to life in prison.
The parties will go back to federal court to continue the case with the possibility of a different settlement at trial.
Judge Pearson ruled that the actions of children services are akin to the responsibility the government has to a prison or jail inmate.
The government cannot place an inmate or a child in its custody “in a position of danger, deliberately and without justification” without violating the inmate’s or child’s rights under the Constitution, she said.
Judge Pearson said CSB’s responsibilities to this child are similar to its responsibilities when assigning a child to a foster home.
“Similar to the risk created when a government [agency] sends a child to an abusive foster home, [this child] was imperiled when [children services] and its employees subjected her to a course of visitation that involved placing her in a room, unsupervised, with individuals who were especially dangerous to her.”
Tim Schaffner, CSB’s executive director, earlier responded to Judge Pearson’s ruling by saying that an investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation that was turned over to a Trumbull County grand jury showed “no criminal intent or wrongdoing” by CSB.
The Amish, West Farmington couple who adopted the girl were in court with their attorney, Michael Rossi, and children services representatives.
During the hearing, Judge Swift approved the woman as the legal guardian of the girl’s estate, and she and her husband as parents and natural guardians.
But instead of approving the settlement, which would have involved a structured settlement that would have given the child $25,000 at age 18 and about $550 per month for life, Judge Swift sent the parties back to court to work toward a larger settlement.
The proposed settlement would have paid $100,000 to the child and $50,000 to the attorneys.
The lawsuit named children services and three of its employees, saying they were responsible for the decision to allow the Beemers to visit the girl in a visitation room at the children services offices on Reeves Road without constant supervision despite Cody Beemer’s rape conviction as a teenager.
The workers, including two supervisors, decided in early 2011 that workers would check in on the visits about every 15 minutes.
Later that year, police got possession of cellphone videos that the Beemers made showing them raping their biological daughter and another child at a home in Warren.