State to pay $6 million to settle foster children’s lawsuit

SPOKANE — The state will pay more than $6 million to former foster children of Carole DeLeon, including the estate of a 7-year-old who died of starvation in her care.

Two adults and five children will each be paid between about $400,000 and $1.6 million, and the estate of Tyler DeLeon, who died on Jan. 13, 2005, will get $180,000, according to a settlement between the plaintiffs and the state Department of Social and Health Services.

The settlement was filed Wednesday in Spokane County Superior Court.

“The decision boiled down to, ‘What is it going to take to take care of these kids for the foreseeable future given what happened to them in this home?’ ” said Allen Ressler, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Ressler and his law partner, Tim Tesh, are entitled to a third of the settlement.

Carole DeLeon, 52, was sentenced to six years in prison in July after entering an Alford plea to criminally mistreating Tyler and another boy in her care. In an Alford plea, the defendant doesn’t admit guilt but acknowledges he or she could be found guilty based on the evidence presented in court.

The lawsuit, filed in December, accused DSHS of failing to properly investigate DeLeon’s background and that of another caregiver in her home in Stevens County, or to respond to numerous complaints of abuse.

It hasn’t been determined who will get Tyler’s money on behalf of his estate.

Superior Court Judge Teri Eitzen will review the settlement Dec. 1. It requires a judge’s approval to take effect.

The settlement ends the lawsuit against the department and three employees but does not address claims against Dr. David Fregeau, Tyler’s primary care doctor; Fregeau’s employer, the Rockwood Clinic; and Sandra Bremner-Dexter, the boy’s psychiatrist, who are scheduled for trial in April, Ressler said.

The lawsuit alleges that Fregeau and Bremner-Dexter, both of whom are required by law to report valid suspicions of abuse or neglect, were aware of injuries suffered by Tyler in the home.

A CPS investigation of Fregeau’s role in the case concluded that he had seen many injuries suffered by Tyler and a foster brother but that Carole DeLeon persuaded him and others that there was no abuse.

The lawsuit cites an extensive history of abuse complaints and health concerns regarding foster children at DeLeon’s home, including bruising, broken bones, knocked-out teeth, withholding of food and water, sexual abuse by a registered sex offender, bite marks and multiple scars.

Child psychologist Gilbert Kilman of San Francisco said the children suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt and predicted each will have difficulty in school and work that will require counseling.

“Searing images of Tyler being kicked down the stairs and drinking from the toilet fester in her psyche,” Kilman wrote of Tyler’s half-sister, who witnessed his death. The settlement gives the girl $1.2 million.

A girl who spent the first five months of her life with DeLeon will receive more than $560,000. A boy whom DeLeon adopted and stayed with her for more than two months after Tyler’s death will receive $930,000.

Another boy who lived with her for 10 months will receive nearly $400,000. The largest amount — $1.5 million — goes to a boy who lived with DeLeon for about 4 ½ years and left three months before Tyler’s death. Two adults — former foster children of DeLeon — will receive about $564,000 and $1.3 million.

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