Lewis County faces new lawsuit in 2002 case

Suit alleging violation of civil rights in foster care case similar to earlier one

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Lewis County last week was served with an alleged civil rights violation lawsuit nearly identical to one it settled in 2011 for $37,500.

Taylor Marcus, who formerly had the last name Kuhn, says that in 2002 she and her siblings were unnecessarily removed from their Dryad motor home and placed into foster care.

In the following years, the Kuhn children were moved from home to home, sometimes together, sometimes separately. Between the four children, they were subjected to 23 placements while in state custody, according to Taylor.

Because the Lewis County Sheriff's Office assisted state Child Protective Services in the 2002 removal of the children, the county is liable.

Taylor's claim closely resembles the one filed in 2009 by her older sister, Amber Kuhn.

Lewis County and the state in 2011 settled Amber's case out of court. Lewis County provided $37,500 in compensation for "past and future emotional distress; damages for counseling expenses; reasonable attorney's fees and costs." The state also compensated Amber.

According to Amber's suit, in 2002 Robert and Leigh Ann Kuhn and their four children moved from Oregon to Dryad.

On Jan. 25, a Pe Ell School District teacher reported to child protective services that he was concerned about the Kuhn children's living situation, which he said lacked running water and a toilet.

Five days later, CPS caseworker David Rothschild went to the house. Upon pulling into the lot, he assessed the scene: Taylor and her friends were playing noisily outside and Amber and the youngest Kuhn sibling were inside the family motorhome. Leigh Ann, Robert and the oldest Kuhn child were not home.

Rothschild returned to his vehicle and began to make some hasty decisions, according to Amber.

He called dispatch and requested a sheriff's deputy because he had "already determined that taking the children into custody might be necessary."

He then called his boss and asked for another social worker and requested that the office locate receiving homes for the children.

The sheriff's office sent Deputy Harold Sprouse, an officer who had recently relocated to Washington from Arizona.

His inexperience - he had no training concerning how to handle child abuse or neglect cases in the state of Washington, Amber said - combined with Rothschild's snap judgment set in motion the process of removing the children, according to the suit.

In spite of Amber's requests not to, the men entered the motorhome and concluded that the living situation was not healthy because of "alleged filth and because the motor home supposedly lacked heat, privacy and water."

But, Amber countered in her suit: "Rudimentary investigation, such as simply asking how the motor home functioned would likely have cleared up some of deputy Sprouse's and Rothschild's misconceptions."

Following the search, Rothschild encouraged Sprouse to remove the children.

Sprouse had never made such a decision before. In Arizona, a caseworker, not an officer, makes the decision. But he followed Rothschild's advice and decided to remove the siblings, according to the lawsuit.

"Rothschild was completing protective custody orders for the children," Amber said. "Deputy Sprouse had not seen such forms before. He signed the forms without reading them."

That night, the three young Kuhn children were placed into protective custody.

Over the following years, the four children lived in 23 homes and attended 16 different schools.

Rothschild remained the family's caseworker.

According to Amber, he did a poor job guiding them through the system and seemed to have little interest in reuniting the family.

His dependency reports contained "misstatements of such frequency and degree of inaccuracy that they suggest a reckless approach to his obligations both to the court and to the Kuhn family," she alleged.

According to Amber, parties involved with her case violated her Fourth Amendment rights to freedom from unreasonable search and freedom from unreasonable seizure of persons, and her 14th Amendment right of family unity or association.

Lewis County also was guilty of negligent training and supervision, she said.

County Commissioner Bill Schulte at a meeting last week acknowledged what seemed to be the good intentions of Sprouse.

"It was the right decision, but it was done in the wrong way," Schulte said.

"I expect this will have the same result," risk manager Paulette Young said about Taylor's lawsuit. "It's the same attorney, same allegations."