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Suit targets ‘aggressive’ Department of Social Services

Suit targets ‘aggressive’ Department of Social Services

A complaint filed in Haywood County Superior Court late last month alleges that several defendants committed battery and inflicted emotional distress on two children in 2015.

Named in the complaint are the county, the county Department of Social Services and its director Talmadge “Stoney” Blevins, DSS workers Amber Benhart and Jason Bibb, KARE Inc., its director Julie Schroer, and KARE nurse practitioner Rebecca D. Snider. 

The Waynesville attorney who filed the complaint, Jeffrey W. Norris of Waynesville, declined to discuss the specifics of the case but said that the defendants still have “four or five weeks” to respond to allegations, which stem from a DSS investigation into possible abuse suffered by the younger of the two children, referred to as CDR in court documents.

“Haywood County strives to maintain the highest professional standards in all matters of public safety,” said Haywood County Manager Ira Dove. “We cannot per statute comment on any allegations related to any matter regarding a juvenile case. However, in general all cases involving child welfare are taken very seriously and best efforts are used to follow law and policy. Our Health and Human Services Administration does review matters to make sure that our workers follow State standards and this includes all feedback received.”

County commissioners and their attorney went into a closed session May 1 to discuss the case. 


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The alleged incident

In February 2015, CDR – then 9 years old – suffered a “small fracture” in one of his fingers. Norris’ complaint says it was “accidental” and “not caused by any action of his parents,” who are referred to as John and Jane Doe in the filing. 

This injury triggered the interest of DSS and the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, who visited CDR’s siblings in their schools to question them about possible abuse in the home.

A few days later, Amber Benhart, a social worker with the DSS, held a meeting with the Does, which according to the lawsuit, “had not generated any reason for concern or evidence of abuse.”

But a few days after that, Benhart scheduled another meeting for early March at KARE, which is the Haywood County child abuse prevention organization. The Does began to feel intimidated, according to the complaint, especially when a caseworker told Mrs. Doe not to bring the “perpetrator” (Mr. Doe) to the meeting. 

Mrs. Doe took umbrage to the characterization, but attended the meeting with CDR and CDR’s sibling – 14 years old at the time – which the Does allege was conducted without proper consent and resulted in “aggressive” questioning of the children about possible sexual abuse by Mr. Doe. 

The children were, one at a time, escorted into a room, stripped and examined by Snider and Bibb, according to the filing. Photographs were taken of their genitals and anuses while Bibb allegedly “encouraged them to state that their father was abusing them,” according to the complaint. 

Upon departing the facility, both children began to cry once they were in the vehicle with their mother, and after some reluctance, both children recounted their treatment by Bibb and Snider. 

The complaint states that Mrs. Doe then returned to KARE and after initial denials, Snider confirmed the childrens’ story in front of Benhart and Schroer.

Mrs. Doe — who works in the medical field — alleged to Snider that consent hadn’t been obtained timely before the examination, and further that consent did not include the invasive nature of the examinations. Snider allegedly agreed with Mrs. Doe. 

Norris’ complaint calls the behavior “outrageous.”


The aftermath

In the days and weeks following the examinations, both children then began to exhibit behavior indicative of what the Does say is the abuse they suffered. 

Bedwetting, headaches, nightmares, shaking and uncontrollable crying led the Does to send the children to a counselor, who “concluded that the abuse at the hands of DSS and KARE has had an immediate and lasting negative impact” on the children. 

CDR also allegedly began to suffer diminished academic performance and behavioral issues at school, resulting in his suspension.

The Does contend in eight counts that the defendants should be liable for the resulting medical expenses and should pay damages for battery, negligence, gross negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

They also say that the defendants failed to use “reasonable care” both in deciding whether to investigate potential abuse and in their investigation thereof, and further that KARE and the county “maintained an express policy that permitted and condoned the type of misconduct alleged.” 

The complaint asks for damages “in excess of $25,000” for each of the counts, attorney’s fees, costs, punitive damages also in excess of $25,000 and a trial by jury. 

Neither a call nor an email sent to Schroer at KARE seeking comment on the Does’ complaint were returned. 

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