State settles lawsuit by abused Weller children
By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter
The state has agreed to pay a $9.75 million settlement to five siblings who were abused for years by their parents, Jeffrey and Sandra Weller, in their Vancouver home.
The Wellers were sentenced in Clark County Superior Court in March 2013 to 20 years in prison for multiple crimes related to the abuse.
Two adopted twins, who were routinely imprisoned, beaten and starved by the Wellers, each received $3.1 million. The remaining $3.55 million of the settlement will be divided between the other three younger siblings, who are the Wellers’ biological children.
The lawsuit alleged that the state Department of Social and Health Services failed to adequately respond to dozens of complaints about the children’s welfare over an eight-year period or to investigate a history of Child Protective Services referrals involving Sandra Weller in California.
“The Department of Social and Health Services settled this case because the standard of practice did not rise to the level needed to protect these children from harm,” DSHS officials said in a prepared statement. “They were subjected to horrific criminal abuse at the hands of their parents, who are serving lengthy prison sentences.”
The children’s attorney, David Moody, declined, through his paralegal, to comment Friday on the settlement.
During the Wellers’ trial, the twins, now 19, testified that their parents locked up cabinets and their home’s refrigerator so that the twins couldn’t access food.
effrey Weller routinely beat them with a blood-stained board under Sandra Weller’s direction. The twins also were kept in their room for about 22 hours out of the day.
Complaints to DSHS began in November 2003 when someone expressed concern that the Weller children had poor hygiene, a strong body odor and were allowed to bathe only twice a week in cold water, according to a tort claim.
The male twin, 8 at the time, allegedly was forced to wear one diaper all day at school. DSHS accepted the complaint for an investigation but did not forward it to law enforcement, the claim says.
More than 30 other complaints about the children’s welfare were reported to the agency after that, including allegations that the children were not give enough food, that there was a padlock on the refrigerator at the home, and that Sandra Weller had threatened to kill one of the twins, according to court documents.
However, the children were not removed from the Weller home until October 2011 when one of the twins left a note at her therapist’s office, stating that her parents were beating her with a wooden board and that the board was “literally covered in dried blood,” according to court documents. Some of the complaints were never investigated. Other complaints were closed following an investigation.
After the children were removed from the Weller home in October 2011, DSHS finally obtained Child Protective Services records on Sandra Weller from California and found reports of chronic physical abuse, corporal punishment, malnutrition and food deprivation, the lawsuit said.
The children in the lawsuit were the adopted twins, a boy and girl, now 19, and three younger biological sons, 17, 15 and 13.
“The abuse in this case occurred prior to October 2011, and our practice has improved significantly since then,” according to the DSHS statement provided by spokesman John Wiley. “We take lessons learned from cases such as this to make better decisions when we respond to child safety concerns.”
Child Protective Services receives an average of 100,000 calls reporting suspected abuse and neglect, resulting in about 50,000 investigations. Since this case, DSHS has processed nearly 400,000 intake calls, resulting in more than 160,000 investigations, despite smaller budgets over the past seven years, according to the agency.
“Gov. Jay Inslee expects, as do we, new policies and programs, such as Family Assessment Response, which works with families to build on strengths they need to keep their children safe, will reduce risks to, and better protect, children,” the statement said.