$935,000 awarded to woman, son

Date: 2000-10-13

By Dave Birkland

Seattle Times staff reporter

A mentally disabled woman who became pregnant while in a Tacoma facility where she was placed by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) will receive nearly $1 million for herself and her young son, in the settlement of a lawsuit announced yesterday.

The settlement means that the 28-year-old woman, who is developmentally disabled and has cerebral palsy, and her 3-year-old son, who also is disabled, will get $935,000 for their future care, lawyer Mark Leemon said.

Leemon also accused DSHS of turning on the Fife couple, Robert and Linda Cornyn, who earlier had boarded the woman, when they began to raise questions about how she became pregnant.

Harmony Glen, a Tacoma boarding home where the woman was placed for "respite care" in October 1995, paid $500,000 of the settlement, with DSHS paying the remainder, Leemon explained.

While the woman was at Harmony Glen, DSHS also placed there "a known criminal and sexual manipulator" who had sex with the woman and impregnated her, he said.

The man "was able to groom (the woman) in an almost classic child-molestation scenario with gifts of candy and pop," Leemon said.

Evaluations have determined that the woman has an IQ of about 40, the attorney said.

Leemon also accused DSHS of not supervising the woman while she was at Harmony Glen. The caseworkers told him they probably did make some visits, but there is no record of it.

The Cornyns cared for as many as 60 needy and disabled people in their home since the 1970s, Leemon said. They took the woman in 1991 after the Oregon family that had adopted her could no longer care for her.

In 1995, when the woman's behavior became "increasingly problematic," the Cornyns asked DSHS to assume her care, said Bob Cornyn.

When the Cornyns learned the woman was pregnant and started asking questions, DSHS inspectors began making frequent visits to their home, Linda Cornyn said.

Accusations made against the Cornyns were ultimately dismissed, Leemon said, but some DSHS "caseworkers and supervisors tried extra hard to destroy us,' Bob Cornyn said.

Steve Williams, a spokesman for DSHS, said of the inspections: "If we get a complaint, we respond."

DSHS has made a number of changes in an attempt to resolve problems at boarding homes, Williams said. He cited better training for the staff, more timely inspections and more forceful measures against facilities where problems are found.

The man who impregnated the woman also is mentally impaired and now lives with a relative, Leemon said. The case was never prosecuted because it was not referred to authorities at the time, Leeman said.

Calls to Harmony Glen were not returned.

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