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Adopted child sues city and state for not taking down abusive home


Adopted child sues city and state for not taking down abusive home

Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012 12:56 pm

By Scott Christiansen

A lawsuit has been filed against the state of Alaska Office of Child Services and the Anchorage Police Department, accusing the agencies of failing to investigate foster mom Anya James thoroughly before placing children in her care and of failing to investigate further after repeatedly hearing reports of abuse and neglect going on inside James's Hillside home. The lawsuit was filed in mid-January on behalf of one of James' adopted children, identified only by initials in the civil case.

Anchorage police arrested James in May 2011, announcing multiple assault and kidnapping charges in a press release that said "a tip" led to the removal of six children from the James household in October 2010 and a months-long investigation that resulted in the arrest. Anya James's children were all foster children who James had adopted into the household she ran as a single mom.

The police alleged James severely restricted childrens' contact with the outside world, withheld food and toilet-use for punishment, and kept alarms on doors and windows so children could not escape the home. The press release may be characteristic of a police department trying to put the best spin possible on its intervention into a human tragedy. The charges were described as stemming from a months-long investigation that began shortly before the children were removed from the home in October 2010. But the new civil suit sheds a different light on the story, claiming police who were too slow to act.

The adopted child who is suing was able to run away from Anya James several times, the lawsuit says, "But each time she was placed back into the home, even after she ran right into a police officer's arms and to neighbor's homes, who called APD and reported their concerns."

The lawsuit claims police and OCS caseworkers ignored several reports made by the girl and by neighbors. The plaintiff's state-appointed guardian, Beth Russo, says the plaintiff is an adult now. Russo declined to answer further questions about the lawsuit. Court documents indicate the former foster child filed the lawsuit on her own behalf, without an attorney.

The suit seeks damages in excess of $100,000 and other relief that court may find proper. It stops short of asking for specific reforms to Child Services or the police department. It does not name any police officers or other city employees as defendants.

One state employee, Phillip Kaufman, is named as a defendant in the civil suit. The suit says Kaufman was the OCS social worker assigned to the lead plaintiff, the girl who fled the James home. Kaufman still works for the State of Alaska, but is now the safety officer at Alaska Psychiatric Institute. When contacted for this story, Kaufman confirmed he was a former OCS employee but said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit. "I can't acknowledge even that a case exists," Kaufman said. His former job involved, he said, "all protected information."

Kaufman is one of several state employees implicated in the lawsuit, but the others have yet to be named. The suit seeks to hold 10 unnamed OCS employees accountable, giving them the pseudonym "Doe" and saying they include Kaufman's supervisor, as well as case workers assigned to other children from the James home and supervisors of those caseworkers.

The city, the police, and OCS have yet to file answer documents in the lawsuit.

When they first announced the charges, Anchorage Police said Anya James had collected more than $750,000 in adoption subsidies between 2000 and 2011. The charging documents say she restricted the children's diets so much they were prevented from going through puberty in their teen years.

The civil suit mirrors the criminal case, but provides a few more details. James home-schooled the children and the woman who brought the lawsuit claims that prevented her from completing high school on time. It also isolated the children from school officials who would have recognized abuse and neglect. The lawsuit alleges James physically abused children with punching, shoving and forced laxatives and that she over-medicated the children with psychiatric meds. Punishment in the household included taking away clothing and bedding. If a child attempted to run away, the lawsuit claims, they would be threatened with admission to an in-patient psychiatric facility.

The criminal case against Anya James criminal case still awaits trial. The defendant is out of jail, having posted $75,000 and agreed to house-arrest-style monitoring with an ankle bracelet and restrictions on when she may leave her home. (A phone number for James, gleaned from the court file, was answered by what sounded like a modem Monday and Tuesday.)

James faces 15 felony charges of assault and kidnapping-along with pre-trial filings and requests for extensions. Six of James' foster and adopted children are identified as victims but named only by initials. The criminal trial is currently set for March 12.

James' defense attorney is Rex Butler, whose law office said he was in a trial this week and could not return calls. In a filing to request a relaxed trial schedule from Superior Court Judge Michael Spaan, Butler told the judge the case is complex and the defense has received reams-2,500 pages so far, along with "numerous" media discs. Butler told the judge the defense expects still more discovered evidence before the trial.

Judge Spaan has also heard from lawyers for the state intervening on behalf of OCS. The agency asked to comb the criminal evidence for privacy reasons and Spaan is allowing certain items to be redacted from records OCS is being required to produce. The state will be allowed to scrub the records of social security numbers, the names of people who reported abuse or neglect, names of "unrelated children" and information that may violate attorney-client privilege between OCS and its lawyers, according to an order Spaan signed Jan. 29.

Complaints from as early as 2009 are described in the civil suit. Each time complaints were heard, the lawsuit says, "OCS and APD failed to properly investigate." The children were never allowed to be interviewed by police officers or OCS workers outside Anya James' presence and both cops and OCS caseworkers visited the house without going inside, the lawsuit says.

Anya James did not work outside her home. She operated a kennel under the business name Sarah's Sanctuary and Boarding, keeping dogs and cats for clients. One claim in the lawsuit is that James took in "numerous" animals until the house was unsuitable for children.

That the Anya James' home was a danger would have been obvious, the lawsuit claims. "APD would have discovered that the house was filthy and smelled if it had conducted any investigation into [the girl's] complaints of abuse and neglect before returning her to James' care without investigation."

2012 Feb 10