Riverside, Calif. This month, the law firm Booth Law finalized a settlement with the County of Riverside for $10 million on behalf of their client, Jacquelyn H. This settlement is one of the largest in the state’s history for a single victim of sexual abuse. The civil suit against the county has also resulted in changes for Riverside Child Protective Services (“CPS”).
Jacquelyn was 11-years-old in 2014 when she first disclosed to a teacher that she was the victim of sexual assault. The perpetrator was her mother’s live-in boyfriend, Deon Welch. The teacher reported this abuse to both the police and CPS, which resulted in both entities conducting investigations. In response, Jacquelyn’s mother obtained a restraining order against Welch, who then disappeared, allegedly fleeing to Mexico. Riverside CPS closed the file shortly after finding the allegations to be “inconclusive.”
Four months later, Riverside CPS returned to the home to investigate a domestic violence report. While conducting this investigation, CPS discovered that Welch had returned to the home and the mother had dismissed the restraining order against him. Instead of opening a new investigation into sexual abuse and notifying the police of Welch’s whereabouts, the CPS social worker chose to draft a “safety plan” that provided that the children could stay in the home if the mother agreed not to leave them alone with Welch and if Welch agreed not to leave the children alone with their mother until her mental health improved. CPS had Welch sign the safety plan as a “caregiver” for the children.
The plan failed. In 2016, Jacquelyn was found to be seven months pregnant. A paternity test confirmed that Welch was the father. Jacquelyn had endured near daily sexual assaults during the two and half years between CPS’ initial investigation in 2014 and her pregnancy being discovered in 2016.
Booth Law filed suit against the County of Riverside for its failure to cross-report its reasonable suspicion of sexual abuse to law enforcement when it learned that Welch had returned to the home. The $10 million payout was not the only result of the suit. Press reports have indicated that Riverside County has made significant changes to the leadership, budget and procedures of its Department of Public Social Services at least in part in response to Jacquelyn’s case.
A Riverside County jury recently found Welch guilty of 15 counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child with one enhancement of bodily injury due to the pregnancy. He faces a minimum of over 200 years in prison for his crimes.