Child-Abuse Death Pinned to School Failures, Lawsuit Claims

Richard Walker

The estate of a 5-year-old Hoh Tribe boy is suing the Washington Department of Social and Health Services and the Riverside School District, alleging their failure to follow policies regarding foster-home placement and the reporting of possible child abuse led to the boy’s death.

Cynthia Khaleel is charged with second-degree murder in the death of her nephew, Gary Blanton III. She pleaded innocent; her trial is scheduled to begin on February 6, 2017 in Spokane County Superior Court.

Gary died on April 18, 2015. The cause was originally reported as due to complications following a fall trying to get into his brother’s crib, but a two-month investigation concluded the toddler was murdered.

Barbara Davis, the boy’s paternal grandmother, is administrator of the estate. The wrongful-death lawsuit was filed on September 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Should the estate prevail, Davis would be responsible for administering funds as allowed by law. Her late grandson has two younger siblings, one of them with Down’s syndrome.

The estate is represented by Gabriel Galanda and Ryan Dreveskracht of Galanda Broadman, a law firm in Seattle.

The DSHS office in Port Angeles placed Gary and his younger siblings, Skylar and Destiny, with Khaleel after their parents died; the children went to live with Khaleel, her husband, Ian, and their three children in Chatteroy, a suburb of Spokane. According to a state review of the case, the placement was done with the approval of the Hoh Tribe.

However, DSHS did not conduct a “meaningful background check” or assess Khaleel’s “ability to care for the children,” the lawsuit states. In addition, the lawsuit alleges, a DSHS worker falsely reported she had visited the Khaleel home in September, October and November 2014; and DSHS allowed Gary to remain in his aunt’s home despite a social worker’s description of the home as “chaotic” and Khaleel as “struggling to meet the needs of six children both financially and otherwise.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Gary’s school, Chattaroy Elementary, did not report possible signs of abuse and neglect as required.

Gary Lee Blanton III was born on October 24, 2009 in Port Angeles to Gary Blanton Jr. and Leslie Blanton. The toddler’s father was murdered in 2012 and his mother, Leslie Blanton died of a heart attack - believed to be drug related - in July 2014. A month later Gary Lee Blanton III and his two younger siblings were placed with Khaleel and her husband.

In December of 2014 reports about Gary having bruises and marks on his face and head at school were made. An investigation by Child Protective Services was conducted within 24 hours of the report. CPS finds the wounds could have been the result of situations Khaleel described. On December 16, following the CPS investigation a representative of the Hoh Tribe informs DSHS of her “concerns about [Gary’s] wellbeing.”

Then in January of 2015, a DSHS social worker visited the Khaleel home and documented that there were numerous challenges facing the aunt who was trying to raise six small children on her own. The same social worker e-mailed the Port Angeles DSHS office in February about her concerns. A routine health and safety visit conducted in February described the home as “chaotic” and that Khaleel was “struggling to meet the needs of six children both financially and otherwise.”

On April 16 the five-year-old told school employees that his mom “punched him” in the middle of his forehead - allegedly, this information was not reported to the authorities. The following day he was admitted to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. According to a DSHS report: Earlier that morning, Khaleel says she “heard a loud ‘bang’ and screaming coming from the bedroom shared by Gary and his brother. She found [Gary] on the floor between his bed and a dresser, with a crib partially tipped over and resting on the dresser.” At that time, Khaleel reported, she believed Gary had fallen while getting into his brother’s crib.

“She observed no injuries although the child was crying and saying his ear hurt. She put [Gary] back to bed, gave him some ice and Motrin, and propped him on a pillow. At about 6:00 a.m., while in the process of getting the children ready for the day, she attempted to wake [Gary]. He did not move and his pupils were of different sizes. Cynthia Khaleel called 911 and upon arrival the first responders called for a Medivac helicopter for emergency transport.”

On April 18 Gary was removed from life support and he passed away. Almost two months later, on July 16, Spokane detectives determined that Gary’s death was not accidental and arrested Khaleel on suspicion of second-degree murder. An autopsy determined Gary’s injuries included “bilateral skull fractures, abdominal trauma, and multiple skin contusions involving the head, torso and extremities.” A state Child Protection Medical Consultant determined the boy “had sustained multiple traumas, including an abdominal injury that was the result of a deep penetrating force.” The “complexity and severity of the head injuries suggested a very severe blow that would have caused immediate concussion,” making it unlikely that the boy communicated with his aunt about having an earache or took medication, as she stated.

Galanda and Dreveskracht said they hope the lawsuit will force DSHS to change how it manages the care and supervision of children – and that it will hold responsible employees accountable.

In August 2015, The Seattle Times reported DSHS was the defendant “in scores of lawsuits” over eight years, “ultimately paying $166.4 million for personal-injury claims. Many of the most severely injured were children who were tortured, starved or raped. Some died.”

A Times review of available records revealed: “DSHS employees behind these failures rarely are punished.”

According to Galanda and Dreveskracht: “Washington state’s children deserve better than this. There is nothing that can bring [Gary] back, but hopefully he will not have died in vain … With any luck, this suit will likewise force DSHS to finally reverse course.”

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