Looking back, there were clues that a Wellington couple shouldn’t have brought a hungry, filthy, bedraggled, but somehow loveable, neighborhood boy into their home after his mother was declared unfit to raise him.
Within months of his arrival, he threatened the couple’s son with a knife. He squeezed their son’s pet hamster to death. Then, in a moment that should have spurred child care officials to act, he made sexual advances to a 3-year-old daughter of a visiting friend.
It wasn’t until the couple found out that he had forced their own son to perform sex acts on him that they finally realized the cavernous depths of the boy’s mental ills — ills they claim neither the Florida Department of Children & Families nor another social service agency had ever revealed to them, attorney Stephan LeClainche said, outlining the horrific conduct that he claimed brought he and his clients to a Palm Beach County circuit courtroom on Wednesday.
“They put a sexually aggressive child with a history of suicidal and homicidal acts in (their) home without providing essential, vital information,” LeClainche told jurors during his opening statement.
Now, 10 years after the sexual assault occurred and seven years after his wife died of cancer, the boy’s father is asking the eight jurors to force the two agencies to pay him and his son millions for not warning them about the enormous risk of they faced when they took Jerald in. Because of the nature of the allegations, The Palm Beach Post is not using the full name of the accused nor identifying the father, who shares his name with his now 19-year-old son..
LeClainche said the son will never recover from the emotional scars of the attack.
“This case is about the sexual and psychological abuse of a 9-year-old boy and the multiple failures of two child care agencies who allowed this tragedy to occur,” LeClainche said. “This was predictable and preventable.”
Had the couple known that Jerald had been physically and sexually abused since he was a toddler, that he was psychotic and heard voices that made him do bad things, the couple would never have welcomed him into their home when he was 10 years old, LeClainche said.
“They allowed (the couple) to take into their home a child who is so damaged, so horribly damaged, that he would have been a challenge for the most skilled therapist,” he said.
An attorney representing Camelot Community Care, hired by DCF to provide counseling services for Jerald, said officials did warn the couple that as a result of the sexual abuse he suffered Jerald had become an abuser.
“At no time should Jerald Jerald be allowed to be in a room with another child with the door closed,” attorney Hector Buigas said, quoting from a safety plan that was written in November 2002 — two months after Jerald came to live with the couple.
Contrary to claims LeClainche made, Buigas said, the child care agencies didn’t obfuscate or understate the multiple demons that haunted Jerald. “This was about sex,” Buigas said of the candid and repeated warnings caseworkers delivered. “This was about (Jerald’s) problems with sex.”
Further, he questioned whether the August 2003 assault can be blamed for the problems the 19-year-old suffers. “one single experience rarely defines a person’s entire life,” Buigas said.
There is evidence the boy may have been sexually assaulted before Jerald came to live with the family, he said. His school attendance record was spotty. Suspected of having attention-deficit disorder at a young age, the youth began taking psychotropic drugs within a week of Jerald’s arrival in the home.
Still, the first witness the jury heard indicated mistakes were made. While former DCF worker Suzie Parchment said she didn’t remember many of the details of the case, she acknowledged that Jerald should have been put in a restrictive residential facility instead of placed with a family that had no training to deal with someone with his severe problems.
LeClainche urged jurors not to allow Camelot and DCF to shift the blame to the family, including saying his trauma stems from his mother’s agonizing 2006 death. “They will tell you because his mother died what’s a little oral sex and sodomy between boys,” he said.
DCF opted not to deliver opening statements, deferring them instead until later in the trial. Father Flanagan’s Boys & Girls Home, another agency that treated Jerald under contract with DCF while he was living with the family, reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with the youth and his father. Buigas indicated one of their psychologists should be blamed for not properly treating Jerald long after Camelot workers had bowed out.
LeClainche reminded jurors that in failing the boy, his father and his late mother, the agencies also failed Jerald. “The sad thing here, the really sad thing here, is that Jerald was a victim even when he was an abuser because he hadn’t gotten the treatment he needed,” LeClainche said.
Jerald, now 21, is serving a roughly two-year sentence in state prison for grand theft and burglary.
The trial, expected to last a month, continues today.