State failed sexually abused girl at 3 foster homes

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In a lawsuit filed earlier this week at U.S. District Court in Tacoma, attorneys for the girl claim she was sexually assaulted at all three homes where she was placed after she was pulled from her mother’s care as a young child. Two of the girl’s former foster fathers have since been convicted of child molestation, as has one of her foster brothers.

The young woman’s attorney contends state regulators failed in each case to act when the abuse was detected. Instead, the former foster child – now in her early 20s – was left to endure horrific abuse at the hands of people paid by the state to care for her.

“You think that the parade of horrors would end at a certain point, but it does not,” said Vito de la Cruz, a Bellevue attorney representing the woman.

According to the lawsuit, the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) licensed one of the girl’s foster mothers even though she had previously lost custody of her own children due to a drug problem.

“You don’t expect children to be treated this way, and … it shouldn’t happen to any child,” de la Cruz said. “We as a society should demand more.”

The two foster fathers caught abusing the girl received suspended prison sentences – at least initially – after Pierce County judges opted to use a sentencing scheme available to sex offenders who abuse children they’re close to.

Had she not been living with the men, both would have faced years behind bars; instead, they were able to avoid prison time entirely through Washington’s Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative law.

Born to drug-addicted, mentally ill parents, the girl became a ward of the state at age 4. DSHS reports from her time before foster care indicate she was living in a filthy home. One investigator found a kitchen sink filled with moldy dishes and a bed with a dead mouse on it.

“It started off in a very bad situation for our client,” said de la Cruz, an attorney with Yakima-based Tamaki Law Offices. From there, he said, life went “from bad to worse” for the girl.

She was first placed with Jose Miranda and his wife, Juanita. Jose Miranda would later become infamous for the sexual abuse he perpetrated on children during the nine years he was a foster father.

The Mirandas were licensed as foster parents even though Juanita Miranda’s own children had been taken from her while she was living in California. Having been convicted of crimes in Washington, Oregon and California, Juanita Miranda also tested positive for opiates while she was pregnant six years before the girl was placed with the couple.

According to the lawsuit, Juanita Miranda was under Department of Corrections supervision for a felony theft when she and her husband were approved as foster parents. Both lied to DSHS on questionnaires meant to prevent convicts, addicts and people too sick to care for children from becoming foster parents.

Speaking Thursday, DSHS spokesman John Wiley said foster parents now undergo an extensive background check. A history of criminal convictions or problematic court orders – such as losing custody of one’s children – prompt a second level of scrutiny by department leaders, who are unlikely to approve applicants with less than sterling records.

Though he declined to discuss the allegations presented in the lawsuit, Wiley said DSHS has been working to improve safeguards meant to protect foster children.

“In recent years, we have striven to reform our child welfare system,” the spokesman said.

Living on government assistance and receiving disability payments, the Mirandas were licensed in late 1997.

The girl was placed with the couple in March 1998. By May, the state was investigating problems with her care, and she was removed from the home in June.

During her three months in the home, Jose Miranda molested the girl, forced her to shower with him and made her wipe his behind when he soiled himself.

Six years passed before reports of sexual abuse at the home prompted an investigation that ultimately saw Jose Miranda convicted of child molestation and related crimes.

Though he systematically abused the foster children assigned to his Pierce County home, Jose Miranda initially received a suspended sentence under the state’s Special Sex Offender Alternative Sentence scheme.

Meant to put sex offenders in therapy instead of prison, the sentencing alternative is available only to offenders who hurt someone with whom he or she had an existing relationship. Had Miranda been convicted of attacking a child on the street, he would have been sent to prison; instead, because the five or so children he admitted to sexually assaulting were his foster children, Miranda was able to avoid prison for a time.

Two years after his guilty plea, though, investigators learned Miranda had molested two other boys. Largely because he’d failed to tell his sex offender treatment provider about those assaults, he was charged, convicted and ordered to serve at least 11 years in prison. He has since died, as has his wife.

The state paid $11 million to settle an earlier lawsuit brought by six children placed in the Miranda home. The allegations mirrored those brought in the new suit.

Release from the Mirandas’ care provided little respite for the girl, who, according to the lawsuit, was placed with a couple who had been allowed to maintain their foster-parent license despite numerous reports of abuse at the home. Having been certified in 1993, the couple’s license was revoked months after the girl left there in late 1998.

In their care, the girl was beaten and sexually assaulted, de la Cruz told the court. Her attorneys do not contend the couple was behind the sexual abuse, though they note the state received numerous reports of sexual behavior by other foster children at the home.

From there, the girl was passed to the Rosenfelts, a Pierce County couple licensed as foster parents in three prior years. It was in their home that she was sexually assaulted by both her adoptive father, Lavern Rosenfelt, and his son, Travis.

The abuse was first reported to authorities in early 2007 after the girl, then 13, went to a school counselor with allegations of sexual assault. Investigators later learned her adoptive mother had been aware of the sexual abuse for years but did nothing to stop it.

Lavern Rosenfelt was charged with child molestation in June 2007 and was prohibited from having contact with the girl. Nonetheless, the girl’s adoptive mother allowed Lavern Rosenfelt to visit daily and eat dinner with the family. The woman later wrote letters to the Pierce County Superior Court judge who sentenced her husband, urging that he be spared prison.

For his part, Rosenfelt described himself as the girl’s “papa,” and placed blame on the girl, saying she suggested that he walk around nude in front of his adolescent adopted children. While he ultimately pleaded guilty, court records show he continued to defend his behavior even after admitting to the molestations.

In the end, despite his apparent shortage of remorse, Lavern Rosenfelt avoided serving prison through the same sentencing law that nearly allowed Miranda to dodge hard time.

Then 19, Travis Rosenfelt also was spared prison. He pleaded guilty to two assault counts – one of which was sexually motivated – and was sentenced to 14 months in prison, though he does not appear to have served significant jail time.

Interviewed by court staff, he denied any wrongdoing. The interviewer described him as being in “complete denial” and without empathy for his victims.

Lavern Rosenfelt has since died, while his son currently lives in Enumclaw.

De la Cruz said his client carries the psychological scars of the years she spent in the foster care system. Now, the attorney said, she’s looking for the acknowledgment that many abuse survivors seek.

“They want to be heard,” de la Cruz said. “They want to be able to tell what occurred to them, and have people held accountable.”

The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court at Tacoma. Attorneys for DSHS are expected to respond in coming weeks.

The lawsuit calls for financial damages. An exact dollar figure was not given.