Lawsuit against state for alleged foster home abuse gets new trial

Five former Eatonville foster children who allege they were abused will have another chance to argue the state failed to protect them before they were adopted, an appellate court said Tuesday.

The five are now adults. In earlier court records, two — Haeli Hamrick and Staci Craney — are identifed by name. In the appellate court documents, the other three people are identified only by their initials: K.E.H., J.B.H. and K.M.H.

They previously sued the state and alleged they suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect in the household of Scott Hamrick, a Central Pierce Fire & Rescue lieutenant, and his wife, Drew Ann Hamrick.

A jury awarded the five nothing in 2015, deciding the state Department of Social and Health Services was not negligent in investigating the allegations of abuse.

But that jury considered only the state’s alleged failures after the children were adopted, not when they were foster children in the home.

The state asked Pierce County Superior Court Judge Katherine Stolz to drop from the 2015 trial the claims that DSHS failed to do all necessary safety check-ins at the home before the adoptions.

Stolz agreed and, according to a quote cited in the appellate opinion, ruled that “there were so many people involved that were handling this prior to the adoption, all of these other voices that were coming in saying, no, there was nothing to show there was any abuse. ... Does it really matter whether (a social worker) was or was not doing her health and safety visits?”

The 3-3 decision by Division II of the state Court of Appeals, writen by Judge Thomas R. Bjorgen, reversed Stolz’s ruling.

“... the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the children, supplied a legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find by a preponderance that DSHS breached that duty during the pre-adoption period and proximately caused at least some of the children’s damages,” Bjorgen wrote.

The ruling means the children can take the pre-adoption part of their lawsuit back to Superior Court.

As for the adoptive parents, Scott Hamrick killed himself after the sheriff’s department started investigating the abuse allegations in 2011.

His wife was sentenced to a year in prison after she pleaded guilty to tampering with witnesses and unlawful imprisonment. She made two of the children write that her husband didn’t abuse them, and locked one child in a room without food, water or a restroom, prosecutors said.

The children also argued that Eatonville police didn’t properly investigate the allegations of abuse, and the city settled out of court for $2 million in 2014.

Alexis Krell: