PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- Oregon's Department of Human Services allegedly placed two brothers with a foster parent who was physically, emotionally and sexually abusive, according to a new lawsuit filed against the agency Thursday.
The complaint, which seeks at least $15 million in damages, claims that DHS employees placed the boys with an uncle who was unfit to serve as a foster parent, instead of their paternal grandfather.
According to the lawsuit, the uncle, Derric Campbell, was himself the subject of repeated DHS interventions. Campbell was physically, emotionally and sexually abused by his stepfather, who was eventually arrested on charges related to child pornography. Campbell's mother suffered from mental health issues and addiction, and reportedly killed herself in front of a teenage Campbell.
Lawyers for one of the boys claim in the suit that because of these issues, and Campbell's own previous suicide attempts, the agency should have known Campbell, who was 27 at the time, would be an unfit foster parent. The lawsuit claims Campbell was struggling financially and had been homeless.
According to the complaint, "At that time, Campbell was so destitute that he bummed money from the children’s counselor to buy food."
Campbell allegedly allowed the boys to eat only one bologna sandwich a day, causing one of the children to lose significant weight. That same child was whipped with a belt and burned with a lighter – incidents the lawsuit claims were reported to DHS.
The complaint alleges that the boys' grandfather sought guardianship, which was contested by DHS. The boys remained in Campbell's care until 2016, when the second child was admitted to the hospital experiencing hallucinations. He eventually disclosed that Campbell had been sexually abusing him.
A criminal complaint filed in Union County Circuit Court charged Campbell with two counts of felony sex abuse in the first degree and two counts of misdemeanor harassment involving a sexual part. The charges stem from incidents that occurred starting in July 2013 – one month after the boys' grandfather had requested custody.
Campbell's trial was set to begin on August 3, 2017. The newly filed lawsuit says he committed suicide two weeks prior to the trial's start. A motion to dismiss the charges against Campbell was filed on July 26, 2017, citing his death.
Attorneys Steven Rizzo and Mary Skjelset of law firm Rizzo Mattingly Bosworth are representing the child in the suit against DHS. Rizzo and Skjelset could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Rizzo and Skjelset filed a $100 million lawsuit against the agency in April involving the physical and sexual abuse of foster children in Marion County; that case is still making its way through the court system. In 2015, Rizzo won a record $15 million settlement in a lawsuit against the agency for a case in which 9 foster children were abused by their state-appointed foster father.
A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services told KOIN 6 News the agency "can't comment on active lawsuits."