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Father Sues Vermont DCF in Toddler’s Death

Friday, November 14, 2014
Rutland — The father of a 2-year-old girl who died in state care filed a lawsuit Thursday against Vermont and its Department for Children and Families, saying they breached their duties to protect the child, whose stepfather is accused of killing her.

Willis Sheldon, of Rutland, filed the lawsuit in Rutland County Superior Court. He is asking for unspecified damages and a jury trial.

The lawsuit says that as a result of the “acts and omissions” of the defendants, Dezirae Sheldon suffered physical pain, anguish and death, and Willis Sheldon suffered the loss of his daughter.

DCF referred a reporter’s call for comment on the lawsuit to the Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who said his office had just received the complaint and was reviewing 

Dezirae, of Poultney, Vt., died in February after arriving at a hospital with severe head trauma.

Records show Dezirae had a history of child abuse injuries, and her mother was convicted last year of cruelty to a child. An investigation revealed that a DCF official was told in 2013 that Dezirae was abused by her stepfather, but that information was never given to the family’s social worker or the girl’s court-appointed attorney before her death.

The Attorney General’s Office found no criminal conduct by department staff, but it found a lack of communication among social workers, the courts, law enforcement, medical personnel and others.

The stepfather, Dennis Duby, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

The Legislature’s Committee on Child Protection has been looking into Vermont’s child welfare system since the deaths of Dezirae and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw of Winooski, Vt., who also was in state care.

Some changes have been made at DCF, such as the hiring of more employees to reduce the caseload of social workers.

In September, David Yacovone, commissioner of the department, resigned. He was succeeded by Ken Schatz, general counsel for the Agency of Human Services, which includes the department.

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