Family of two slain California foster children file lawsuit

Family of two slain California foster children file lawsuit

The biological family of two boys who authorities say were killed by their adoptive parents have filed a federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations and wrongful death.

Ryan Dean and Dana Moorer, the boys’ biological mother and grandmother, allege that the children were unlawfully taken from their mother and placed in the care of a couple who now face murder charges in their deaths.

Authorities conspired with the adoptive parents “to deny plaintiffs’ several requests to reunify their family with Cinsere and Classic Pettus before they were murdered,” according to the lawsuit.

Dean and Moorer are seeking $40 million in general damages.

The case, filed Friday, comes about three months after the Kern County district attorney’s office charged the boys’ adoptive parents, Trezell and Jacqueline West, with two counts of second-degree murder and felony child abuse, among other counts.

Classic Pettus, 4, and Cinsere Pettus, 3, were reported missing from the couple’s backyard in California City on Dec. 21, 2020.

The Wests told investigators that the boys, who had been renamed Orrin and Orson West, vanished while playing in the yard, Kern County Dist. Atty. Cynthia Zimmer said.

An investigation determined that the boys died three months before the Wests told investigators that they were missing, Zimmer said.

Their bodies have not been found, and the criminal investigation continues.

The lawsuit names as defendants the Wests; the California Department of Social Services and department director Kim Johnson; the Kern County Department of Human Services and former department director Dena Murphy; Ana Zavala-Garza, a county social worker; and other individuals whose identities are not yet known, according to the court documents.

Dean’s custody battle began Nov. 13, 2016, when she came home from work to find Cinsere, then 3 months old, crying uncontrollably, the lawsuit stated. Cinsere’s father, Charles, told Dean that he had given the boy two baths that day but that nothing else of note occurred.

She took Cinsere to a hospital, where X-rays revealed both of his legs were broken, court documents stated. Kern County social workers removed him from her custody later that day.

Cinsere was placed in the foster home of Latoya Spry, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Dean was allowed weekly visits, completed parenting classes and filed formal reunification requests.

Dean gave birth to Classic the following June. The boy, who was born premature, was released to her care, but a Kern County sheriff’s deputy came to her home days later and said county social workers were removing Classic “because Cinsere Pettus had been removed and they like to keep siblings together,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that California Department of Social Services officials incentivize Kern County to remove children from the foster care system within two years.

In late 2018, the defendants “worked in concert” to have the boys removed from Spry’s home and placed with the Wests “for financial gain,” court documents stated.

“At this time there was no reason given why Cinsere and Classic were moved from Ms. Spry’s care to the Wests’,” according to the lawsuit. “After the children were in the foster care of the Wests, Ms. Dean was not allowed to bond with the children as often as before.”

During subsequent visits, Dean noticed that her children were scared and losing weight and that Classic had scratches on his face, the lawsuit stated.

In October that year, Moorer, the boys’ grandmother, filed a request to have Cinsere and Classic placed in her care, court documents stated. The next month, Dean wrote a letter to authorities expressing her concerns over the Wests’ lack of proper care. She did not receive a response.

“Sometime in 2019, defendants revoked Ms. Dean’s parental rights without explanation, while Ms. Moorer continued her attempts to have Cinsere and Classic Pettus placed in her care,” the lawsuit stated.

The grandmother’s custody request was denied in March 2019.

A Department of Social Services spokesperson told The Times the state agency “is unable to comment on litigation.”

The Kern County human services department was not able to respond “because there is a gag order in place,” a spokesperson said.

Dean and Moorer are still mourning, their attorney Waukeen Q. McCoy told The Times on Tuesday.

“Whenever I talk to Ryan about it she tears up in disbelief that this occurred,” McCoy said.

The attorney said that under the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, enacted in 2018, social workers are supposed to prioritize placing children who are taken from their parents’ custody into the home of a relative.

Kern County and state officials failed to abide by that federal mandate, McCoy alleged.

“They failed this family,” he said.

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