Foster Nightmare Easy to Spot but Went Ignored, Teen Says
DENVER (CN) - Social workers ignored obvious signs of torture and starvation to let a "sadistic predator" adopt, his victim claims in Federal Court.
James Dahn, now 18 or 19, sued the now-defunct Adoption Alliance, two of its social workers, Melanie Tem and Vicki Little, and two Moffat County Department of Social Services caseworkers, Audrey Amedei and Andrea Cramer, for civil rights violations.
"This is a case about the real human cost of a calloused and uncaring adoption system that refuses to protect the vulnerable children it is supposed to serve," the complaint states. "After placing James Dahn in the home of a man who turned out to be a sadistic predator, defendants actively blinded themselves to mounting signs that James was being abused. The social workers employed by that broken adoption system recklessly disregarded multiple, repeated signs, surfacing over the course of months, that young James was a victim of child abuse, and in so doing allowed that abuse to continue."
Jeremiah Lovato was approved as a prospective adoptive parent in 2006, though the 36-year-old machinist had pleaded guilty in 1989 to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, according to the complaint in the District of Colorado.
Like Dahn, Lovato had also been allegedly physically abused by his parents.
Dahn says he began showing "classic signs of an abusive relationship" soon after moving in with Lovato at age 13. Adoption Alliance social workers allegedly ignored the red flags and even skipped mandatory monthly meetings with the boy.
On one occasion when Little did visit Dahn in person, she noted that he had lost some "baby fat," the complaint says.
"Defendant Little's August report significantly understates James' dramatic weight loss," the complaint says. "By the time the school year started just one month later, James Dahn had lost over 25 pounds - hardly a normal occurrence for a growing teenage boy. Indeed, James was being starved."
When Dahn came to school with a black eye, school officials allegedly told Moffat County that they thought the boy was being abused. Caseworkers Amadei and Cramer nevertheless failed to photograph bruises on his back, face and arms when they met him at school, according to the complaint.
Dahn says the county social workers had more than enough evidence to conclude that Dahn was in danger but ignored it.
"Defendant Cramer's report of her response stated that (1) she confirmed with the school health technician that James Dahn had not grown an inch in height since January of 2008, but had lost 28 pounds of weight; (2) James Dahn attempted to explain away his weight loss by stating that he had forgotten to make dinner and there was no food in the house for dinner; (3) James Dahn's teachers characterized Jeremiah Lovato as 'creepy' and 'kn[owing] all the answers'; and (4) by this point in time, MCDSS had received several emails from teachers concerned for the child."
Dahn added that Cramer and Amedei "illegally and/or inappropriately dismissed reports and warnings made by James Dahn's teachers and school officials that James Dahn was in danger and willfully, wantonly, deliberately and/or recklessly disregarded signs that James Dahn was a victim of child abuse."
School officials continued to voice their concerns, filing four official reports of suspected child abuse and contacting Moffat County police, according to the complaint. But the county social workers allegedly deemed the reports "unfounded," and the Adoption Alliance ultimately let Lovato adopt Dahn.
Months later, Lovato pulled Dahn out of school entirely, according to the complaint. With no one left to advocate for his safety, Dahn says he endured more than a year of horrific beatings and psychological abuse at Lovato's hands until he ran away.
Dahn says he required hospital treatment after his escape for daily beatings that included a meat tenderizer, wire hanger, belt and piece of lumber. The 15-year-old allegedly had a months-old broken arm, and doctors feared the boy would never be able to sit without pain because Lovato had repeatedly stomped his testicles.
Lovato is now serving 119 years to life in prison after he was tried and convicted of 17 criminal counts in 2010 for abusing James Dahn, the complaint says.
"When asked at Jeremiah Lovato's criminal trial why she chose not to seek James Dahn out alone on more than one occasion, defendant Little replied, only, 'I don't know,'" Dahn says. "Her words speak for themselves.
"Defendants Amedei and Cramer testified at Jeremiah Lovato's criminal trial, where they affirmed the paucity of their efforts to protect James Dahn under oath.
"James Dahn also testified and stated that he might have confided in defendant Little, but never had the opportunity because his adoptive father was always present when she visited.
"James Dahn also testified that, throughout his time with Jeremiah Lovato, he feared for his life and did not trust the system to help him."
Dahn seeks compensatory and punitive damages for violations of his 14th Amendment due process rights, constitutional failure to train and supervise, negligence and violations of Colorado Common Law.
The Adoption Alliance, a nonprofit formerly based in Denver, dissolved in 2012.
Dahn is represented by Mari Newman with Killmer, Lane & Newman.