13 people sue Devereux over alleged child sexual abuse

(NBC10)

(NBC10)

Updated: 3:15 p.m.

Thirteen people are suing Devereux Behavioral Health, alleging the nonprofit allowed them to be sexually abused as children while in the organization’s care and failed to take steps to stop that abuse when it came to their attention. The lawsuit follows an August Philadelphia Inquirer investigation detailing years of criminal behavior by Devereux staff, and the lasting trauma of their victims.

The plaintiffs, who were as young as 8 when the alleged abuse took place, are not named in the complaint to protect their privacy. Twelve of them live in Pennsylvania and the one lives in Delaware.

Between 2004 and 2014, they suffered abuse ranging from inappropriate touching to rape. The complaint also drew upon allegations from Devereux facilities in other states to make the case that negligence was rampant, including one case in Florida where a staff member abused a Devereux resident in his care, and then sought her out after her release from a shelter for minors who had been sex-trafficked, and raped her again.

The complaint describes sexual and physical abuse taking place between 2004 and 2014, and names more than 20 defendants, including individuals and different entities managed by Devereux. Beyond the individual acts of abuse themselves, the civil lawsuit seeks to hold Devereux accountable for what plaintiffs allege was a long-standing pattern of ignoring abuse claims, failing to weed out abusive staff and abandoning corrective plans.

“Devereux’s failure to protect these children from conditions they knew existed within their facilities for decades is unacceptable, intolerable, and utterly despicable,” wrote attorneys Robert Mongeluzzi, Andrew Duffy, Kristen Feden and Daniel Ceisler.

The complaint also alleges that Devereux’s recent efforts to tighten security, as described in the Inquirer’s reporting, are more or less an admission of guilt over past protocols.

“These alleged efforts, however, are both insufficient and a demonstration of their failure to implement reasonable, appropriate, and legally sufficient safeguards in the past,” wrote the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Devereux spokesman Hugh Braithwaite said in a statement that while the company had “not yet seen the actual lawsuit, we can tell you any reported incidents involving children formerly in our care are heartbreaking.” He also noted that in September, the organization announced it had hired former U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch and her firm to lead what it called an “independent safety audit” into the abuse allegations, which spanned a period of 25 years.

“These industry challenges are far more complex than can be surmounted by staff training and financial investments alone, but we understand the hard work that needs to be done and committed many years ago to doing it,” Braithwaite said.

There are 10 charges, including: recklessness and gross negligence; assault and battery; corporate liability against Devereux; outrageous conduct and punitive damages; and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Noting Devereux’s annual revenue in excess of $460 million, the plaintiffs asked a judge to award them compensatory and punitive damages “in excess of $50,000 and local arbitration limits, plus allowable taxable costs, interest, delay damages, and such other relief.”

The Philadelphia Department of Human Services and Community Behavioral Health recently announced they were removing 53 children from Devereux facilities. The announcement followed a six-week assessment of the facilities, in which city inspectors found staffers were not properly watching over the children in their care.

Disclosure: WHYY has received funding from Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.

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