This action arises from the Defendants’ negligent failure to protect siblings A.M. and C.M. from sexual assault and emotional and physical abuse while in Defendants’ foster care and custody.
Defendants KIDS CENTRAL and/or YFA, vetted and recommended, and Defendant DCF approved, the licensure of Ronald “Ronnie” R. Cruz and his wife Ingrid Cruz to provide foster care services to children referred by Defendant DCF for placement.
Defendants KIDS CENTRAL, YFA and/or LIFESTREAM, had a duty to investigate and remove vulnerable children from dangerous situations where they were subject to abuse and neglect. Despite engaging Defendants KIDS CENTRAL, YFA and/or LIFESTREAM, Defendant DCF continued to have the ultimate responsibility for the safety and well-being of the children under its care and for investigating reports of child abuse and neglect by foster parents, including Ronnie Cruz.
A.M. and C.M., then 11 and 7, were removed from the care of their mother in June 2018.
On or about August 30, 2018, A.M. and C.M., were placed in the foster home of Ronnie and Ingrid Cruz located in Lakeland County, Florida. A.M. and C.M. remained in the Cruz home until March 29, 2019, when they were reunited with their mother following the entry of a Reunification Order.
During this time, while A.M. was sleeping Cruz would repeatedly come into her bedroom, wake A.M., fondle her vagina and digitally penetrate her. On another occasion Cruz pulled down his pants and ordered A.M. to “lick it” and threatened to hurt her if she did not comply. Repeatedly, throughout the relevant period, Cruz sexually targeted, threatened, assaulted and battered A.M., telling her that she was his favorite because she was a “virgin.”
As A.M. was preparing to leave the Cruz home to be reunited with her mother, Cruz threatened A.M. and her family with physical violence if she ever disclosed the abuse that happened in the Cruz home during the relevant period.
A.M. repeatedly stated she wanted to do “bad things” to herself (suicidal thoughts and self-harming) because she stated, “I can’t deal with it anymore.” A.M. made these statements to her mother in front of case worker(s), and reported them independently to case worker(s), the therapist provided by the Defendants, and even to a teacher at school. Defendants ignored and/or were deliberately indifferent to these reports and instead told A.M. to “shut up” and threatened that she would never see her mother again.
A.M. began to exhibit depressive symptoms, was unable to sleep, felt sick to her stomach, began vomiting, and would urinate on herself. Defendants ignored and/or were deliberately indifferent to physical manifestations of distress that A.M. was exhibiting.
As to minor C.M., Ingrid Cruz would expose herself to C.M., touch C.M. and would force C.M. to touch himself (masturbate) in front of her. C.M. was also physically assaulted and abused, being struck in the head by Ronnie Cruz and subject to harsh physical punishments.
C.M. repeatedly stated he wanted to do “bad things” to himself. C.M. made these statements to his mother in front of case worker(s), and reported them independently to case worker(s). Defendants ignored and/or were deliberately indifferent to these reports and instead told C.M. to “shut up” and threatened that he would never see his mother again.
As a result of the abuse, C.M. began to exhibit depressive symptoms, was unable to sleep, felt sick to his stomach, began vomiting, and would urinate on himself. Defendants ignored and/or were deliberately indifferent to physical manifestations of distress that C.M. was exhibiting.
Defendants had information available to them, prior to placing and while A.M. and C.M. was placed in Cruz home, that circumstances in the home would pose a danger to vulnerable minor children. Defendants had ample cause to remove A.M. and her sibling C.M. from the Cruz home but failed to do so. Instead, Defendants repeatedly ignored red flags of abuse in the household and permitted these vulnerable children to remain in the home where they suffered further abuse.
Defendants issued a license authorizing the Cruz home on September 21, 2015. Since that time there were at least ten (10) institutional investigations of the Cruz home with a pattern of reports of alleged sexual abuse of multiple minors. These included allegations of: minors being forced to perform oral sex and to “lick it”; sexual intercourse; fondling and digital vaginal penetration; money in exchange for sex; making minors watch pornography; forcing minors to touch Cruz in a sexual manner, and harsh physical punishments. The minor children also reported they were threatened and/or beaten if they told anyone about the abuse.
Defendants failed to adequately investigate the allegations of abuse in the Cruz household, and simply closed the case and/or investigation with “no indicators of sexual abuse-sexual battery.”
During visitation with their mother, A.M. and her sibling C.M. reported that “very bad things” were happening and they repeatedly begged to be removed from the Cruz home. Each time employees and agents of the Defendants shut down the attempted communications of abuse occurring at the Cruz home by A.M and C.M to their mother. Further, in response to A.M.’s attempts to communicate the abuse to her mother, employees and agents of the Defendants threatened A.M. that she would never see her mother again.
Plaintiff JANE DOE, was alarmed by her children’s statements also repeatedly raised concerns with the case worker(s) and therapist and even called the DCF hotline. Her pleas for assistance and intervention to help her children fell on deaf ears as Plaintiff was repeatedly told that A.M. was lying and having temper tantrums. Helpless, Plaintiff could do nothing more but endure the emotional distress caused by witnessing as her children were repeatedly returned to the Cruz home where they continued to be sexually, physically and emotionally abused.