The grandmother of a boy whose murder sparked major child protection reforms in Minnesota filed a lawsuit last week saying Pope County, social workers and the child’s family members were negligent in his death.
At least 15 child protection reports had been made on 4-year-old Eric Dean of Starbuck by Feb. 28, 2013, when his stepmother murdered him by throwing him across a room, puncturing his intestine. Before that, Eric had been reported for a broken arm, bruises, scratch marks and bites over his body. Pope County’s child protective agency investigated only one of the 15 abuse reports and found no maltreatment. Nine of those reports were screened out, meaning child protection took no action.
The Star Tribune’s report on the case in September 2014 prompted Gov. Mark Dayton to form a child protection task force, which urged more than 100 reforms to completely overhaul the system. Those reforms, signed into law in May 2015, included more response and more investigations to abuse reports, and more funding and workers for the child protection system.
The lawsuit accuses Pope County, three social workers, Eric’s father and his step-grandmother of failing to act on what were clear warning signs of abuse.
“In the end, it’s about accountability,” said Jason DePauw, one of the attorneys bringing the lawsuit. He said the family and county “all turned a blind eye. ... They failed over and over again.”
The suit is being brought by Eric’s maternal grandmother, Julie Olivier, who was not involved in the boy’s life when he died.
“It’s not about the money,” Olivier said. “I want to make these people examples for future social workers, to make them do their jobs.”
The attorney representing Pope County, James Andreen, said the social workers did nothing wrong. He said they were working under constraints of previous laws that restricted social workers on data that could be reviewed and what could be investigated.
“The rules they were operating under and the rules today are a night and day difference,” Andreen said.
David’s mother and Eric’s paternal grandmother, Yvonne Moore, said many family members initially defended Eric’s killer, Amanda Peltier, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2014. But after the conviction, she said the family realized that Peltier lied to them.
Moore said she welcomed the child protection reforms, saying Pope County Human Services “failed Eric.”
But she deplores the lawsuit, saying it’s driven by money and only hurts Eric’s surviving family members, who are still recovering from the death.
She said Amanda Peltier hid signs of Eric’s abuse from his family.
“There is a lot of regret with all of us,” she said. “We all feel we should have said something, done something.”
Beth Peltier, who was a mandated reporter at the time of Eric’s death, declined to comment. David Dean, Eric’s father, could not be reached for comment.