Six-year-old Kendrea Johnson was found hanging from a jump rope in her foster home four years ago, but her death won’t be in vain, attorneys for her family said Wednesday.
Hennepin County reached a $1.5 million settlement with Johnson’s grandmother, Mary Broadus, who filed a federal wrongful-death suit claiming that the county failed to address the girl’s suicidal ideation.
The settlement amount is “one of the highest settlements against a government entity in Minnesota on claims involving the deliberate indifference to the welfare of a foster child,” the attorneys wrote.
Broadus could not be immediately reached for comment, but her attorneys — Jeff Montpetit, Jeff Storms, and Andrew Irlbeck — said the case was a victory for the family and all children in foster care.
“Obviously, they’d rather have their loved one,” Monpetit said. “There is a small amount of satisfaction and vindication in the fact that what they set to accomplish is get the county to reevaluate how they handle the … needs of kids in foster care.”
Broadus originally sought $20 million in damages. The lawsuit accused the county, Kendrea’s foster providers and her mental health treatment provider of ignoring the girl’s daily suicidal thoughts. Child protection workers and care providers knew she was severely mentally ill.
Kendrea was placed in the Brooklyn Park foster home of Tannise Nawaqavou in March 2014. She told Brooklyn Park police that the girl threatened to kill her with a screwdriver. Kendrea also said she wanted to kill herself by jumping out a window. At school, she drew pictures of a child hanging from a noose.
Kendrea was found dead on Dec. 27, 2014. While the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office said the cause of her death was “undetermined,” Broadus strongly believed her granddaughter committed suicide, according to the lawsuit.
The county issued a written statement saying that settling was in the best interest of everyone involved.
“Any loss of life is tragic, but the loss of someone so young is especially tragic,” said the county’s statement. “We are here to protect children — and we do that every day. We take that charge very seriously.”
The suit originally named several additional defendants, including Nawaqavou, but they were eventually dismissed from the case until only the county remained.
The settlement was reached earlier this year, but publicly revealed in a court document filed Wednesday.
The “petition for distribution” proposed splitting the settlement, after attorney’s fees of 40 percent, as such: 50 percent to Kendrea’s half-brother, 5, for college, 25 percent to Kendrea’s mother and 25 percent to Broadus.
Kendrea’s mother lives in the Twin Cities and loved Kendrea and “infrequently” saw her while the girl was in foster care, according to the court document. Her father preceded her in death. Broadus, Kendrea’s maternal grandmother, is the trustee.