The grandmother of a 6-year-old girl found hanging from a jump rope in a foster home has filed a federal lawsuit, arguing her death was a result of failures throughout Hennepin County’s child protection system.
In the suit, Kendrea Johnson’s grandmother, Mary Broadus, is seeking $20 million in damages and claiming that the county, the girl’s foster providers and her mental treatment provider knew the girl was suicidal, yet those concerns were ignored.
“The unconscionable and unconstitutional indifference to [Kendrea’s] welfare and serious medical needs manifested itself at every level of Hennepin County’s broken child protection system,” according to the suit.
The suit cites many of the same problems in Kendrea’s case and child protection reported by the Star Tribune in 2015.
Child protection workers and care providers failed to work together for more than a year to safeguard Kendrea, despite knowing she was severely mentally ill, thought about suicide every day and lived in a chaotic foster home, records show.
In March 2014, Kendrea was placed in the Brooklyn Park foster home of Tannise Nawaqavou, who later reported to Brooklyn Park police that the girl threatened to kill her with a screwdriver. Kendrea told her foster mother that she wanted to jump out a window and kill herself, and also drew pictures at school of a child hanging from a rope.
At one point, the agency in charge of Kendrea’s schooling and mental health treatment, LifeSpan, found the girl had suicidal thoughts seven days a week, but they were down to five days a week just before she died, according to police records. But LifeSpan did not tell Nawaqavou or Family Alternatives, the placement agency that supervised the home, that the girl was suicidal.
Family Alternatives’ attorney, Richard Thomas, said it was “concerning” LifeSpan didn’t tell his client Kendrea was suicidal. But he said there is no proof that any of the defendants were responsible for Kendrea’s death, and that neither his client nor Nawaqavou did anything wrong.
“This child came from extremely difficult circumstances that we believe nobody should ever be subjected to. These people went to heroic efforts to make sure that her needs were met,” Thomas said. Family Alternatives social workers “saw her all the time. They were at her house all the time. They would be at her school, they would be the people who would bring her down from some of the explosive situations they had,” he said.
Police said the cause of Kendrea’s death was undetermined, although they believe it was self-inflicted.
Broadus said Tuesday that if the county felt something was wrong with Kendrea she should have been placed with her.
“I want to put her face and voice out there. This really hurts,” Broadus said. “I’m really heartbroken to know I’m never going to see my grandchild again.”
The lawsuit also alleges that in 2000, the Department of Human Services determined that Nawaqavou was responsible for maltreatment after finding that she “physically abused her child or a child in her care.” DHS awarded Nawaqavou a foster care license in 2011.
DHS Inspector General Jerry Kerber confirmed Tuesday that the agency made a maltreatment of a minor finding against Nawaqavou in 2000. That would have disqualified her for seven years from being licensed as a foster provider under state law, but only if the maltreatment finding was serious or substantial, which Kerber said DHS could not determine because the records were destroyed.
Hennepin County spokeswoman Carolyn Marinan said it would be “inappropriate to respond to pending litigation.” Neither LifeSpan nor Nawaqavou returned messages seeking comment.
Following an investigation into Kendrea’s death, DHS revoked Nawaqavou’s and Family Alternatives’ licenses. Though DHS found that Nawaqavou was not responsible for Kendrea’s death, the agency took her license for locking the 6-year-old in her room and for failing to report an allegation that someone in the home had sexual contact with Kendrea.
Nawaqavou is appealing the revocation.
DHS found that Family Alternatives repeatedly failed to investigate complaints about Nawaqavou since 2012, including several reports while the girl lived with her. After Family Alternatives appealed, DHS in November allowed the placement agency to keep operating if it paid a $600 fine.