Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
WEST PALM BEACH —
In the weeks before 10-year-old Jerald came to live with a Wellington couple, he had been repeatedly raped by a 19-year-old in a house where state officials sent him after they rescued him from his neglectful mother.
Testifying for the first time Tuesday in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the Florida Department of Children & Families and another child welfare agency, the man who welcomed the filthy, malnourished neighborhood kid into his home said he and his wife weren’t told about those assaults nor the years of torture the boy had endured.
“Were you told by anyone that based on his history there was a likelihood that an animal or a child would be in danger around him?” attorney Stephan LeClainche asked his client, reading from reports the father said were kept secret from him. “Did you know that when rated on the issue of whether he posed a risk of violence to others he scored 4 out of 5?”
The father shook his head.
Instead, not knowing about the physical and sexual abuse heaped on Jerald beginning when he was 18 months old, the man moved the boy into his son’s bedroom. As many psychologists predicted, Jerald became a predator, ultimately sexually assaulting the couple’s then 9-year-old son, leaving the youngster with emotional scars that refuse to heal 10 years later, the father claims.
“He wouldn’t have been allowed to play with (Junior) period,” he testified of what he would have done had he known about Jerald’s tumultuous background.
The parade of horribles that Jerald experienced have been a focal part of the trial that began last week. Worried that the jury may punish them for not doing more to help Jerald, attorneys representing DCF and Camelot Community Care asked Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Meenu Sasser to tell the eight jurors that they can’t hold the two agencies responsible for any services they failed to provide Jerald, who is now in state prison on larceny convictions.
“Jerald is not a party to this case,” Sasser told the jury. Instead jurors are being asked to decide whether DCF and Camelot caseworkers failed to warn Junior’s mother and father about Jerald’s background and, if so, how much money Junior deserves for the emotional wounds the now 19-year-old youth suffered as a result. Another agency, Boys & Girls Town, also known as Father Flanagan’s, reached a confidential settlement with the family.
The Palm Beach Post is not reporting the full names of the parents, Junior or Jerald due to the nature of the allegations. It is the paper’s policy not to identify victims of sexual assault.
While Jerald isn’t a part to the case, his horrific young life is center stage.
According to testimony during the trial, although state law requires child welfare workers to immediately report allegations of abuse, a DCF caseworker didn’t do so when she learned that 19-year-old Reggie Cruz had sexually assaulted Jerald during the month they lived under the same roof. In fact, LeClainche said, because Cruz’s mother and Jerald’s mother were friends, the abuse had been going on for years.
“They moved (Jerald) into the home of his abuser,” he said.
But, the father testified, DCF caseworker Suzie Parchment didn’t tell him or his wife about the assaults. Eventually, Jerald did.
About a month after Jerald came to live with them in September 2002, he made sexual overtures to a 4-year-old girl who was visiting. Horrified, the mother confronted Jerald and the story spilled out. She called authorities. Cruz was eventually convicted of sexual battery on a juvenile and sent to prison for 18 months.
Days after the mother learned of the assault, Parchment sent a letter to DCF higher-ups, saying she had removed Jerald from the Cruz home after learning of rape allegations.
Parchment, the father testified, never told him or his wife why she had removed Jerald from the Cruz home. And, he said, it wasn’t the only information that was withheld even though he repeatedly asked them for background information.
He said he and his wife, who died in 2006 after a nearly two-year battle with cancer, weren’t told that Jerald had been diagnosed as suicidal when he was 3 and found wandering in traffic. They weren’t told he had tried to slit his sleeping father’s throat with a knife or that he told a teacher he planned to bring a gun to school and kill her and himself. They didn’t know he had been diagnosed as both suicidal and homicidal or that he heard voices.
He testified that had he known of even some of Jerald’s demons, he would have realized the outbursts he dismissed as harmless were troubling warning signs and his son was in danger. For instance, he said, he wasn’t alarmed when Jerald threatened his son with a butter knife because he had no idea the boy had tried to kill his father.
“Of course it would have taken on more significance,” he said. “But if I had known (about his past) he would have never been there in the first place.”
His testimony is to continue.