Meridian Star

May 27, 2013

Kids' home head alleges MS failed to protect tot

The Associated Press
Associated Press

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — The head of a Pine Belt children's home says he will sue the Mississippi Department of Human Services, alleging it failed to protect a 4-year-old girl during two years of custody litigation against his facility.

Michael Garrett, executive director of Homes of Hope for Children, which won custody in November, recently filed a legal notice required 90 days before suing a state agency.

Claims for damages are based on department officials' repeated attempts to return the girl to her parents in spite of numerous family problems, Garrett told The Hattiesburg American (http://hatne.ws/12GH8p8 ). He said the child's father has pleaded guilty to two sex crimes against children, her mother has a long history of mental problems, their income is mostly from Social Security and they have four other children.

Department spokeswoman Julia Bryan said officials don't comment on pending litigation.

Garrett said he took the child into his home in June 2010 when her family was evicted. He arranged her siblings to stay at Homes of Hope, but took the child into his own home, as she was too young.

The letter of notice of intention to sue cites Chancery Court Judge M. Ronald Doleac's 131-page decision giving Garrett and his wife permanent custody.

Doleac wrote that he had heard substantial evidence that the family was "in no way fit or safe for a child," but that workers in an agency "tasked with being the eyes, ears and defenders of these most vulnerable members of our society" either overlooked the evidence or found it acceptable although psychologists, teachers and counselors all said it wasn't.

The girl's parents appealed Doleac's ruling.