By Steve Guntli
Two young girls who were placed in a foster home in Custer with a boy accused of sexual assault were awarded an $8 million settlement this week.
On February 10, jurors in Whatcom County Superior Court awarded $4 million each to the two girls, who were placed into foster care in 2003 at the ages of 6 and 3. Judge Ira Uhrig ruled that the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) was liable for the damages for placing the girls in the home in which a 12-year-old boy had recently been accused of abusing a 5-year-old relative.
The boy, Dillon Lee Lange, now 26, had allegedly been discovered abusing the family member in 2001. The report was filed with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, but both the boy and the alleged victim denied the abuse happened. The charges were dropped, but a the lawsuit alleged DSHS did not properly review those files before placing the two girls in the home in 2003.
According to the charging papers, Lange and his younger brother, Colten Lee Lange, now 24, repeatedly raped the girls over the next several years. One of the girls went to police with her story in 2013. Colten pleaded guilty to three counts of child molestation in 2014 and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Dillon, who had been living in Texas when the charges were filed, was arrested and transferred back to Whatcom County in fall 2015. He is currently awaiting trial for two counts of first-degree child rape and four counts of child molestation.
Raymond Dearie, the girl’s attorney, alleged DSHS ignored numerous red flags, including evidence of brain damage and mental health disorders in Dillon that may have stemmed from himself being a victim of sexual abuse.
Helen Anderson, a state social worker, admitted on the stand that she did not review the boys’ record of sexual abuse, focusing instead on vetting the parents.
In a statement released February 11, DSHS wrote, “We thank the jury for their work in this trial, which resulted in an $8M verdict for the plaintiffs. We hope this helps the girls receive the therapy, education and other services they might need in the future. DSHS’ Children’s Administration continually improves policies and practices to keep children safe.”