DSHS sued for allowing 'crazy drunk' to care for children

For two years, beginning in 2001, Konnie Baughman, of Seattle, was paid by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services to care for 4-year old Toby Kropp and his 1-year old sister.

This week, the now-21 year old Kropp, who now uses his adoptive parents’ last name, sued the department for negligence.

According to the complaint filed in King County Superior Court, the DSHS had documentation showing that the now-dead Baughman was a "crazy drunk" with "a history of belligerent alcohol abuse” who had no relationship with the children when their young mother left them with Baughman in 2001.

“We want accountability from the department,” Ian Bauer, of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP in Seattle, told KIRO 7 on Thursday.  “We want to know why a woman who had no relationship with these children was allowed to have them in her care when the DSHS continued to receive warning after warning after warning about the safety of these children.”

“There was no reason for the children to be in her care to begin with,” Bauer said, “much less once those warnings began.”

According to the complaint, the DSHS received multiple warnings that "Baughman does drugs," left the children unsupervised and unfed with teeth "so rotted they must all be removed."

The documents allege the DSHS received a referral on Sept. 28, 2003, that “Baughman was driving with the children in her car while she was under the influence of alcohol.”

Another complaint alleged, “Toby had been poked in the eye with a stick by another child and injured very badly but that Baughman refused to get Toby medical treatment.”

The DSHS was later warned, “Toby’s eye was starting to turn gray” and "his vision is blurred."

Bauer said the DSHS was told that, if medical care wasn’t promptly sought, Toby could lose his vision and perhaps lose the entire eye itself.

“Despite that warning, the department did nothing,” Bauer told KIRO 7.

He blames the department’s lack of action for Toby’s permanent near-blindness in that eye.

“None of this was a secret to the DSHS,” Bauer said.  “The department is being told all of this and also knows the only reason she has these kids is to get a check from DSHS.”

After years in the DSHS system, both children were eventually taken from Baughman's home and adopted.

Toby now lives in California.

His minor sister still lives in the Seattle area and is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Bauer said, however, she may also take legal action someday.

“The injuries that you see resulting from a case like this are lifelong, profound psychological injuries,” Bauer said.

He said Toby filed the complaint because he believes it’s important the public is aware of what’s being done with its tax dollars.

“It’s important for the DSHS to fix the problem,” Bauer said.

KIRO 7 asked the DSHS for comment on the lawsuit and was told it does not discuss pending litigation.

KIRO 7 also asked why the agency would appoint a caregiver who has no biological ties to the children, and who is not a licensed foster parent?

DSHS media relations manager Norah West provided the following answer:

"Regarding placement, if a child is in the care and custody of the state, the child could remain in a family home or be placed in the care of relatives, licensed foster parents or a suitable person who, among other characteristics, has a preexisting relationship with the child or family and has passed required background and Child Protective Services checks. If a child is not in the care and custody of the state, the state would have no say in with whom a child was placed."

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