A Los Angeles County foster youth says he was held for a month without charges in a county juvenile hall and his social worker did not respond to calls seeking help.
Eric Usher, 17, filed a claim in October against the county and his social worker and former probation officer, alleging false imprisonment and civil rights violations.
Usher said in an interview that he has been in the foster care system, run by the county Department of Children and Family Services, since he was 8. He says he was living in a group home on Aug. 29, 2014, when he was arrested for fighting and taken to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey.
He said he spent the weekend in lockup and on Monday, Sept. 1, was told by probation staff that the district attorney's office had declined to file charges, but he was not released until Sept. 30.
Usher said he had tried calling his social worker and probation officer repeatedly while in custody, but he got no response. When he finally reached his social worker on her cellphone, he said, she told him there was nothing she could do.
"It was frustrating. I was agitated a lot, knowing there was other things I was supposed to be doing," Usher said, which including getting ready for the season with his high school basketball team. "I worked so hard to get my grades up to where they needed to be … and everything just crumbled and it didn't really have to."
Usher said he finally was released after he failed to show up in court for a hearing on a previous citation. The attorney appointed to represent him that day, Pamela DiBello, said she checked into his whereabouts after he did not appear at the arraignment and found out he was in juvenile hall in error. The following day, she said, the judge ordered him released.
DiBello said it was unclear exactly why Usher was not released after the district attorney's office declined to file charges, but she laid much of the blame with case workers who failed to respond to his calls in the weeks he spent in lockup.
"People who were entrusted to take care of him — his social worker, his probation officer — completely ignored him," she said.
Officials with the probation and children and family services departments said they could not comment on a specific case involving a minor.
Children and Family Services spokesman Armand Montiel called the complaint "disturbing."
"While we cannot comment on a specific youth, we can say that our social workers should, and generally do, respond to all of their messages from youth, families and caregivers," he said.
DiBello said she was particularly disturbed that Usher's social worker at the time of his detention was later reassigned as his case worker, despite the fact that he named her in the claim.
The social worker, Kimberly Stanley, said she was not authorized to speak to the media.
Amara Suarez, a DCFS spokeswoman, said that in general, when a social worker becomes aware that a foster youth is incarcerated, the worker notifies the child's attorney.
"Regarding whether a social worker should be reassigned when a claim against the social worker is filed, these management decisions are made on an individual case-by-case basis depending on the particular circumstances," she said.
Usher's claim against the county remains pending.