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California

Parents wrongly put on a child abuser list will get $4.1 million to settle their suit

The father and stepmother of a 15-year-old runaway girl who falsely accused them of child abuse are set to receive $4.1 million from the state and Los Angeles County to settle a lawsuit that contended their civil rights were violated when a sheriff’s deputy placed their names on a list of child abusers. 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $2.4-million payout at their meeting Tuesday, and state lawmakers approved an additional $1.7 million in October.

In addition to the payout, county officials spent $935,000 on lawyers’ fees to fight the suit filed by Craig and Wendy Humphries. 

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“This could have all been avoided for the price of a postage stamp if the county had simply asked the state to get them off the list,” said Esther Boynton, the Humphries’ attorney. 

In 2001, the Humphries went to jail after the rebellious teenager fled to Utah and told police that the two had abused her. While the Valencia couple were locked up, sheriff’s deputies placed their two younger children in foster care.

Eight days later, the couple were released and the family was reunited following the filing of a misdemeanor charge. The couple’s names were also entered by a sheriff’s deputy into California’s Child Abuse Central Index identifying them as “substantiated” child abusers. 

The information in the database is available to aid law enforcement investigations and prosecutions, and to provide notification of new child abuse investigation reports involving the same suspects or victims. Information is also available to social welfare agencies to help screen applicants for employment in child care facilities, schools and foster homes. 

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Four months after the couple were added to the list, all charges were dismissed, and a judge declared them “factually innocent.”

I believe there are many people on the database who don’t even know they are there.
Attorney Esther Boynton

But they learned that there was no way to remove their names from the database.  Wendy Humphries, a teacher, had to hire an attorney to avoid losing her credentials because employers of people who work with children are required to consult the index. 

For years, state and county officials pointed fingers at each other, saying the other entity was responsible for removing the couple from the list. It wasn’t until 2012 that a district court judge ordered the county to notify the California Department of Justice that the Humphries proved to be “non substantiated” in 2001.

New procedures have since been put in place to notify people when their names are added to the registry, and an appeals process was instituted for those believing they were wrongly listed. 

“I believe there are many people on the database who don’t even know they are there,” Boynton said.

The database, she said, “started with the best of intentions, but the information needs to be accurate for it to work.”

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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Follow me on Twitter: @gtherolf

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