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Victims in one of the Shoals worst abuse cases are now suing the department and social workers that were supposed to protect them.
On Thursday, four separate lawsuits were filed against the Alabama Department of Human Resources, Nancy Buckner (the Director of DHR), Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon, and numerous social workers for the case. The four victims are seeking $25 million a piece, but their Attorney Tommy James, told WAAY 31 they don't want this to happen to other foster kids in the system.
"For all of that to be going on for years on end and DHR didn't pick up on it. Somebody dropped the ball and they dropped it big time," said James.
The lawsuits filed today in Lauderdale County claim the Department of Human Resources didn't follow it's own policies and procedures and failed to protect the 11 victims.
Florence police charged Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon with hundreds of counts of child abuse, torture, and rape for abusing 11 foster and adoptive kids they had in their care for years.
"The physical torture, burning them with wax, drilling their feet, beating them with chords and belts," Tommy James, describes the abuse his clients suffered at the hands of the Spurgeons.
For the 11 children the Spurgeon's Florence home on Briarcliff Drive was a house of torture. DHR themselves called it the worst abuse they've seen when the I-Team asked them about it in 2017.
"I thought it was one of the worst things I've seen in my 25 years if not the worst," said DHR's John James in 2017.
Yet, it's not bad enough for DHR to say if the agency made any changes because of the Spurgeon case. WAAY31 repeatedly asked in 2017and asked again today after an attorney Tommy James filed the lawsuits. All a spokesperson would say is, "DHR does not comment on active litigation. I am working on getting answers to your questions concerning policy."
Questions such as how often a social worker is required to check on a foster child, and if they meet one on one with foster kids in a home. WAAY31 did find these "minimum standards for Child-Placing Agencies" online. The document hasn't been updated in 18 years.
Attorney Tommy James represents the victims and filed these four lawsuits. James said the victims in the case rarely saw social workers at the Spurgeon home.
"The social workers are the ones on the ground that should have been going to the Spurgeon house. Should have been going every 30 days. Complaints were made against the Spurgeon's by these foster kids and others and they didn't act appropriately," said James.
In 2017, the WAAY 31 I-TEAM found complaints against the Spurgeon's, yet DHR said they had no red flags. In 2017, DHR denied all of WAAY 31's open records requests. We obtained some documents through Florida, where the Spurgeon's were originally arrested for abusing the victims in 2016. T
he Spurgeons moved there in 2016. Later that year, police found a few of the children drunk at a local fast food restaurant. The children told officers about the abuse. Agents in both states started investigating. A court document WAAY31 obtained proves corporal punishment was a repeated problem while the Spurgeons lived in Alabama. Corporal punishment in any form is not allowed in foster homes.
We asked DHR spokesman, Barry Spear, about the documents in 2017. This is what he said, "I've seen this before and that was a mistake in Florida this was never allowed to be something publicly available so I can't comment."
Now Attorney Tommy James is asking the same questions about monthly visits, interviews with the children and how nobody knew about sexual abuse that lasted for years. James said he's seen similar problems before with Alabama's DHR.
"I know just from my practice that it's going on across the state that they are violating policies and procedures and children are being injured and not protected because of it because I'm getting all these calls," said James.
Daniel Spurgeon plead guilty to first degree rape and sexual torture in 2019. He will serve a solid 25 years in prison. Jensie Spurgeon's trail is expected to start in April 2020.
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