Gruesome Sexual Assault Lawsuit Linked to Citrus Health Network

Kids ignored by the system.
Kids ignored by the system.

A recent lawsuit that dropped in a Miami district court spells out a sad tale of sexual assault at a foster home -- a situation that could have been prevented had responsible adults paid attention. According to the detailed unveiled in the lawsuit filed by the mother, Precious Sharpe, the plaintiff's daughter entered the state's child custody system in 2002. Instead of protecting the child, the young girl was placed in a situation that teed her up for further sexual assault -- sexual assault that continued under the noses of a foster parent and the non-profit tasked with her care. According to the lawsuit, the assault continued under the watch of Citrus Health Network, an organization we've written about plenty here at New Times.

In 2004, Sharpe's daughter -- only listed as "S.R." in the suit -- was taken into the custody of the Department of Children and Families. The girl began exhibiting "unusual sexualized behaviors," according to the complaint, which led her caregivers to conclude she was suffering with the aftershocks of sexual abuse.

This continued into the summer of 2005, when S.R. was at a summer camp and engaged in "frequent sexualized behaviors." The behavior was directed at males. "These behaviors included, among other things, exposing herself to boys by pulling her shirt up and her pants down; overly affectionate conduct with males; sexualized dancing; and absence of boundaries when around males," the complaint says.

In 2005, when the girl was six-years-old, her therapists determined she should be placed in a special foster home for kids working through this kind of trauma -- known in official lingo as Specialized Therapeutic Foster Care (STFC) Level II. This placement was supposed to create a supportive environment for consoling and therapy. That didn't happen.

The state handed S.R.'s care over to the a non-profit contractor, Institute for Child and Family Health, Inc. (ICFH). That group placed S.R. with a foster mother named Sherri Motley in August 2005.

Only three months later, ICFH placed another minor with Motley -- a 14-year-old boy . . . not just any 14-year-old, but another "sexually reactive child" who had been accused by a handicapped foster sister of forcing her to perform oral sex.

You can probably see the potential problem of putting one sexually aggressive six year old in a foster care home with a sexually aggressive 14-year-old.

Apparently, ICFH didn't see the problem. "By placing" the two together, the complaint says, "ICFH created a volatile mix that was virtually certain to result in sexual misconduct." Sure enough, the lawsuit claims the older male sexually assaulted the girl almost every day they shared the same foster home -- "oral, vaginal and anal sex." The continued abused pretty much crushed the little girl's shot at meaningful recovery.

The assault went from November 2005 until March 2007. Neither the foster parent nor ICFH noticed the on-going abuse. In April 2006, ICFH stepped out of the picture, transferring the license of Motley's foster home to Citrus.

Again, between April 2006 and March 2007, the abuse went on without Citrus' knowledge. And as we uncovered last year in a long, detailed investigation, Citrus' track record is piss poor when it comes to providing compassionate, quality care for the kids the state of Florida pays them to house and shelter.

Stuart S. Mermelstein, an attorney with Herman Law representing Sharpe, told New Times this week that Citrus was named in an earlier lawsuit filed in 2011 regarding the same situation. That suit was settled out of court. The latest lawsuit, filed this month, is aimed at ICFH.

Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.

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