Sacramento County has agreed to pay $4 million to settle a civil lawsuit alleging that its Child Protective Services workers ignored numerous ominous signs and failed to rescue an abused boy who wound up imprisoned in a Tracy home where he was sadistically tortured for more than a year.
The boy known publicly as “Kyle Doe” is now 22 years old and a community college student who plans to play football in the fall, his aunt Sydney Perry said in an interview. Kyle has been living with Perry and her husband in the Sacramento region since he escaped his captors in December 2008 by unshackling his ankle, leaping over a wall and running to a nearby health club. Eventually, he hopes to become a psychologist “to help other kids” who have suffered abuse, Perry said.
“I wouldn’t say he is completely healed, but he has made a great effort to put the past behind him and gain perspective on life,” she said.
After his escape, Kyle became the center of a bizarre and shocking story that captured national headlines. He told investigators that his torturers chained him to a fireplace grate, beat him with baseball bats, burned him with chemicals, slashed him with knives and deprived him of proper food and water. Four people were convicted of various felony criminal charges in the case, and each received a sentence of at least 30 years in state prison.
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Long before a woman who portrayed herself as Kyle’s legal guardian dropped him off at the Tracy home where he suffered daily abuse and neglect, social workers for Sacramento County’s CPS agency ignored signs that he was in immediate danger, according to the civil lawsuit. The suit accuses CPS workers of repeatedly breaking the law and violating protocol from 2001 through 2007.
“We can only hope that this lawsuit will bring changes to CPS,” said Sacramento attorney John Demas, who brought the action on behalf of Kyle in 2011. “Our fear is that there are other Kyles out there, suffering abuse that no child should ever endure.”
Demas said the $4 million settlement is likely the largest in CPS history.
The county tried and failed to get the case dismissed during a period of four years, arguing in part that social workers are immune from liability associated with decisions to investigate allegations of child abuse, according to documents filed in Sacramento Superior Court. The court ruled that while that is generally true, Kyle’s case is different because social workers assigned to his case failed to follow state law about how such investigations are to be conducted.
Kyle’s attorney offered to settle the case for “a little over $2 million” in March 2013, Demas said, but the county rejected the proposal.
“If they had done the right thing and acknowledged they failed Kyle early on, Kyle was willing to accept significantly less to settle the case,” Demas said.
The decision to settle is not an admission of guilt but reflects an evaluation of the cost of litigation, among other variables, according to the county.
“Since the time and circumstances of this case, there have been many policy and practice changes within Child Protective Services,” county spokeswoman Laura McCasland said in a statement. “We are hopeful that this settlement will be beneficial to this young man.”
Beginning in 2001, according to the lawsuit, CPS received at least six reports that Kyle was in danger when he was living in Sacramento with Caren Ramirez, a friend of his mother’s who portrayed herself as his legal guardian. Ramirez had no legal authority to parent Kyle and his brother Austin, Demas said. He said CPS allowed the boys to stay with her based on a note, allegedly scribbled by their mother, Susan Cardiff, on a scrap of paper, giving over guardianship of Kyle, who was 8 years old at the time, and his older brother to Ramirez “until further notice.”
CPS failed to substantiate Ramirez’s rights to the boys as required by law, or search for caregivers within the family, according to the suit. Cardiff died in 2008.
In 2002, following a report that Ramirez had dropped off Austin barefoot in Del Paso Heights and told him to find his way home to Carmichael in the rain, CPS failed to contact the boy’s birth mother as required and closed the referral as “unfounded,” according to Demas. CPS then falsely reported to the local welfare office and Social Security Administration that Ramirez had a “notarized note” granting her custody of the boys, he said.
According to the claim, the boys continued to endure physical abuse, rarely went to school and lacked basic care. CPS removed Austin from Ramirez after she was arrested for abusing him in 2005, but left Kyle in the custody of the woman’s adult daughter.
Sacramento sheriff’s deputies investigated a report that Kyle had been severely beaten by Ramirez in May 2006, but he remained in the home for almost a year until she was arrested. He went to the Sacramento Children’s Receiving Home but soon escaped and reunited with Ramirez.
That was when Ramirez drove him to Tracy and left him at the home of her friends. By the time he escaped, he was emaciated, bleeding and covered with soot.
Perry, Kyle’s aunt, said she lost track of her sister when Kyle and Austin were young. When she learned that Cardiff had given up the boys, she said, she tried several times to locate them through CPS but was unsuccessful. When the torture case became public, “I knew I had to take him in,” she said. “I never thought twice about it.”
Today, Kyle is a strapping 6 feet, 5 inches tall, a “very big guy” who works out regularly and is looking forward to playing football in the fall. “I have a permanent body guard,” Perry joked. Kyle has a strong bond with the family dogs, Emmy the Rottweiler and Libby the Labrador, his aunt said. He has friends, but chooses to keep his story mostly to himself. He has no interest in becoming a media darling.
“He’s not shy,” Perry said. “He just doesn’t want people to know him based on his past.” He rarely sees his brother Austin, who Perry said has a troubled life.
Kyle holds no bitterness toward those who have wronged him, she said.
“I wish them the best with where they are in life,” he said of his captors, according to a statement issued by his lawyer. “I hope they find their peace.”
Soon, Perry said, Kyle likely will be moving out of his aunt and uncle’s home into his own place. He has dreams of studying at UC Berkeley. Perry is confident that he will achieve “whatever he wants to do,” she said.
She said the settlement will serve as “a safety net” for Kyle. “It’s insurance for him that he can carry with him throughout his life,” she said. “This is the last chapter of a very long, tragic situation. It will make a huge difference for him, and he deserves that.”