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Turpin siblings file lawsuit alleging ‘severe abuse’ in foster care after 2018 rescue

turpin-siblings-file-lawsuit-alleging-‘severe-abuse’-in-foster-care-after-2018-rescue
ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Six of the 13 Turpin siblings who were rescued in 2018 from a life of captivity in their parents’ Perris, California, home have filed a lawsuit against Riverside County and the private foster care agency tasked with protecting them, alleging they suffered “severe abuse and neglect” for years in foster care after their rescue.

The younger Turpin siblings say they were the victims of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by a foster family they were placed with after they were rescued by law enforcement in 2018, according to two lawsuits filed electronically overnight in a California court by the six youngest Turpin siblings. In their legal complaints, the children also allege that the officials charged with overseeing their care “failed to report” the “severe” abuse and neglect when warned of it.

“These children who were chained to their beds for a great majority of their life finally are free, and then the county places them with ChildNet and puts them in another position where they are further abused,” Elan Zektser, the attorney representing the two oldest Turpin siblings who are suing and who have since aged out of foster care, said in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday.

Officials kept the siblings in the foster home for three years despite the siblings having alerted them to the abuse, according to the complaint. The foster family — who the siblings say subjected them to “severe” abuse that included “hitting them in the face with sandals, pulling their hair, hitting them with a belt, and striking their heads” — has since been arrested and charged with multiple accounts of abuse and neglect, to which they have pleaded not guilty.

A Riverside County spokesperson told ABC News they have not seen the lawsuit so they have no comment. ChildNet has yet to respond to ABC News’ request for comment in connection with the lawsuit.

In November 2021, a ChildNet spokesperson would not answer ABC News’ questions about the Turpin case because of confidentiality laws, saying only, “We take our work very seriously, including the extensive vetting of parents.”

The suit comes less than two weeks after an outside investigation into the care of the 13 Turpin siblings found that the siblings had been “failed” by the social services system that was supposed to care for them and help transition them into society.

That eight-month probe was commissioned in response to an investigation by ABC News as part of the Diane Sawyer 20/20 special, “Escape From A House of Horror,” that aired last November, in which two of the Turpin siblings spoke out for the first time about the challenges and hardships they have faced in the years since sheriff’s deputies rescued them from a life of home imprisonment and abuse at the hands of their parents.

“It’s easy to be angry at the abusers themselves … but really when you have institutions or companies that allow abuse to go on and turn their eyes or their head and pretend like it’s not happening, that’s where we as a community should be upset,” Zektser said.

According to the complaints filed electronically overnight, Riverside County and its contractor ChildNet knew that the foster family the Turpin siblings were placed with was “unfit to be foster parents because they had a prior history of abusing and neglecting children who had been placed in their care.”

Yet the Turpin siblings were placed with them anyway, the complaint states.

When the county and ChildNet were made aware that the Turpin siblings were suffering additional abuse at the hands of the foster family, according to the complaint, it was not reported to law enforcement or child protective services. Instead, ChildNet and the county “actively withheld this information from the authorities,” the complaint alleges.

Other abuse the siblings say they suffered in the foster home included being forced eat excessively and then being forced to eat “their own vomit,” as well as being forced to eat “excessive amounts of food, which led to eating disorders.” Some of the siblings accuse their former foster father of “grabbing and fondling” them and “kissing them on the mouth.”

“This was a home that ChildNet was representing was a safe place to put children. And it simply wasn’t at all,” said Roger Booth, the attorney representing the four youngest siblings.

“The county has oversight over ChildNet. In fact they are required to check in with these children that the county placed with ChildNet,” Zektser added.

“This case is one where the entire world was watching,” Booth said. “And yet, even in that situation, the county and ChildNet dropped the ball, which tells you, I think pretty clearly, what must be happening, and what we’ve seen happen in other cases with kids who aren’t famous, who are — whose cases are not high-profile, who nobody knows about.”

The Turpin siblings were rescued from their parents’ home in January 2018 after Jordan Turpin, then 17, executed a daring escape in the middle of the night and called 911. Authorities subsequently discovered that their parents had subjected them to brutal violence and deprived them of food, sleep, hygiene, education, and health care.

David and Louise Turpin pleaded guilty to 14 felony counts in 2019 and were sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Today, four of the 13 siblings are still in foster care, and Booth said they are now together and safe in a new home.

“They seem to be on the road to recovery,” Booth said.

Zektser said the Turpin siblings have been clear about why they feel the lawsuit is necessary to them.

“They have highlighted that the most important thing to them is that this doesn’t happen to other kids,” he said. “I can’t even tell you how many times our clients have told us, ‘We just don’t want this to happen to someone else.'”

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