OCS says lawsuits are rare over children hurt while in state care

Lisa Demer

In recent years, the state has paid settlements in five other lawsuits against the Office of Children's Services, though the underlying events sometimes occurred much longer ago, according to the Department of Law and news reports.

Cori Mills, assistant attorney general, described three cases from the last five years and said the state wasn't found negligent in any of them. Those settlements are:

• $375,000 in 2012 for property damage after foster parents claimed their foster child -- who came to them through the juvenile justice system, not child protection -- had set fire to their rented home.

• $255,000 in 2011 for the 2007 death of a teenage foster child found frozen in Bethel. He had been drinking with other kids and died of hypothermia away from the foster home, according to news reports from the time.

• $225,000 in 2012 for injuries suffered by a child sexually abused while in the state's legal custody but living in his mother's home. The case went to trial and a jury found the state 7 percent liable for the damage, with the mother and the man who abused him responsible for most of it, Mills said. Before a retrial over damages, the state settled, she said.

In addition, the state paid $2.4 million in early 2008 to settle a case in which two boys saw their foster mother kill another child in 1999, then made them lie about it. The state also paid almost $1 million to the family of the 10-year-old child, Steven Murray, who died.

In a sixth case, a jury in 2012 awarded two sisters more than $2 million for mistreatment they suffered while in foster care. The state has appealed that verdict to the Alaska Supreme Court.

These extreme cases aren't reflective of the care overall, Mills said.

Between 2009 and 2013, an average of 2,800 Alaska children a year were in state custody living in foster homes, group homes or other out-of-home care, she said.

Contact Lisa Demer at LDemer@adn.com or on