The mother of a disabled boy who died last year at a state-operated group home in Lynnwood has filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful death and violations of the boy's civil rights.
The lawsuit names as defendants the state of Washington; the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS); Second Chance Inc., the state-contracted operator of the home; and eight individuals who are employees of DSHS or Second Chance. The lawsuit was filed by attorney Julie Gaisford on behalf of Patrice Haagen, mother of Shinaul McGraw.
Shinaul died at age 12 of hyperthermia, or overheating, according to the Snohomish County medical examiner. He was found dead in his bed on June 5, 1994, at the New Directions home, a Second Chance facility in Lynnwood.
Shinaul suffered from Cornelia de Lange syndrome, a rare, debilitating condition that caused him pain, mental retardation and a tendency toward self-destructive behavior. He sometimes needed restraints to prevent him from injuring himself.
The night he died, Shinaul's hands and legs had been wrapped tightly in a bedsheet, gauze had been placed across his mouth, he wore a helmet, and he had been restrained to prevent his getting out of bed.
His death prompted an investigation by the DSHS, which found no wrongdoing on the part of Shinaul's caretakers. However, a consultant who previously had contracted with Second Chance was sharply critical of Shinaul's care while at the group home. She said
staff members had generally failed to provide the quality of care he required.
Ken Maaz, the chief executive officer for Second Chance and one of the defendants, said yesterday that the lawsuit, filed late Tuesday in Snohomish County Superior Court, is unjustified.
"We absolutely performed brilliantly. Our programs operate very well," Maaz said.
Norm Davis, director of developmental disabilities for DSHS, said he was not surprised by the lawsuit, saying Shinaul's family had made it clear it believes the department did not provide adequate care.
The lawsuit claims Shinaul received improper care by untrained staffers who did not have adequate direction or instruction in use of restraints.
The staff's actions prevented Shinaul from breathing properly or communicating his discomfort, according to court papers.
"Shinaul could only communicate using sign language. . . . He was in effect bound and gagged and unable to communicate that the measures taken by his caretakers were killing him," according to the court papers.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
Second Chance still operates the Lynnwood facility where Shinaul died, but the company can no longer handle developmentally disabled children there, Maaz said.
In February, the state declined to renew the company's contract for such care, but it did give Second Chance a contract for the care of "dependent" children, those who cannot live with their families but are not developmentally disabled, Maaz said.
Six children now live at the home, he said.
Maaz said he did not know why the state refused to renew the contract, which came up for bid during a routine process in November.
"We received a lot of support from (DSHS)," during the Shinaul investigation, he said. Second Chance operates numerous state-contracted facilities in the area.
John George, the DSHS official responsible for not renewing the contract, could not be reached for comment.