Minnesota County Ordered to Pay $1.5M Settlement for Its ‘Deliberate Indifference’ to Foster Child Who Hanged Herself

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Hennepin County has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a wrongful death suit brought by the family of a 6-year-old girl who committed suicide while in foster care, the Star Tribune reported Wednesday.

Kendrea Johnson, 6, was found hanging from a jump rope tied to the bunk bed railings in her Brooklyn Park, Minn. foster home on Dec. 27, 2014. Her grandmother, Mary Broadus, sued the county in 2016, arguing that its “…unconscionable and unconstitutional indifference” to Johnson’s medical needs and daily suicidal thoughts ultimately resulted in the child’s death.

Johnson’s foster mother and mental health care provider were also named in Broadus’ suit but were later dismissed, leaving Hennepin County as the sole defendant, according to the newspaper. On Wednesday, attorneys described the settlement amount as “one of the highest settlements against a government entity in Minnesota on claims involving the deliberate indifference to the welfare of a foster child.”

“Any loss of life is tragic, but the loss of someone so young is especially tragic,” the county said in a statement. “We are here to protect children — and we do that every day. We take that charge very seriously. In light of the significant costs and uncertainties, settling this lawsuit was in the best interest of all the parties involved.”

Johnson, whose father was killed in a drive-by shooting, was placed into the care of foster parent Tannise Nawaqavou in 2014 after she was found “in her mother’s trashed home with various medications all over the floor,” according to the lawsuit. The complaint argued that  Nawaqavou, who had been previously convicted of child abuse, wasn’t equipped to care for a child with severe mental illness, nor was she given the “support, education, and access to services to provide foster care services for a child with these high needs.”

In the months before Johnson’s death, Nawaqavou told Brooklyn Park police that the girl threatened to kill herself with a screwdriver. Johnson also said she wanted to jump out of a window and die and even drew pictures of a child hanging from a noose at school.

The girl’s therapy, mental health needs and suicidal thoughts were well-documented by her care providers, but ultimately weren’t relayed to child protection workers, according to the complaint.

On the day she was discovered dead in her room, authorities said they found several notes scribbled on ripped pages from a children’s book that read,” … I am sorry for going in your room. I’m sorry for what I do.” Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office listed Johnson’s death as “undetermined” but her grandmother was sure it was suicide.

The investigation into the young girl’s death highlighted a pattern of failures in Minnesota’s child protection system, especially in cases involving child neglect and abuse, according to the Star Tribune. The lawsuit shows that between 2014 and 2015, at least five foster kids, including Johnson, died as a result of abuse or neglect.

“No medical personnel, no social worker, should ever hear a 6-year-old child say they want to kill themselves and shrug that off,” said attorney Jeff Storms, who represents Broadus in the case.

After two years of litigation, Broadus said she’s exhausted but now feels a sense of relief after getting justice for her granddaughter and all children in foster care.

“It will never be over for me because I’ll always have those feelings,” she told ABC 5 Eyewitness News. “I just think of her smiling at me and I’m at peace.”

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