SEATTLE - Four-and-a-half years ago, three young girls filed a lawsuit against the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). On Friday, a $7.3 million settlement puts an end to it.
The KING 5 Investigators have covered the case for the last five years. It stems from abuse the girls suffered at the hands of their foster dad, Enrique Fabregas, whom they lived with in Kirkland and Redmond.
While in his care, 28 complaints came into DSHS, including accusations of sexual abuse and drug use. But all were deemed “unfounded” by state investigators.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, David P. Moody, of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro law firm, filed suit against the state in 2007 in federal court. It alleged the state violated the girls’ civil rights.
“This lawsuit resulted in a landmark decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, clarifying and endorsing civil rights claims on behalf of vulnerable citizens,” said Moody.
Police were called a few times after complaints came to the state and they too found no evidence of wrongdoing.
State officials said the girls changed their stories. The girls said they were labeled liars.
"They didn't believe me, they basically said you're lying," said Ruth Tamas, one of the plaintiffs.
Moody says the state bungled the case from the beginning by giving Fabregas a foster care license in the first place. He had a criminal record which social workers were aware of.
"It defies common sense why he was licensed by DSHS at any time," said Moody. "When the state takes measures to license a man like this and then ignores warnings of abuse, not just one, not just 10, but 28 separate warnings of abuse, the state is liable and the state should be held accountable."
After the string of unfounded complaints, the path to accountability finally began when Redmond Police raided the foster home five years ago. They seized hundreds of bizarre, obscene and sexually charged photos and videos. Many show Fabregas dressed up in women’s clothing, lingerie, brandishing firearms and performing sex acts. They found child pornography as well.
The girls had been telling the truth.
DSHS responded to the settlement Friday.
“The girls were abused by their foster father. We regret the harm these young women suffered at the hands of the man who was supposed to care for and protect them … By resolving this matter, DSHS believes that the settlement fairly compensates the plaintiffs, who can use the settlement to meet any special needs they may have in the future,” said Thomas Shapley, DSHS Senior Director of Public Affairs.
After the police raid, Fabregas was arrested, convicted of sex crimes and sentenced to four years in prison in 2007. At the sentencing, his former foster daughters got to speak their peace.
"I have flashbacks of Enrique looking at me in the shower, throwing me down the stairs, yelling at me, introducing me to drugs and alcohol for the first time," said Estera Tamas. “Enrique destroyed my innocence, took away my dreams, he destroyed my ability to love myself and other people."
“DSHS knowingly licensed a career criminal to serve as a foster parent for vulnerable children. The citizens of this state should be outraged. This is the best example of the worst social work one can imagine," said Moody.
DSHS says it will continue to work on improving the safety of all children in the state.
“We take to heart any situation in which harm is inflicted on a child with whom we’ve had contact, take each child’s situation personally and use each child’s case as a lesson to evaluate our training and practice. We have put in place numerous policies and practices to improve children’s safety in their homes and while in out-of-home placement. We continue to learn and to improve our policies, practices and training to improve safety for all children,” said Shapley.
After serving time in prison in Washington state, Fabregas was deported to Spain. According to Moody, the young women continue to struggle with difficulties related to the abuse.
If you see child abuse, call 1-866-ENDHARM (363-4276)