Investigators: Older brother sues state in starvation case



Bio | Email | Follow: @SFrameK5

Posted on February 23, 2010 at 11:14 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 24 at 12:03 AM

Two years ago the near-death starvation of a four-year-old boy, Shayne Abegg, shook up DSHS and changed state policies.

Now his older brother, Joey, is suing the state, claiming he was a victim as well; but no one talked about it.

Shayne was rescued by firefighters two years ago after getting a call that the child was starved and abused. The emergency response workers were horrified: Shayne weighed fewer than 25 pounds, half the weight of a child of his age should weigh, and had a body temperature which put him in peril.

The case caused public outcry. The top official at DSHS at the time, Robin Arnold-Williams, said in March of 2007, “No child should go through what apparently this child has gone through and resulted in his, having to be hospitalized for this. So we start with that, and then we have to look at every step, every decision that was made and say, what happened?"

The boys’ father and his girlfriend are in prison now, convicted of criminal mistreatment of Shayne. But both are suspected of starving both boys as a form of punishment.

A neighbor, Melissa Stonehouse, called CPS four times to say the brothers were desperate for food.

"They're starving, you can tell, you can tell by the way they ate," said Stonehouse.

So why all the attention on Shayne, and not Joey?

Unlike Shayne, Joey was old enough to go to school. He attended Odyssey Elementary School in Mukilteo.

The principal there suspected Joey was a victim of neglect and abuse.  Like the neighbor, the principal called CPS with her concerns.

By phone, the principal, Cheryl Boze, told KING 5 Joey was "unusually skinny" yet "ate voraciously" -anything he could get his hands on-at school.

Three days after that call to CPS, Joey’s dad yanked him out of school and moved him to another state. After that, no one from DSHS ever checked on Joey again.

Joey's attorney, David P. Moody, of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro law firm says the parents were desperate to hide the child who was old enough to be in public and speak. They quickly shipped him off to a relative two states away.

"As soon as the parents understood that Joey was a walking piece of evidence and was going to lead back to the horrific things that were happening in the house, they shipped Joey to California," said Moody.

But before Joey was moved, the school principal reported additional concerns about Joey; detailed in a state record:  “(Joey) had "excessive bruising" all over his head and ears which did not match the explanation of the injuries given”; reported the principal.

A DSHS social worker came to the school to investigate. She took pictures of the injuries. But to date, no one can find that evidence. DSHS says the photos are lost.

"This ‘story’ about the missing photos is unbelievable,” said Moody. “These are supposed to be professional investigators. They weren't professional in any sense of the word. And to have lost the most important, critical evidence of the case I think speaks to how grossly negligent and incompetent these investigators were."

Joey and Shayne have now been adopted together by a couple in Washington State.

KING 5 recently spoke to their new dad, who says Joey remembers his past in great detail: how he was beaten, scavenged for food, and fought for his survival.

Joey’s lawsuit comes after his brother Shayne was awarded 5-million dollars by DSHS to settle a lawsuit against the state last year.

State officials say they can't talk about Joey's suit.  But in a written statement to KING 5, they point out that since the Abegg case came to light, they've increased training on how to recognize malnutrition.