- S.W. v. City of New York
S.W., one of the 10 plaintiffs in the case, was labeled as learning disabled and placed in the care of Judith Leekin in 1989 at age 2. When he was not in school, S.W. was cuffed and zip-tied to a crib in the basement of Leekin’s home. After the second grade, Leekin removed him from school entirely.
At home, Judith Leekin repeatedly beat S.W. with a crib leg and threatened to kill him and the other children by lining them up against the wall and shooting them. S.W. was consistently deprived of food.
Finally, in July 2007, Florida officials removed S.W. from Leekin’s care.
U.S. District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York
STATUS: Settled claims against New York City and Administration of Children’s Services
FILED: April 29, 2009
SETTLEMENT WITH NYC and ACS: December 2012
Children’s Rights, along with local co-counsel in Florida and New York, filed this damages lawsuit on April 29, 2009 on behalf of 10 special needs children who were placed under the care of Judith Leekin, who repeatedly abused, tortured, neglected and imprisoned the children. The lawsuit named the City of New York, the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) and the foster care agencies that placed the children in Leekin’s care.
The Plaintiffs were placed with Leekin between 1986 and 1994. Leekin fostered and adopted dozens of special needs children using at least four different names to collect subsidy payments from the state. Once in her home, the children were chronically beaten, handcuffed, humiliated, threatened, locked in a basement or garage, denied education and medical treatment and starved. Finally, in 2007, the children were rescued from Leekin’s Florida home.
The Complaint alleges the state’s reckless disregard for the plaintiffs’ safety. The state failed to perform background checks that would have discerned Leekin’s use of fake identities. The state also lacked a centralized system to track foster homes, since most placements were handled by voluntary agencies. Because of a lack of communication, the system became, as the claim states, “a maze of dysfunctional bureaucracy.” The state would routinely send checks to Leekin’s different aliases, failing to realize that they were being sent to a common address. In turn, Leekin amassed $1.68 million in subsidy checks from the state.
Moreover, the state failed to properly visit the children. In 1988, a newborn under Leekin’s care died and the state failed to conduct an appropriate investigation of the incident.
When the plaintiffs were finally removed from Leekin’s care, not one had completed elementary school. A Columbia University professor of social work reviewed the case and found that half of the plaintiffs were “totally incapacitated” or “vulnerable adults” at the time of removal.
The case against the City of New York settled in December of 2012, and the city agreed to pay plaintiffs $9.7 million. The settlement will ensure the plaintiffs have resources to protect them in the future.