HANCOCK COUNTY -- A Hancock County woman says her two children, ages 1 and 2, were sexually assaulted and contracted gonorrhea while they were in the custody of the Hancock County Department of Human Services, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
Alexandria Faye filed suit against the state Department of Human Services; Hancock County DHS; county DHS employees Tequila Hall and Harmony Raffeo; the children's foster parent, Erica Weary; Watch Me Grow Learning Center, a day care the state has a contract with to provide care to foster children; and other unknown individuals.
Faye wants a jury trial and is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, attorney's fees and any other damages allowed by law for constitutional and civil rights violations. She is seeking compensation for herself and her children.
According to the lawsuit, a Hancock County Youth Court judge placed Faye's two children in DHS custody after her arrest Feb. 19, 2014.
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The suit alleges the two children were sexually abused between Feb. 20, 2014, and June 11, 2014, while they were in the care of DHS.
On June 11, 2014, Faye accompanied Raffeo, a DHS investigator in Hancock County, when he took the children to Garden Park Medical Center because of sexual abuse allegations. One of the children tested positive for gonorrhea, and the other suffered from leucorrhea, a vaginal discharge. The only way to contract gonorrhea, which has an incubation period of two to five days, is through sexual contact.
Faye's attorney, Edward Gibson, said the incubation period is the time it takes to develop symptoms after a person is infected.
"The child was in custody longer than the scientifically recognized incubation period," Gibson said. "In other words, we know it happened while the child was in custody."
The lawsuit says MDHS determined from the exam that the children had been sexually abused but could not identify who was responsible.
The suit claims Hancock County DHS and MDHS failed to follow agency protocol by not doing background checks on those serving as foster parents. The suit also says DHS failed to "fully and diligently investigate and screen the foster home" where the children lived.
The suit says DHS also failed to properly monitor, direct and supervise the foster parent's home and failed to properly screen its employees and investigate current and former employees. In addition, the suit says, Weary failed to properly monitor, direct and supervise her home while the children were there.
Faye alleges negligence on the part of Hancock County DHS, MDHS and Watch Me Grow Learning Center.
In addition to treatment at Garden Park Medical Center, the children underwent exams and other treatment at Coastal Family Health in Gulfport and Children's Hospital in New Orleans.
One defendant named in the suit, Tequila Hall, is a defendant in a separate lawsuit involving Hancock County DHS filed Sept. 9. In that suit, plaintiff Marie Gill alleges Hall and other DHS workers falsified documents in an attempt to take her children into state custody.
Both lawsuits come amid increasing scrutiny of the state's child protective services system and specifically Hancock County's Division of Family and Children Services office.
State and local officials began investigating the office in early 2015 when the county was found to have the highest per-capita foster-care rate in Mississippi with more than 450 children in custody. It was 10 times higher than the state average, prompting MDHS to send more employees and resources to the county.
Though the foster-care rate has since improved, some current and former DHS employees remain under investigation by the Hancock County Sheriff's Office, the Attorney General's Office and MDHS internal affairs. In March, Sheriff Ricky Adam announced his office had launched a probe after receiving complaints of DHS workers forging or falsifying documents in child-custody cases. A Hancock DHS worker was later fired, but no arrests have been made.
Faye's lawsuit represents only one side of the story. The defendants have not yet filed a response.