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Tragic Lawsuit Costs DCPP

January 13, 2014 | Posted In Family Law

The New Jersey Department of Children Protection and Permanency (DCPP) will pay out $166 million to an infant who suffered permanent damage after his abusive father was granted continued custody by DCPP. The tragic mishandling of Jadiel Velesquez’s case resulted in severe trauma and health complications. Family lawyers in New Jersey say that the hefty payout will ease the child’s financial burden throughout his life, but it cannot make up for the mental and physical anguish he and his family have suffered. 

Neomi Escobar, the child’s maternal grandmother, filed the lawsuit against the DCPP, and stated that she had warned the child protection agency about the father’s abusive nature in the past. She claims that the agency did not take her warnings seriously, and failed to protect the child and remove him from the home. Escobar named Felix Umetiti from DCPP in the lawsuit as the primary case worker assigned to her grandson, and claimed that Umetiti’s actions put her grandson in serious danger. According to the suit, Umetiti did not perform a thorough background check on the father, Joshua Velesquez, nor did he obtain the man’s criminal record and a psychological evaluation. He also did not report the suspected violence to a prosecutor’s office, although Escobar stated that he recognized the danger the child was in. 

The lawsuit claimed that DCPP had violated at least 17 policies in handling Jadiel’s case. Court documents showed that Escobar had called DCPP in May of 2009 to alert them about Velesquez’s drug abuse and bipolar disorder. She also told the agency that she had found a crack cocaine pipe in the baby’s diaper bag. Shortly afterwards, Umetiti told Jadiel’s parents that the child could not be alone or unsupervised with Velesquez. During DCPP’s initial investigation, Jadiel, who was four months old at the time, was hospitalized twice—once with hemorrhages in both eyes and facial bruising, and another time with lacerations to his tongue tissue. Esobar also called the police twice, when Jadiel was left alone with his father against Umetiti’s orders. 

The case was escalated to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, and Umetiti told officials that he was waiting on medical records in order to remove Jadiel from his father’s care. Medical officials recommended that the child be placed in a regional diagnostic treatment center for abuse, but DCPP never followed through on this. Umetiti also claimed to be on an extended vacation during the investigation, but his timecards indicate that he was at work, and his substitute did not follow up on the case. 

Two months later, in July 2009, Velesquez assaulted Jadiel and the child was hospitalized with severe head injuries and respiratory distress. Jadiel is now blind, and cannot walk or talk. He has to be fed through a tube in his stomach, and needs professional care around the clock. Although Velesquez is now serving a six-year sentence for child abuse charges, and Escobar and her husband have obtained legal custody of Jadiel, New Jersey personal injury attorneys say that the lawsuit and high pay out amount indicate how serious the role of DCPP is in protecting children, and hope that future cases will avoid the same mistakes. 

At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our personal injury attorneys represent families who have suffered injuries or trauma based on the inactions of DCPP or other protective care agencies. Contact an HCK lawyer for a consultation today.

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