Attorneys refiled a $17 million wrongful death lawsuit Thursday for the 4-month-old baby who died under the watch of the Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services.
The lawsuit was nonsuited without prejudice on Jan. 15, but has been filed again with a narrower list of defendants.
Charlee Marie Faith Ford died of sudden infant death syndrome on April 16, 2016, in a home the department deemed “high risk.”
Department workers noted dirty conditions and evidence of drug abuse in the home but failed to remove the infant or take actions to correct the situation before her death, according to an internal review by the regional office.
The review also found that a child protective services supervisor refused to assign an investigator to the case.
The lawsuit, filed by the Day Law Group in Forest, alleges that Charlee was born addicted to drugs, which would immediately qualify her to be in a “high risk” situation.
The investigator on the case classified her as low risk, which limited the involvement of child protective services. The infant was released to her parents and child protective services did not investigate further until they received an outside complaint.
After the outside complaint, Charlee’s CPS investigator labeled her “high risk,” but neither she nor her family were offered services. Law enforcement investigators requested urine and hair tests on the parents, which the department did not complete, according to the lawsuit.
Charlee’s parents, Diana Nicole Hazelwood and Charles Everett Ford III, were arrested on felony murder charges following Charlee’s death.
Hazelwood pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted felony murder in exchange for her testimony against the infant’s father. Charles Ford pleaded not guilty and will be tried in September for felony murder.
The new lawsuit lists Ford, Hazelwood, Meredith Downey, the acting director of the department at the time of Charlee’s death, Brenda Perry, the acting child protective services supervisor at the time, Wade Cress, the CPS investigator, the Rockbridge County social services department and the local board of social services as defendants.
The original lawsuit also listed the state department of social services, the Piedmont regional office, its former director Susan Reese, Rockbridge County and the county board of supervisors as defendants. They have been removed in the new lawsuit.
Richard Gilman, the attorney representing Charlee Ford’s estate, said the new lawsuit focuses on the local department because they are the ones who were liable and at fault for what happened to the infant.
Mark Reed, a retired CPS investigator from Michigan, has been named as the new administrator of Charlee’s estate. Reed currently lives in Lexington and has been a longtime critic of the Rockbridge County social services department.
“I want social services, their board and the culpable employees held accountable, and I want Rockbridge County and its residents to know the change in child welfare operations that comes from this lawsuit must begin now,” Reed said. “This is not old news. Children continue to be at risk today. Our children and their families deserve safety and security.”
The Roanoke Times is pursuing an in-depth project on social services across the state. If you or someone you know would like to share a story about social services, from any locality, please contact reporter Alison Graham at (540) 981-3324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.