Chippewa County child death case moved to federal court

Chippewa County child death case moved to federal court

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The lawsuit filed by the parents of a 6-month-old boy who was allegedly killed by a 10-year-old girl on Nov. 1, 2018, has been moved to U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin.

The federal court has jurisdiction in a case like this, according to documents filed Thursday.

Jaxon Hunter was born April 6, 2018. He was at a day care, which also serves as a foster home, in the town of Tilden on Oct. 30, 2018, when the girl — who lived there as a foster child — was alone inside the house while everyone else was playing outside. The girl told authorities she panicked after dropping Jaxon, and then she stomped on his head when he began to cry.

Jaxon was transferred to a hospital in Minnesota, where he died Nov. 1, two days after the attack.

The girl was initially charged with first-degree intentional homicide by someone age 10 or older and was placed in a secure detention center. The case was recently moved out of adult court into juvenile court; her next court date is Feb. 24. Because the matter is in juvenile court, results will not be made public.

The lawsuit was filed in December by Jaxon’s parents, Stephanie Hunter and Nathan Liedl. The defendants are Chippewa County Department of Human Services, its director, Tim Easker, foster care coordinator Serena Schultz and unidentified “Jane Doe” social workers.

The lawsuit contends the defendants didn’t do enough to warn them that the girl was a “dangerous actor” and a threat to vulnerable children. The lawsuit doesn’t indicate any dollar amount the parents are seeking.

Remzy Bitar, a Waukesha-based attorney representing Chippewa County in the lawsuit, also filed his response to the lawsuit this week, saying that the county and its employees “did not act improperly or in violation of plaintiff’s constitutional, civil and/or statutory rights.”

Bitar wrote that “the alleged injuries and damages sustained, if any, may have been caused in whole or in part by the acts or omissions of, or failure to mitigate by plaintiffs.”

The injuries and damages “were not caused by a governmental policy or practice,” Bitar added. All defendants “were in good faith and not motivated by malice or the intent of harm.”

The plaintiffs also have no right to seek punitive damages because it is “not supported by law or the constitution,” Bitar wrote. The family’s claim for recovery of medical and hospital expenses also should be denied, he wrote.

Bitar requested the case be dismissed, and if not, the county is seeking a trial by a 12-person jury.

In December, all three Chippewa County judges recused themselves from hearing the case and it was assigned to Eau Claire County Judge Emily Long. However, the federal court will now take over the case.

In the lawsuit filed by Jaxon’s parents, they contend the county should have done more to warn families that the 10-year-old girl was potentially dangerous.

“The injuries were inflicted by (the girl), a foster child under the supervision of, in the custody of, and placed in the home by agent and employees of the Chippewa County Department of Human Services,” the lawsuit reads. “Each such defendant’s actions contributed to Jaxon’s injuries and death. Each are being sued in their individual and official capacities.”

The lawsuit states the county was responsible for the girl’s placement at that day care.

“Such responsibility included the safety of those to vulnerable individuals to whom would be in contact with (the girl) through her placement,” the lawsuit reads.

The girl is a “dangerous actor” and DHS officials “knew she was dangerous and placed her in a home where there were vulnerable children, and failed to warn the foster mother or the daycare parents of the danger.”

The lawsuit adds: “The harm to Jaxon and his parents was foreseeable and a result of the defendant’s conduct. The defendants acted with conscious disregard of a great risk of serious harm or deliberate indifference.”

Hunter and Liedl are being represented by attorney Jay Heit of Eau Claire-based Herrick & Hart law firm.


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