Deitch + Rogers sexual assault lawyers Andrew Rogers and Kara Phillips obtained a $60 million jury verdict on behalf of a 15-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health. The jury also awarded attorney fees and expenses as a result of Devereux’s bad faith in the litigation in an amount to be determined by the court at a later date.
The victim was admitted for treatment at Devereux, a behavioral health facility located in Kennesaw, Cobb County, Georgia. While at the facility, she was sexually assaulted by 40-year-old Devereux employee Jimmy Singleterry.
A recent article from the Philadelphia Inquirer details the events that occurred on the evening of the assault.
‘They would just disappear’
Jimmy Singleterry sensed an opportunity.
It was the evening of May 17, 2012, and Singleterry, 41, had been assigned to chaperone a floor of adolescent girls at a Devereux Georgia campus outside Atlanta.
Devereux would normally not have assigned Singleterry to the “Butterfly” unit, supervisors would later say. He typically worked in an all-male dorm. But because the campus was so short-staffed that day, court documents show, they didn’t have a choice.
Most of the 3- to-11 p.m. shift was uneventful. Singleterry worked the floor alongside a female staffer named Akeavia Mays. As the sky turned dark, the girls went to sleep.
But Mays did not notice when Singleterry took an unauthorized break. He walked outside, and orally raped a 15-year-old girl through her first-floor bedroom window.
Then, before the shift ended, Mays went to the bathroom and didn’t return, a not-unusual practice among staff there, she would later testify.
“At that point in time of my life,” she would say, “I was just clocking in and clocking out and getting the money.”
Singleterry entered the girl’s room, and raped her again.
For predators, it was easy to find ways to be alone with children on understaffed campuses with low-paid employees, The Inquirer found. Interviews and documents show that staff who came to work knew they could clock out early, take unapproved breaks, or sleep through their shifts with little or no consequence.
“They would just disappear. Say they’re going somewhere and they’re coming right back, and then they don’t come back,” said Olenette Hudson, a night-shift staffer at Devereux Georgia from 2006 to 2015. “They’d be gone for hours.”
Devereux executives denied that its campuses were understaffed and that employees shirked their duties.
Attorney Rogers said that after the attack Devereux “investigated and reported it, but they really did nothing to acknowledge that [the victim] had been assaulted by one of their staff people. They didn’t apologize and acted like nothing really happened.”
The victim was eventually discharged from Devereux some six weeks after the incident. Singleterry was subsequently arrested and is currently serving a 20-year sentence on criminal charges.
Investigation Reveals Widespread Faults with Devereux
Deitch + Rogers’ investigation revealed various shortcomings at Devereux that contributed to the sexual assault. For example, Devereux had a policy that there must be at least one female staff member present in the girls’ cottages at all times when a male staff member was assigned to a cottage. And only experienced male staff members should be assigned to the girls’ cottages.
However, on the day in question, evidence showed that the facility was short-staffed on females, which led to Singleterry being assigned to the girls’ cottage for the first time despite having limited experience. Also, although Singleterry’s shift ended at 11:00 p.m., the female staff member assigned to work with him in the cottage left early at about 10:30 p.m., even though she knew Singleterry had begun having inappropriate sexual conversations with the victim.
Devereux employees testified that supervisors routinely “turned a blind eye” to staff members leaving their shifts early. This practice left the children being treated by Devereux vulnerable to predators hired by Devereux. And it was this condition, among other failures by Devereux, that contributed to the assault to take place.
Additionally, police reports, media reports, and other materials showed that children had been victimized in other disturbing incidents at this facility and other Devereux centers across the nation. Indeed, state investigations are currently underway in Pennsylvania, and the city of Philadelphia has temporarily stopped sending local children to Devereux facilities.
Unable to deny its negligence, Devereux ultimately conceded at trial that it had breached a duty of care to the sexual assault victim, but was unwilling to take responsibility for any particular amount of damages and suggested to the jury that the harm caused by its conduct was minimal. The jury disagreed and returned a verdict that awarded the victim $10 million in compensatory damages and required Devereux to pay $5 million of that amount. Sending a clear message that Devereux’s wanton behavior was unacceptable, the jury also awarded $50 million in punitive damages against Devereux.
Long-Term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
Expert witness testimony in the Devereux case emphasized the lingering, traumatic impacts that sexual assault can have on a child. These effects continue well into adulthood and frequently affect a person’s ability to manage everyday life.
According to the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), victims of child sexual abuse are:
- Four times more likely to engage in drug abuse habits
- Four times more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as adults
- Three times more likely to have a major bout of depression in adulthood
Survivors of sexual assault often experience feelings of shame and guilt, and can develop issues with intimacy. They may also develop self-esteem issues and may have flashbacks or traumatic memories.
Child sexual assault victims may:
- Have trouble with school and grades
- Exhibit signs of depression
- Express suicidal thoughts
- Run away from home or school
It’s essential to report any instances of child sexual assault that you may be aware of. Taking action can help prevent future incidents by exposing perpetrators. Legal action can also help ensure that survivors receive justice against not only their assaulters, but also those who enable them.
Learning Points from the Devereux Case
The Devereux case illustrates how sexual assault in a treatment facility can be especially troubling. The children in these facilities are undeniably vulnerable. And facilities like Devereux often present an unfamiliar environment where the children are separated from family and loved ones in exchange for the promise of needed treatment in a safe environment. The notion that such a facility would actually serve as a hunting ground for predators of the worst sort is appalling and shocks the conscience.
Ultimately, it is careless organizational practices and policies that enable sexual abuse and allow it to continue unreported on a wide scale. For example:
- Behavioral health facilities can often be understaffed, leading to security, privacy, and safety issues
- Policies may be poorly written, failing to anticipate critical scenarios where abuse can occur
- Existing safety policies may be weakly enforced or implemented
- Negligent hiring of employees can lead to staff that is inexperienced or who have existing abuse backgrounds
- Negligent supervision of employees can result in systemic unchecked dangerous practices
- Failure to terminate employees after proper supervision creates a culture of disregard for policies meant to protect residents
Sexual abuse in an institutional setting is usually not just the result of the perpetrator’s depravity. As in the Devereux case, it is often the actions of several employees and supervisors all acting carelessly that allow abusive conditions to exist.
It is these systemic abuses that are “built-in” to an organization that can be the most concerning and must be exposed and corrected.
An Experienced Sexual Assault Attorney Can Help You Obtain Justice
Sexual assault is a tragic offense that affects people of all ages, genders, and walks of life. Filing a report or a legal claim can help ensure that offenders are held liable and provide survivors with compensation for their losses.
If you or a loved one has been affected by sexual assault, know that you are not alone in your pursuit of justice. The sexual abuse lawyers at Deitch + Rogers are deeply committed to helping victims obtain justice and fair compensation. We understand that assault cases require sympathy and sensitivity during challenging circumstances. Contact us at (770) 394-9000 for a fully confidential, private consultation at no cost to you.