Suit: State failed to stop abuse, let Carnation girl starve for years
No action taken after abuse was discovered in 2005; teen rescued 3 1/2 years later weighed 48 pounds
By Levi Pulkkinen, SEATTLEPI.COM STAFF, June 15, 2010

When King County sheriff's deputies arrived at the Carnation home of her father and stepmother, the years of brutal, methodical starvation had nearly killed the girl.

At 14 in the summer of 2008, she appeared half her age. She wore a size 2 shoe, weighed less than 50 pounds and had lost most of her teeth due to dehydration and malnutrition.

Her younger brother had fared better -- their stepmother, Rebecca Long, had fed him -- but had suffered still; abused himself, the child had been forced to assist in his sister's starvation.

The children have since been removed from the home, placed with a family and are growing into a more normal life. Long and their father, Jon Pomeroy, have moved on as well, into state prison cells where they'll remain for the near future.

Now, though, attorneys for the children have filed suit against the state Department of Social and Health Services claiming the agency failed to act even after abuse was found to have occurred in the home 3 years before.

As was noted in the criminal cases against Long and Pomeroy, teachers administering the girl's home-schooling program reported concerns for the girl's safety to child services in March 2005.

The child services investigation that followed found that abuse was occurring -- the girl, then 11, told investigators she was kept alone in a locked room all day, forced to sit on a concrete floor and subsist on two pieces of bread a day. Still, the girl was not removed from the home until a neighbor's report of screams at the home drew a sheriff's deputy on Aug. 13, 2008; her brother remained in the home another week before child services removed him.

"Most of the abuse suffered by the (children) could and should have been prevented," attorney Timothy Tesh told the court, filing the lawsuit on Friday.

"This (Child Protective Services) referral, although resulting in a founded allegation of child neglect, did not result in the (children's) removal from the abusive and neglectful home and, incredibly, was not followed up in any fashion by CPS for over three years until a neighbor called to report (the girl's) screams."

Rather than recommend action against Long or Pomeroy the child services worker recommended only that the girl receive counseling "as her behaviors would only get worse if not immediately addressed," Tesh, an attorney with the Seattle firm Ressler & Tesh, told the court.

Contacted for comment Tuesday afternoon, a DSHS spokeswoman for the Children's Administration declined to comment on pending litigation. Attorneys for the department were not immediately available for comment.

According to the suit, child services administrators closed the case on April 14, 2005, the day they found that Long had neglected or mistreated the children; allegations against Pomeroy were deemed inconclusive in part because he'd not been interviewed.

"During this period of time, (the children) did not attend school and had no formal schooling instruction in the home," Tesh told the court. "(They) were subjected to nearly continuous and even more severe abuse and neglect then had previously been reported."

Writing to the court during the criminal case against Long and Pomeroy, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Zachary Wagnild noted the girl had learned a lesson when she went for help in 2005.

"This incident taught (her) that reporting the abuse to authorities did not mean that she would be helped," Wagnild said in court documents. "To the contrary, her reporting only served to make her parents angrier and the abuse more severe."

In the years that followed the initial report, the girl was removed from society entirely.

Interviewed by investigators after her rescue in 2008, the girl said that, for nearly as long as she could remember, her parents had kept her on a starvation diet, locking her in her room at night to prevent her from "sneaking" more than the 6 ounces of water a day she was allowed.

Long bound her hands with duct tape and beat her, forced her -- starving and obviously emaciated -- to watch as the family ate dinner, made her younger brother report her every time she tried to sneak water.

Her father did nothing to stop it, sitting by as his wife nearly starved his daughter to death.

The girl's teeth, eroded due to a lack of saliva, were so brittle one broke when she attempted to bite into a piece of celery, medical records show. Her bones had lacked the fuel for the growth expected during puberty but had hardened with age, holding her at 4-foot, 7-inches tall until she was removed from Long and Pomeroy's care and given treatment that allowed her to grow nearly five inches in a past year.

During her imprisonment, she told investigators, she was so thirsty she once used a straw to suck morning condensation off of a window. She said her parents also denied her the usual joys of childhood; she was not allowed to visit friends, use the computer or even pet the golden retriever puppy that became the family dog.

The night she was rescued, the girl had been caught sneaking a glass of water. As punishment, Long forced her to drink a large amount of water, then made her vomit it up.

Pomeroy pleaded guilty a year after his daughter was taken from his care. Prior to being sentenced to a 3 -year prison term -- the maximum standard term for the crime of first-degree criminal mistreatment under state sentencing guidelines -- Pomeroy apologized.

Addressing the court during the Nov. 18 sentencing hearing, Wagnild, the King County deputy prosecutor on the case, expressed his disdain for Pomeroy's lack of action.

"I have to say, that I don't know what it is about someone like Mr. Pomeroy that allows him to stand by as his wife tortures his daughter," Wagnild said. "I don't know whether it's malice. I don't know whether it's indifference. I don't know whether it's cowardice.

"(His) words of sorrow and remorse will have as much an effect on our outrage as they do on his daughter's injuries."

Long offered a modified guilty plea, admitting only that a jury would likely convict her of the crime of which she was accused.

Through her attorney, she contended that a mental illness prompted her to treat her stepdaughter so badly. Long claimed she suffers from depression and dissociative identity disorder, known widely as multiple personality disorder.

Wagnild called the claim "a fiction," and pointed the court to Long's personal blog, Shades of Green, which he argued showed she was not the distraught, mentally unstable woman portrayed by her attorney.

In dozens of posts, Long described her knitting projects, her to-do lists and light-hearted arguments with Pomeroy, who is pictured posing for the camera in a sweater she knit. She describes herself as someone who enjoys herself, likes to "take it easy" and "self-indulge."

Long was also sentenced to the maximum standard sentence of 3 years. Like Pomeroy, she remains in prison.

Both children were placed with a foster family. At last report, both were adjusting to life.

Attending her father's sentencing, the girl appeared healthy and bright, a remarkable change from the bone-thin child pictured in photos taken after her rescue. Their foster father described them as "loving and sweet kids" who'd shown tremendous resilience since their removal from the home.

The state has yet to respond to the lawsuit, which has been filed in King County Superior Court. Attorneys for the children are seeking unspecified financial damages for the injuries both received.


HAVE YOU BEEN
TO THE NEWSROOM?

CLICK HERE!
Return to:
Front Page