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Lawsuit filed against Utah over foster child's death

Vanderlinden sentencing
Posted at 1:48 PM, Aug 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-03 19:34:44-04

DUCHESNE, Utah — A lawsuit has been filed against Utah's child protective services agency accusing it of negligence in the death of a 2-year-old child in foster care.

The lawsuit, filed last week in 8th District Court, levels the accusations against Utah's Division of Child and Family Services, the Department of Human Services and Lisa and Cody Vanderlinden. It follows Lisa Vanderlinden's sentence last week on a charge of child abuse homicide.

Shelby and David Call, who are 2-year-old Lucas Call's parents, sued alleging negligence and seeking unspecified damages. Lucas Call was placed in foster care in 2017 with the Vanderlindens. He died in 2018. Prosecutors initially filed aggravated murder charges against Lisa Vanderlinden, accusing her of abusing the boy so badly that he died. She ultimately pleaded guilty to child abuse homicide, a first-degree felony, acknowledging negligence in not seeking medical care for Lucas.

Her sentence last week to a year in jail and probation stunned many, including Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.

"It’s a travesty and undermines the confidence of the public in our justice system’s ability to protect kids from abuse and homicide," he said in a statement criticizing the judge's sentence.

In a tearful sentencing, Vanderlinden apologized to the Call family but denied abusing him.

"I didn’t hurt Lucas. I loved him very, very much and if I would have known there was something more going on with his vomiting that night, I would have taken him to the doctor," she said.

In the Call's lawsuit, they allege DCFS caseworkers ignored repeated reports to investigate abuse concerns.

"Shelby reported her concerns of abuse, as well as her observations of Lucas’s injuries and fear of Mrs. Vanderlinden directly to the DCFS employees involved in the visits and team meetings, to the DCFS office in Vernal Utah, and eventually to the main DCFS office in Salt Lake City," the lawsuit states. "None of her reports to the caseworkers or team meeting staff were acted upon or investigated by Supervisors at the local DCFS level."

The lawsuit alleges one DCFS caseworker did have concerns and raised them to superiors, who did nothing. It claims Shelby Call continued to express concerns about her son.

"On the last occasion Shelby reported her concerns to the local DCSF office in Vernal, that office threatened that if Shelby continued reporting her concerns of abuse, they would take away her visitation rights with Lucas and his sister," the lawsuit alleged.

In a statement on Vanderlinden's sentencing last week, DCFS raised the litigation.

"Child safety is the reason we exist, and any child death is a true heartbreak. We acknowledge the tragedy of this event and its effects on the child's family, their community, and our workers. Due to the pending litigation, as well as state law regarding client confidentiality, we unfortunately are unable to discuss any further details of this case. We trust in the legal process and will work with the Attorney General's office throughout this litigation," the agency said.

The Utah Attorney General's Office, which represents state agencies in civil lawsuits, declined to comment on the litigation when contacted by FOX 13 on Monday. So did the Call family's attorney, Jacquelynn Carmichael.