WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Disparaging the refusal of a Kansas social worker to act as "inexplicable and unprofessional," a federal judge nonetheless summarily found in her favor Thursday in a lawsuit brought by the grandparents of a 23-month-old girl who was beaten to death after authorities ignored pleas to protect her.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot ruled that Linda Gillen, a former social worker with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services, was entitled to qualified immunity from the lawsuit. He cited prevailing case precedent that a social worker is "constitutionally free to ignore the pleas" of the grandparents and offer no assistance.
The judge said while the allegations suggest Gillen may have had ill will toward the grandparents, there is no evidence she intended to harm the girl. There is also no law holding that an intentional refusal to act results in a finding that Gillen "enhanced the danger" to the girl.
Larry and Mary Crosetto, the girl's maternal grandparents, said in the suit Gillen did not respond to their complaints because she had a personal grudge against them. Their granddaughter, Brooklyn Coons, of Coffeyville, died in January 2008. Her father's girlfriend, Melissa Wells, is serving life in prison for the girl's death.
Belot wrote in his ruling that he, as a citizen and parent, cannot "understand how anyone having defendant's job could have acted as she did. Whether or not her conduct is 'conscience-shocking,' it is inexplicable and unprofessional and, sadly, fairly consistent with other cases before this court involving Kansas SRS personnel."
SRS acknowledged receiving an email from The Associated Press seeking comment on the decision, but it had no immediate comment. The Crosettos did not return a phone message left at their Coffeyville home, and no working phone number could be found for Gillen. Attorneys for the parties also did not immediately respond to emails.
The grandparents allege in their lawsuit that Gillen refused to take calls from police or accept pictures of alleged abuse, lied about visiting the home where the girl lived and told the grandparents that the abuse "was not her issue, but one for law enforcement." Gillen claimed the abuse allegations against Wells were unsubstantiated.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last year reversed Belot's earlier ruling that Gillen was entitled to immunity and sent the case back for additional findings.