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Systemic Failures

Grandmother Of 15-Year-Old Girl Who Died While In Care of a Court-Appointed Guardian Brings Suit Against Those She Says Are Responsible

Christopher Myers
LITTLE GIRL LOST: Iva Cruse holds a picture of her granddaughter Ciara Jobes; Cruse has filed a sweeping lawsuit against various city agencies and others in regard to Jobes' death.

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 5/17/2006

Since her granddaughter was starved, abused, and beaten to death four years ago, Iva T. Cruse has been trying to bring the girl’s killer—and those she says are partially responsible for her death—to justice. When Cruse’s granddaughter Ciara Jobes was found dead on Dec. 12, 2002, she had been held prisoner in an unheated room for weeks at a time, with only a hole in the wall as a makeshift toilet. She was malnourished and bore more than 700 wounds and scars. The 15-year-old girl weighed only 73 pounds.

Last year Satrina Roberts, Jobes’ court-appointed guardian, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison for her treatment of Jobes.

But Cruse says that Jobes’ murder tells the story of a “web of neglect” on the part of Roberts and several city agencies who failed the teenager. So now she’s suing them for $25 million. Cruse’s suit names Roberts, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, the city Department of Housing and Community Development, the city Department of Social Services, the city school system, and other agencies and individuals who Cruse says should have been looking out for Jobes while she was in the child-welfare system. The “[d]efendants did nothing to intervene . . . to protect [Jobes] from harm,” the suit notes, despite multiple red flags indicating that the girl was not being cared for properly. Cruse’s lawyer Mark Herman says the Housing Authority has settled with his client, but the rest of the suit goes to court next week

Though Cruse says that several agencies are responsible for her granddaughter’s death, she places “99 and a half percent” of the blame with the Department of Social Services.

“What Satrina Roberts did to my baby was inhumane and egregious,” she says. “But the Department of Social Services didn’t do their job to make sure that Ciara was placed in a home where she would be cared for, didn’t remove her when that wasn’t the case.”

Cruse points first to Jobes’ placement with Roberts as proof that the agency was negligent in its treatment of the girl. She says Roberts knew Jobes’ mother, Jackie Cruse. The two had an argument, and Roberts called Social Services to get back at Jackie Cruse.

“Satrina Roberts called the Department of Social Services, pretending to be me, saying Ciara and her two brothers were being neglected by their mother,” Iva Cruse says. The agency removed the children from Jackie Cruse’s care in the spring of 1998. Ciara Jobes’ two brothers were first placed in foster care, then with an aunt, Dora Cruse. Roberts set out to get foster custody of Ciara Jobes, but was turned down by Social Services because she didn’t meet foster-home requirements. Several months after her first attempt to get Jobes, Roberts was awarded guardianship of the girl by the Baltimore City Circuit Court. According to stories published in the Sun in June 2003, a Department of Social Services representative was at the court hearing but did not object to the appointment of Roberts as guardian.

According to the Sun stories, Roberts was receiving federal disability assistance for mental illness when she got custody of Jobes, and according to Iva Cruse’s lawsuit, Roberts “had been receiving federal disability aid since 1995 after being found to suffer from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.” The suit also contends that Roberts consumed six alcoholic drinks a day. These are things Cruse says the courts should have taken into account before giving Roberts custody of Jobes.

üocial Services spokeswoman Sue Fitzsimmons says she can’t discuss the details of cases that are in litigation. But she does say that, in 1998, when Roberts was seeking guardianship of Jobes, the courts had the power to award guardianship of children without doing the same background checks that foster homes must go through.

“When people are foster parents, there is a great deal of information [available],” Fitzsimmons says. “But guardianship is a legal matter that the court decides.”

In large part because of Jobes’ death, in 2005 the General Assembly and governor passed legislation changing the way courts go about appointing guardianship. The new law requires court-appointed guardians to go through a stringent process—including mental-health screening—before being given custody of children. But that law came too late to help Jobes.

Cruse had tried to get custody of Jobes herself, after the children were first removed from their mother’s care, but Cruse was rejected by the Department of Social Services because she had blemishes on her record as well. Thirty-five years ago, when Jobes’ mother was a toddler, Jackie Cruse and her sisters were removed from Iva Cruse’s care due to neglect—something Cruse says counted against her even though it was so long ago. In 1998, Iva Cruse was found guilty of malicious destruction of property and theft, in relation to a dispute she says she was having with a landlord. She served two weeks in jail as a result. And in 2003, she was found guilty of filing a false application to purchase a firearm.

“It’s amazing to me how they dug into my record for something that happened 35 years ago, that was supposed to have been expunged after five years, and they couldn’t check Satrina’s record,” Cruse says.

Cruse started to worry about Jobes’ welfare in September 2000. Before Jobes was in Roberts’ care, Cruse says she was “was a happy-go-lucky, friendly, warm-hearted child.” Soon after moving in with Roberts, however, Cruse says the girl became withdrawn, sullen, and depressed. “It was like her whole personality took a big nosedive,” she says. Then, Cruse says, Roberts stopped allowing the family to see Jobes anymore.

Cruse says she became concerned and starting calling Social Services because she suspected that her granddaughter was being mistreated. She says she called daily, sometimes several times a day, until July 2002. The Department of Social Services says it never received any of those calls.

“There is a record of the calls taken when people call our hot line,” Fitzsimmons says. “And when calls come in, whether they are answered or not, there is a record kept.”

But Cruse contends she called so often that Social Services workers knew her. “One lady told me that she wished that I would stop calling because I was making a nuisance of myself,” Cruse says.

In July 2002, Jackie Cruse, who had been a drug abuser, died of AIDS and cancer.

“After Jackie died, I really started raising hell,” Cruse says. “I called Social Services three times a day, every day, from the 2nd of August of 2002, when we had Jackie’s funeral, until the day after Thanksgiving of 2002. Every day I talked to the person who answered the hot-line number that I called. They told me, ‘You’re just the grandmother, and you don’t have custody and you don’t have any rights.’”

Around the same time Jobes’ mother died, Cruse alleges, a city housing inspector was supposed to check every room in Satrina Roberts’ house as a stipulation of her public-housing agreement.

“The conditions at the home in which Ciara Jobes lived in at the time the Defendants made home visits were so deplorable that the Defendant’s Baltimore City Housing Authority and Housing and Community Development’s agents knew or should have known that Ciara Jobes was being severely abused,” according to the suit. It goes on to cite the conditions in Jobes’ room: “no heat, no furniture, the usage of a hole in the wall as a toilet, the floors being covered with human waste.”

That inspection should have clued the city in to the fact that Jobes was in trouble, the suit asserts.

Carrie Blackburn Riley, the lawyer representing the Housing Authority in the Cruse case, says that the Housing Authority has been “dismissed” from the suit. Cruse’s lawyer Mark Herman says the Housing Authority agreed to a financial settlement, the amount of which is confidential.

By December 2002, the suit notes, Jobes had barely been to class at Patterson High School, where she had been enrolled for four months. “This truancy should have triggered an investigation,” the suit charges. “The [school system] owed a duty of care to Ciara Jobes to report suspected child abuse and to intervene.”

“When a child misses a week of school, the truant officer is supposed to visit them at home, much less months at a time.” Cruse says.

On a few rare days when Jobes did go to school, according to the suit, Social Services failed to respond to complaints from school personnel who in October and November 2002 reported that they suspected Jobes was being physically abused.

Herman says he can’t predict the outcome of the lawsuit. “We will present the evidence, and it will be up to the jury to find the parties responsible,” he says. But he does say it’s unlikely that the agencies named in the suit will wind up paying the $25 million Cruse is asking for.

Whatever she might be awarded, Cruse says she has no desire to profit from the litigation. If she’s awarded money, she says, it will go to Jobes’ two brothers, Christopher Clark Jr. and Cornell Timmons.

More important than any monetary award, Cruse says, would be the opportunity send a message to the agencies she holds responsible for her granddaughter’s death.

“I’m not just raising Cain just for Ciara,” Cruse says, naming the names of city children who have slipped through the cracks. “I’m doing it for Rita Fisher, Vatell Murray, Emonney and Emunnea Broadway, Donald and Roy Lechner. When in the hell is the Baltimore City Department of Social Services going to wake up?”

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