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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Girl Rescued From Trash And Feces-Filled House Receives $4 Million Settlement

Lake Stevens Police Department
File photo of the inside of the home Cheyene and her siblings were rescued from in January 2015.

The state of Washington has agreed to pay $4 million to settle a lawsuit involving a 7-year-old girl named Cheyene who was rescued from a trash and feces-filled house in Lake Stevens in 2015.

The settlement, which a judge approved Monday, comes on the eve of the trial in the case against the state’s Department of Social and Health Services. The lawsuit alleged that DSHS failed to protect Cheyene and her siblings from years of extreme physical and emotional abuse despite repeated reports to the child welfare agency.

“This little girl was confined in squalid conditions for the vast majority of her life,” said David P. Moody, the attorney who filed the lawsuit. “She was living and competing with rats for food, her meth-addicted caregivers were completely absent.”

When police were called to the home on January 31, 2015, they found Cheyene huddled under a blanket with her 3-year-old brother. They also discovered an infant in a crib who was dehydrated and hypothermic.

According to police reports, the house was full of garbage, had no heat or water, and there were buckets filled with human waste lining the hallway. There was also no food.

“I was so shocked at the condition of the home and the children, I had to exit the home to compose myself before I could continue with the investigation,” one officer later wrote, according to court filings.

Cheyene’s mother and her boyfriend were later convicted of misdemeanor abandonment.

According to the lawsuit, DSHS failed to protect Cheyene and her siblings despite a “constellation of clear warning signs” over the years. This included repeated calls to Child Protective Services from relatives, concerned citizens, health care providers and school officials.

Those reports, according to Moody, included concerns about drug use and violence in the home. They also described the children being locked in their rooms or left alone for hours at a time and going hungry.

In each case, the lawsuit said, DSHS failed to properly investigate and ruled the complaints “unfounded.”

In a statement, DSHS said: “We believe this settlement provides the means for this child to receive the care and recovery resources she will need in order to live a full and healthy life.” The statement notes that the original claim was for $13.5 million.

In addition to the $4 million settlement, DSHS has been fined $178,000 in the case for failing to turn over all relevant documents as part of the pre-trial discovery process.

Cheyene, now nearly 10 years old, is living with her biological father. According to Moody, the two younger children are still dependents of the state and were not parties to the lawsuit, but Moody said a future guardian could file suit on their behalf at a later date.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."