LaGRANGE, Ind. (AP) _ A northern Indiana woman whose 15-month-old daughter died while in foster care is suing the foster parents and a state agency over her death.
Kelli Sprunger's lawsuit seeks damages for her and her family for an amount that “would make them whole” following Alissa B. Guernsey's March 2009 death. It does not specify a dollar figure.
The suit was filed in LaGrange Circuit Court, but was moved this month to federal court in Fort Wayne. It names the Indiana Department of Child Services, 31-year-old Christy Shaffer and her husband, Matthew Shaffer, as well as Steuben County and Ashley Westgate, a DCS employee who works in that county.
Christy Shaffer, the toddler's state-appointed foster parent, was indicted by a LaGrange County grand jury late last year on two counts of neglect of a dependent. Her case is scheduled to go to a jury trial next February.
Although LaGrange County Prosecutor Jeff Wible declined to link the indictments to the child's death, court documents say blunt-force trauma head injuries the child suffered resulted from Shaffer's actions.
The lawsuit alleges that Guernsey was placed with Shaffer by Westgate, a DCS employee. Although she was not a foster parent, DCS officials said Shaffer had passed a background check before the girl was placed with her.
State officials said the child was related to Shaffer.
Calls to the Shaffers' Topeka home were not answered Wednesday and did not go to voicemail.
DCS spokeswoman Ann Householder told The Journal Gazette that further comment on the case would be inappropriate because it is now before a judge.
Few details of how the girl died were made available because they are kept secret under grand jury proceedings. But earlier this year The Journal Gazette obtained a copy of the autopsy report that said the child was found unresponsive while riding in a car seat and that emergency medical workers attempted a full resuscitation.
The autopsy report said the child's medical history indicated there had been a previous soft-tissue injury to the elbow and “growth plate displacement from a `fall.”'
It also found bleeding inside her skull, an inch-long cut inside her mouth that was starting to heal and multiple facial bruises with no medical explanation for them at that time.
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