The grandmother of a 14-month-old girl who died last year of a fentanyl overdose has sued Riverside County and three social workers, alleging they had failed to remove the child from its mother drug addict despite warnings from hospital staff.
Hazel Yoshida, the paternal grandmother of Allison Kittrell, filed a lawsuit Monday, June 21 in Riverside U.S. District Court, alleging wrongful death, neglect and breach of mandatory duties. Police say Allison died on June 7, 2020, after being exposed to traces of fentanyl at her parents’ apartment in Riverside.
Social workers Marlene Zaragoza and Alejandra Juarez-Espinosa and their supervisor, David Purcell, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
“Because of what they didn’t do here – because of their inability to act – this kid died. I pin it on them, ”said Yoshida’s attorney Shawn McMillan.
According to the lawsuit, staff at Loma Linda University Medical Center contacted the Riverside County Public Social Services Department on February 20, 2019, two days after Allison was born, and alerted them that the new- born had tested positive for amphetamines, barbiturates and opiates. , just like his mother, Tehra Waite.
Zaragoza and Juarez-Espinosa were entrusted with the case; Zaragoza was the main investigator.
Warned about drug abuse from mother
Waite, according to the lawsuit, had a history of methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl abuse, had used drugs throughout her pregnancy and had sought no treatment for her addiction. She had been admitted to Loma Linda University Medical Center several times for drug-related issues in the months leading up to Allison’s birth, and on one of those occasions she had been discharged from the hospital. , against medical advice, to come back a few days later.
Waite admitted in an interview that she had smoked methamphetamine twice and heroin once in the 10 days before Allison was born, according to the lawsuit.
Zaragoza and Juarez-Espinosa also learned during their investigation that Waite did not purchase baby food, cradle, clothes or diapers for her baby before he was born. Hospital staff warned Zaragoza against Waite.
“They specifically told him that Ms Waite had not come and they feared that she could not be trusted,” according to the lawsuit.
Newborn baby allowed to stay with mother
But instead of seeking a court order to detain Allison or place the newborn in the care of a parent, social workers – with the agreement of their supervisor, David Purcell – allowed the child to be with his mother. They allowed Waite to participate in a “voluntary safety plan” that included abstaining from drug use.
As of March 4, 2019, however, Zaragoza had been informed that Waite was not participating in his program and had not shown up for a scheduled drug test. During a home visit on March 13 that year, Zaragoza told Waite that failure to adhere to his schedule had possible consequences, according to the lawsuit.
Purcell and Zaragoza failed to report Waite to police, left Allison in the care of her heroin-addicted mother and closed the case on March 18, 2019, according to the lawsuit.
“With Purcell’s approval, the case was closed, with no applicable alert,” McMillan said.
More than 14 months later – at approximately 8:15 p.m. on June 7, 2020 – Riverside Police responded to a 911 call made by Waite at her apartment in the 3400 block of Ramona Drive after Allison stopped breathing , said Agent Ryan Railsback.
A cop who responded performed CPR on Allison until paramedics arrived and took her to hospital, where she died, Railsback said.
Fentanyl blamed for death
Detectives found evidence of drug use in the apartment, and it was later determined that Allison died of a fentanyl overdose. Traces of synthetic opiates were found in various places in the apartment, including on the sofa, Railsback said.
Waite and Allison’s father, Collin Kittrell, was arrested on October 19 and October 8, 2020, respectively, and charged with murder and child abuse. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 1 in Riverside Superior Court.
“It was a very sad and tragic case, and of course it should never have happened,” Railsback said.
County: no comments
Riverside County spokeswoman Brooke Federico said the county has yet to receive the complaint and cannot comment on the matter.
“Our social workers are dedicated to best practices and keeping children safe. We are saddened when a child dies prematurely and reflect on the circumstances surrounding that death, ”Federico said in an email. “Our hearts go out to Allison’s family and loved ones.”
McMillan believes the facts of the case not only justified Allison’s removal from her mother, but made it necessary, at least until Waite could clean up.
“It was one of those circumstances where there was an emergency,” McMillan said. “Instead of filing a petition or asking for a (court order), which the social worker should have done, she let go of the child with her mother and said, ‘Go take drug addiction classes.’ “