Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon are shown in jail booking photographs released by Florence, Alabama police in 2016.
Alabama officials failed to protect multiple children who were abused and neglected for years while in foster care, a series of lawsuits filed today allege.
Foster children who lived with Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon were sexually, physically, verbally, mentally and emotionally abused, according to the four lawsuits. While the children were starved, isolated, tortured and assaulted, the lawsuits allege, the Alabama Department of Human Resources ignored signs of abuse and neglect.
The lawsuits say “numerous” complaints about abuse and neglect were made to DHR by the children and others. The complaints included violations of DHR’s standards for foster homes and ban on corporal punishment, plus reports that the children weren’t properly bathed or were forced to bathe with other children, according to the lawsuits.
“The victims in these cases suffered the most shocking abuse imaginable as a direct result of a catastrophic failure of Alabama’s Child Welfare system,” the lawsuits state. “The system is broken in Alabama and it has failed these and countless other victims.”
Barry Spear, a DHR spokesman, declined to comment on active litigation. AL.com’s efforts to reach attorneys who have represented the Spurgeons weren’t immediately successful.
While the Spurgeons lived in Alabama, they fostered more than 50 children — and adopted some of them — who were placed in their custody by DHR beginning in about 2003, court records state. The Spurgeons had custody of at least 11 children while they lived in Florence, a city of about 40,000 people in northwest Alabama, between 2008-15.
For abuse that happened while they lived in Florence, Daniel Spurgeon is serving a 25-year prison sentence after pleading guilty last year to 14 felony crimes of rape, torture and child abuse.
Jenise Spurgeon is scheduled to face trial in April on charges of child abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking. The human trafficking charge stems from the Spurgeons receiving money from the state for being a foster care family while the abuse was happening, the lawsuit states.
The Spurgeons homeschooled the children, in violation of DHR policy and Alabama law, according to the lawsuits, in an attempt to hide evidence of the abuse and neglect, and to prevent the children from escaping.
It wasn’t until 2016 — nearly a year after the Spurgeons moved from Alabama to Florida — that law enforcement learned about the abuse.
In July of that year, police in Florida found one of the Spurgeon’s children — a 13-year-old girl — drunk at a restaurant, according to law enforcement officials. She and a teen sibling told police about life with the Spurgeons. In interviews with Florida police, the Spurgeons’ foster and adopted children also disclosed abuse that happened in Alabama.
After the Spurgeons were arrested, exams found the children hadn’t seen doctors or dentists in years, according to the lawsuits filed today, and some of them were diagnosed with scabies.
The children suffer from physical pain and discomfort, emotional injury and mental anguish, trauma, humiliation, fright, anger, family turmoil and lack of faith, and an inability to form close relationships, nightmares and sleep disorders, mistrust in the intentions of others, lack of self-esteem, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the lawsuits.
“My clients lived a daily nightmare because DHR workers failed to do their jobs and it is appalling that DHR allowed this to happen,” said Tommy James, a Birmingham lawyer representing the children along with attorney Jeremy Knowles.
“It is incomprehensible that this abuse went on for years right under the nose of DHR workers,” James said in a statement. “They ignored clear and repeated signs of child abuse and neglect that resulted in emotional and physical consequences that my clients will live with forever.”
The lawsuits accuse DHR and its employees of negligent, wanton, willful, malicious or fraudulent inaction.
James said his clients was to see changes within DHR to prevent other children from becoming victims. He called on Governor Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall to seek those changes.
“These victims hope and pray that these cases and the attention they receive will lead to change within the foster care and adoption systems in Alabama so that this never happens again,” James said. “My clients are extremely brave and they deserve justice. It is past time for DHR and its employees to be held accountable for consistently failing our children.”