Kansas to pay $875,000 to settle lawsuit

TOPEKA | Kansas officials agreed Monday to pay $875,000 to settle a federal lawsuit against a former state social worker and her supervisors by a man who alleges he was abused while in custody as an accused juvenile offender.

Brandon Blackmon, now 23, spent more than two years in custody during the 1990s, when he was living in Wichita. In 2005, he sued six Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services employees, seeking more than $3 million in damages.

He contends the mishandling of his case led to his abuse by older juvenile offenders and that his mental health also suffered. Wichita police arrested Blackmon, then 10, in May 1996 over an allegation that he'd sexually assaulted a 4-year-old girl, but the court ruling that he'd done so was overturned in 1998 by the Kansas Supreme Court.

On Monday, the State Finance Council, which is the governor and eight top legislative leaders, unanimously approved the settlement. The attorney general's office, which represented the former social worker, had recommended it.

The Finance Council's action came after members met in a closed session for about 15 minutes to review the case. They said little afterward and didn't even mention the settlement amount before voting on it.

“We believe the settlement is in the best interest of the state,” Ashley Anstaett, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Steve Six, said in a statement. “There is no admission of wrongdoing.”

Eric Barth, a Wichita attorney representing Blackmon, did not return telephone messages or reply to an e-mail seeking comment.

Blackmon's lawsuit alleges that after police arrested him and he was held in a youth home and then the county's juvenile detention center, he was sometimes handcuffed or restrained because of self-destructive behavior. SRS had been involved in his case from nearly the beginning but the agency didn't take formal custody of him until March 1997.

Blackmon eventually sued the Social and Rehabilitation Services social worker handling his case, and five of her supervisors, though only one of them remains a defendant.

In May 1997, Blackmon was moved to a residential treatment program for juvenile sex offenders in Salina — even though, the lawsuit alleges, officials there said he was too young and one predicted he would be victimized by older boys. He was sexually battered six weeks later, according to the lawsuit.

Soon after, he was moved from Salina back to the Wichita detention center, the first of five placements before his release from Social and Rehabilitation Services custody in July 1998, according to the lawsuit.