A lawsuit recently filed in federal court argues that the Kansas child protection agency and one of its foster care contractors negligently placed a 2-year-old girl in a Topeka home where one or two pit bulls fatally mauled her.
The state agency and the foster care contractor put the girl back into the same unsafe home from which she had been removed, and both should have known that two vicious dogs with a history of previous attacks were kept at the same address, the lawsuit says.
The girl — identified in the lawsuit as “P.N.D.” and in news stories as Piper Dunbar — was 2 years and 9 months old on Sept. 24, 2016. That Saturday evening, she went outside while her father was sleeping and was “repeatedly attacked” by one or both dogs, the lawsuit says. The administrator of the Piper’s estate and the girl’s mother filed the lawsuit on Sept. 21.
The lawsuit is against the Department for Children and Families (DCF) and KVC Behavioral Healthcare, a private not-for-profit foster care contractor.
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The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and damages of more than $75,000.
Spokeswomen for DCF and KVC said Friday that they can’t comment because of the pending lawsuit.
The lawsuit complaint gives this account:
In 2015, Piper went into DCF custody after the child protection system found that the people living at her home and the overall conditions made it “an unfit and unsafe place for P.N.D. to live.”
When the state took custody of Piper, her father, Donald Dunbar, was in a state prison. Dunbar had a long history of drug and theft convictions.
The girl “remained in a safe and secure foster home and under the control of … DCF and KVC until the summer of 2016,” the lawsuit says.
Then, her father was being released from prison, and DCF and KVC “negligently proposed reintegration” of Piper and her father by placing her in his custody — despite his criminal history, the lawsuit says.
So around Aug. 22, 2016 — about a month before her death — Piper was allowed to live with her father in “the same location that previously had been determined to be an unfit environment for the safety and well-being” of the girl, it says. “Basically the same individuals” and the same conditions existed at the home.
KVC, the foster care provider, failed to adequately assess the home to make sure it was safe, the lawsuit says.
DCF and KVC “made incomplete and inaccurate recommendations” to Shawnee County District Court that resulted in the girl being put back into her father’s custody at the address from which she had been removed, it says.
The state agency and the foster care provider had a duty to do bi-weekly inspections of the home to evaluate whether it was safe for Piper, the lawsuit says. It contends that they failed to adequately follow up.
The girl’s home was also home to two large pit bulls that allegedly belonged to a woman living at the same address.
“For some time” before his daughter’s death, Dunbar “knew, or should have known, that each of these pit bulls was extremely vicious/dangerous with a repeated history of prior attacks and vicious behavior towards other animals and people,” the lawsuit says.
DCF and KVC also knew or should have known that the dogs “posed an immediate and serious threat to the safety” of the girl, it says.
According to the lawsuit account, sometime before 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, Piper went out into the yard while her father slept inside.
There the dogs attacked her until she died.
Sometime before 8 that night, Dunbar woke up and realized his 2-year-old was missing and started looking for her. The woman who allegedly owned the dogs called 911 at about 8 p.m. Officers searching the front yard found Piper’s lifeless body under a tarp and determined that the dogs killed her.
Among the contentions, besides negligence, are that the girl was denied her constitutional rights — life and liberty.
Aside from the allegations in the lawsuit, police investigated the girl’s death and consulted with the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office.
“It did not appear there was evidence that the incident rose to the level of criminal conduct and the case was not presented for consideration of charges,” Shawnee County Deputy District Attorney Charles Kitt said in an email Friday.