Family Sues LA Child Welfare Office for $65 Million After Toddler Dies of Fentanyl Overdose



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The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is facing a lawsuit from the family of a 17-month-old toddler who died from a fentanyl overdose.

Montise Bulley, the father of Justin Bulley, has taken legal action against the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for its role in allowing his son to die while in the custody of his mother, who was known to be an unsuitable parent for the child and his siblings.

Justin died on February 18, 2024, after ingesting fentanyl in a Lancaster home while under the care of his mother and grandfather. Both individuals had lengthy histories of substance abuse and criminal activity. Despite the multitude of red flags, DCFS placed Justin and his siblings in their care. Montise had been fighting to gain custody of his son at the time.

Montise has filed a lawsuit against the DCFS for $65 million, alleging that Justin fell unconscious and died while his mother, grandfather and a DCFS social worker were present at the home.

The lawsuit claims social workers were aware of previous drug and DUI-related arrests involving the boy’s mother, Jessica Darthard, and his grandfather, Jessie Darthard.

Brian Claypool, the family’s attorney, said, “We have a pathetic L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services in Lancaster.”

During a press conference, Claypool highlighted the mother’s criminal activity.

“Dating back to 2006, the mother had a first strike in California for shooting a gun into an occupied dwelling,” Claypool said. “That crime, in and of itself, should have deprived this woman from caring for children.”

According to Claypool, there were other serious instances that should’ve disqualified Jessica from having access to her children.

On April 10, 2023, Jessica’s boyfriend died of an overdose and all four of her children had witnessed the death, the suit claims.

She had previously been arrested for driving under the influence and crashing her car into a big rig while her children were reportedly inside the car and baby Justin wasn’t in a car seat.

“The search of Jessica Darthard showed multiple alcohol-related arrests and cruelty to a child in 2023,” according to court documents. “[Jessica] was a known user and abuser of substances. Each of her four children were all born with illegal drugs in their system. DCFS was also aware that Jessica’s father was a known drug dealer in the Antelope Valley.”

Even more egregious is that on the night that Justin died, the social worker assigned to the family was visiting the home. She also brought her own three children along for the ride. The mother and grandfather were drinking and consuming fentanyl while the children were in the home.

“It was only a matter of time before at least one child died at the hands of this mother,” Claypool said. “There were six other kids in the home when Justin died. There could been another six children dead in this home.”

Adding to the allegations, Claypool said the social worker was actually a close friend of Jessica’s.

When the social worker realized Justin had ingested the drugs and was in trouble, instead of saving the child, the social worker fled the home with her kids, the suit said.

“The woman appointed by the county is at the scene of the death!” Claypool said. “And what does she do? She doesn’t step in and try to save these kids. She doesn’t pull these kids out of that house. What does she do? She’s a coward — she runs. When the paramedics show up at the house, she does a 360. Runs out of the house with her kids.”

The social worker was later detained by law enforcement and after testing her three children, they were all found with fentanyl in their system, the suit claims.

The family seeks $65 million in damages.

Fentanyl has been a serious issue in the United States over the past decade. Los Angeles has suffered immensely from the synthetic opioid, which is typically trafficked over the southern border, a problem that has worsened with the ongoing border crisis.

For the first time in recent years, fentanyl surpassed methamphetamine as the most common drug listed as a cause of overdose deaths, according to a recent report from the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Fentanyl was blamed in almost 60% of all accidental drug or alcohol overdoses in 2022, the report said, and has continued to disproportionately kill Black Angelenos.

The situation has become so dire that California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a press release discussing the details of a briefing.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, together with local and federal law enforcement partners, received a briefing on fentanyl trafficking and toured the California-Mexico border. Over the last four years, seizures of fentanyl at the California’s border with Mexico have skyrocketed, from 4,790 pounds in 2020 to 27,000 pounds in 2023. During this time frame, between 47 and 61% of all fentanyl seized at the Southwest border was seized at California Ports of Entry.

If the allegations in the lawsuit are true, then this is an absolute tragedy highlighting at least two failures of government.

For starters, California’s child welfare office let this family down. The fact that the family’s social worker was seemingly participating in the same behavior as the mother and grandfather – and subjecting her three children to that environment appears to suggest that the state did not properly vet her before hiring her. Moreover, even with all the criminal activity and drug use, the government failed to protect the children.

Secondly, the border crisis has empowered Mexican drug cartels to smuggle fentanyl into the country. With Border Patrol being so stretched thin, it is even more difficult to intercept these drugs before they reach American citizens. This is a distinct failure on the part of the Biden administration, which has constantly failed to address the surge of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross the border.

Unfortunately, until these problems are addressed, there will only be more Justin Bulleys.





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