WATERVILLE — The adult children of a Peshastin man were awarded $2.5 million Wednesday in Douglas County Superior Court after their claims of abuse were ignored by child welfare services.
Three adult children of Theron Heideman, 51, say they were regularly abused by their father and stepmother, Juana Ponce for years. Between 1999 and 2009, they were the subject of 11 Child Protective Services investigations.
In their lawsuit against the state Department of Social and Health Services, the siblings claim DSHS employees interviewed them in the presence of Theron and Ponce, dismissed some complaints without investigation because of the source and failed to interview people who could’ve had relevant information, according to documents filed in Superior Court.
The case was set for trial in August, but the sides settled out of court. Two children who were physically abused and neglected for years were each awarded $625,000. Another, who was sexually and physically abused, was awarded $1.25 million.
“It’s kind of a sad story of just kind of this bizarre entropy of CPS and law enforcement in terms of following up,” said Tyler Firkins, the Auburn attorney for the Heideman siblings.
The siblings previously sued Chelan County because they say the Sheriff’s Office didn’t investigate claims of abuse. That case was dismissed.
For the Heideman children, the settlement brings them a level of security they hadn’t had before, Firkins said.
“They’ve lived in a horror since they were little kids and by the time they left home they had nothing to their name,” Firkins said. “And they’ve struggled enormously since.”
The siblings first brought the case against DSHS in 2011. The case was dismissed by Douglas County Superior Court Judge John Hotchkiss, but later reinstated by the state Court of Appeals in Spokane.
In a statement, the acting Assistant Secretary for DSHS’ Children’s Administration, Connie Lambert-Eckel, said “We believe this settlement provides the means for these former clients to get appropriate care to recover from this traumatic period in their lives.”
Theron was arrested in March 2017 on child rape and molestation accusations. He stands accused in Chelan County Superior Court of five counts of first-degree child rape, one count of second-degree child rape, three counts of child molestation and two counts of incest.
He goes to trial in June.
Pete O’Cain: 664-7152