Ohio Amish lawsuit over child's rape can proceed

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS AP Legal Affairs Writer Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A county children's service agency and its workers aren't entitled to immunity sometimes granted public employees or entities, a federal judge ruled in allowing an Ohio Amish couple's lawsuit to continue over the rape of their adopted baby by her biological parents during a partially supervised visit.

The decision late Tuesday by Judge Benita Pearson in Youngstown didn't directly address the merits of the complaint against the Trumbull County Children Services Agency. But the judge made clear the evidence was strong enough for the lawsuit to proceed.

Prior rulings from Ohio's federal appeals court and elsewhere have shown that children in state-sponsored foster care have a "substantive due process right" to be reasonably safe from harm, the judge said in her ruling.

The child in this case enjoys a similar right to reasonable safety, especially because the visitation was facilitated and supervised by the county agency, Pearson said. The agency and its workers were on notice that their conduct -- placing the child "alone in a room with a known child rapist and another unstable individual" -- violated due process, the judge said.

Messages were left Wednesday for attorneys for the county agency and the couple.

The lawsuit seeking $3 million in damages was filed in April on behalf of the couple who live in West Farmington, north of Youngstown in northeast Ohio. The suit claims the agency and three of its employees are responsible for the decision to give the infant girl's biological parents partially unsupervised visits starting in January 2011.

At that time, the agency decided that workers could check in on the visits about every 15 minutes -- even though the baby's biological father, Cody Beemer, had previously been convicted of raping a 3-year-old cousin. The rape was discovered later on a cellphone video made by Beemer and his wife, Felicia.

Before December 2010, the parents were allowed visitation only while constantly supervised, the lawsuit said.

The child was 9 months old when the cellphone video of the abuse was made in April 2011.

Cody Beemer, now 25, pleaded guilty in June 2012 to raping her during a visit and to other charges, including pandering sexual materials involving minors. He was sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole after 25 years.

The biological mother, Felicia Banks Beemer, now 23, was convicted of rape, pandering sexual materials involving minors and other charges and was sentenced to life with parole eligibility after 15 years.

Felicia Banks Beemer had repeatedly lost parental rights in the past and was "subservient" to Cody Beemer's will, according to the lawsuit, which said the agency knew these facts at the time.