The family of a Lynchburg infant who was killed by neglect of her mother in 2018 is suing the Lynchburg Department of Social Services for conspiracy, defamation and other claims in purposefully preventing them from adopting the child before her death.
Amarah Lane died in August 2018 of complications from high levels of sodium in her blood at the age of 22 months, officials have said. Her mother, 23-year-old Fantasia Ashante Lane, pleaded guilty to charges of felony murder, child abuse and child endangerment four months later and is serving a 23-year prison sentence.
Lane had a history of neglecting and abusing her daughter, according to evidence presented in the case. She first lost custody of Amarah when her daughter was three weeks old because of injuries from neglect and took parenting classes in order to get custody back in May 2018.
Brenten Woody and Sonya Woody, the child’s biological father and grandmother, filed a lawsuit in mid-August in Roanoke City Circuit Court, since most of the people involved or with information about the case are in Roanoke, according to the lawsuit.
They’re demanding $150 million in damages plus other fees and costs. They name as defendants the City of Lynchburg, Lynchburg DSS, CASA of Central Virginia, CASA leadership, Lynchburg DSS leadership and the foster parents who temporarily cared for the child. CASA did not respond to a request for comment.
Calls to the attorney representing the Woodys in the lawsuit were not returned.
The lawsuit states the Woodys didn’t know Amarah was Brenten Woody’s daughter until she was first removed from Lane’s custody at three weeks old. When they found out, they immediately filed for custody, but the lawsuit details a “conspiracy” between the defendants to deny them custody.
The Woodys claim Lynchburg DSS and CASA of Central Virginia placed the adoptive interest of Amarah’s foster family above the interests and rights of her biological family — something “indicative of a pattern and practice” within the department.
They cite statements from Roanoke DSS that concluded Sonya Woody, the child’s grandmother, was an appropriate placement for her and would help her father provide care. A report from CASA of Central Virginia on their fitness to care for her “intentionally concealed” those statements to conclude they wouldn’t be appropriate to take custody, according to the lawsuit.
After the Woodys were granted a visit with Amarah in January 2018, the Woodys claimed her foster parents falsely accused the Woodys of sexually abusing the child during that visitation. Lynchburg DSS didn’t properly investigate those claims, the lawsuit states, and didn’t screen the foster family or monitor her care.
Lane initially had agreed to let the foster parents adopt Amarah, the lawsuit states, but then changed her mind. It was then that Lynchburg DSS “changed their position and recommended that Amarah be returned to her mother’s custody.”
Once she was returned to her mother in May 2018, the Woodys claimed Lynchburg DSS should’ve become aware of her neglect and failed to investigate it.
The Woodys said in their lawsuit that after Amarah died, Lynchburg DSS tried to convince them not to speak publicly about the custody issues and prevented them from attending her funeral.
Lynchburg City Attorney Walter Erwin said this week the city has not been served with the lawsuit and no Lynchburg DSS employee has notified his office that the department has been served. He said the Woodys’ attorney called his office in August to say they’d be filing the suit, but he hasn’t seen it yet.
“When it is served, the city will make the appropriate arrangements to defend the parties in the lawsuit … that have a connection with the city,” he said.
He said there have been no other civil court actions involving the city regarding Amarah’s death.
CASA of Central Virginia did not respond to a request for comment.
Once served, the defendants will have 21 days to file a response.
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