|Cache County, Utah|
Two affiliated group-home companies, known collectively as Northeastern Services (NES), were found liable in relation to the abuse, according to attorneys from Peck Hadfield Baxter & Moore, LLC, who represented the child's family. NES will pay damages of $12.5 million.
The plaintiff presented evidence at trial that NES purposefully located its group home for mentally and behaviorally disabled adults in a residential neighborhood, attorneys say. The family's lawyers say the company encouraged neighborhood children to interact with group home residents and employees, often without parental knowledge or consent.
Attorneys say NES employee Matthew Cicel Cooper abused the then 4-year-old girl in a NES bathroom on July 17, 2008, after she and her older sister were invited into the home to watch a movie.
Cooper pleaded guilty to child kidnapping and aggravated sex abuse of a child in 2009, according to court records.
The attorneys said in a statement that NES failed to do a background check on Cooper, who they say had been fired from another home for abusing a disabled resident. They also said Cooper was a user of methamphetamine and marijuana, though NES did not require him to submit to drug tests.
"I hope this verdict sends the message to NES and all other group-home operators in Utah that they cannot put corporate profits above community responsibility," said Shaun L. Peck, who represented the victim in the trial.
"They cannot just locate a group-home facility in a family neighborhood, staff the group home with unfit employees, and fail to adequately supervise the operation of the group home. They must be responsible corporate citizens, especially when they are funded by State dollars."
The victim's parents said NES violated their position of trust in their community through its loose practices. "Our hope is that our daughter will someday know that things changed because a courageous jury was willing to stand up and say 'enough' is 'enough'," the parents said in a statement.
"We believe that this will be significant to her as she works to overcome the problems associated with this abuse."