Butler County DHR employees sued for negligence following child sex abuse case

Updated: Jan. 23, 2019 at 9:01 PM CST
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BUTLER COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - The legal guardian of two young children who were victims in a disturbing child sex abuse torture case is now suing staff members at the Butler County Department of Human Resources. Patrick Hays, the attorney for the defendant, said the civil suit was filed last March. However, the criminal case against Jonathan Paul Smith delayed that case. Smith was sentenced to life in prison earlier this month for sexually abusing and torturing two children who were under the age of 12 in December of 2016.

Smith’s wife, Michelle, pleaded not guilty to the same charges and is set for trial in June in Butler County.

With Jonathan Smith’s case finished, Hays said he hopes this will help move the civil case forward more quickly.

WSFA 12 News decided not to release the name of Hays' client in an effort to protect the identities of the young victims in the case. The civil suit is for negligence, and it names Jennifer Langford, Julie Leverett and Alicia Sexton. All three defendants are on staff at Butler County DHR. Langford, the department director, said Butler County DHR has “no comment” on the situation when WSFA 12 News requested an interview or statement.

According to Hays, Leverett is the supervisor for the department’s child welfare operations and Sexton was the victims' social worker.

“DHR knew Mr. Smith was a danger, not only these children, but to his own children as well," said Hays. “He had his own children taken away from him.”

The lawsuit states Smith was banned from being on DHR property.

Another relative, who is referenced in the suit, told WSFA 12 News during a previous interview that he reached out to DHR multiple times out of concern for the children’s well-being while they lived in the Smiths' home.

Hays said the children were actually removed from the home in March 2016 because DHR was concerned about Jonathan Smith’s mental state. The suit states five months later, that August, Michelle Smith was given full custody of the children, and they were returned.

The abuse and torture that landed Smith in prison for the rest of his life and the victims in the hospital for days occurred in December 2016, just four months after they were returned to the Smith’s home.

“Our hope is that this teaches DHR a lesson about how they handled this,” said Hays. “They have some responsibility for allowing the children to return to a home where Mr. Smith had the opportunity to abuse them so heinously.”

Hays said he expects push back from the defendants. However, he said his request for a jury trial in Butler County was granted.

No trial date has been set yet.

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