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Child Abuse Case Shines Spotlight on Social Services

A recent story in the Times Union describes horrifying details of the abuse and murder of Gary Carpenter III, a five-year-old Warren County boy. Gary was subjected to torture and abuse by his mother's boyfriend, Brandon Warrington, ultimately leading to him being savagely beaten to death last November. Warrington was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison earlier this month. However, what makes this story even more troubling is the fact that it might have been prevented.

While Warrington was found to be responsible for inflicting the injuries that killed Gary, an investigation is now being called for to determine whether State and County officials also played a role in allowing this senseless tragedy to occur. The controversy stems from a call allegedly made by Gary's babysitter to the State-operated Child Abuse Hotline two weeks prior to his death. Officials with the hotline contend that the call was never made, but the Warren County District Attorney's office has alleged that the call was never forwarded to the DSS and that the hotline's practice of not forwarding calls to the DSS has become "a dangerous pattern."

While government officials are often found to be immune from lawsuits, under certain circumstances, an individual who has been denied their civil rights as the result of government action or non-action may be able to recover damages. A common vehicle for pursuing such a claim is a lawsuit brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This federal statute permits monetary damages to be recovered when the government violates an individual's constitutional rights through the application of a law, official policy, or custom.

Whether an individual can succeed in a Section 1983 suit is generally a fact specific and complex question. Thus, it is important that an individual seeking to pursue such a claim confer with an attorney that is experienced in Section 1983 litigation.

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