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Switzerland Co. family sues DCS after 5 children die in house fire while in state custody

Switzerland Co. family sues DCS after 5 children die in house fire while in state custody


In Indiana, anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect is occurring must make a report to child welfare officials. Here’s how to do that. Wochit

A Switzerland County couple are suing the Indiana Department of Child Services for “reckless, willful and malicious” violation of their rights that preceded the deaths of their six children following the agency’s intervention.

Paige Ridener, 25; James Ridener, 15; Jordan Ridener, 13; Joshua Ridener, 12;  Emilee Ridener, 11; and Elizabeth Ridener, 10, were killed when their home in Vevay, Indiana, caught fire in March 2020. Vevay is located about two hours southeast of Indianapolis, along the Ohio River. 

In a lawsuit filed in Indiana’s Southern District Thursday, Darwin and Lisa Ridener allege DCS intentionally withheld information from a court that resulted in the removal of the five minor children from their care.

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DCS received reports that the Rideners’ minor children and two foster children were victims of abuse and neglect by Lisa. Based on interviews conducted that day, DCS substantiated claims of neglect for all the children and two claims of abuse. The foster children were removed from the home, and the five Ridener children were placed with a relative.

According to the lawsuit, a family case manager told the couple they couldn’t be around their children, and they could choose to leave the home or have the children removed from the home and placed with relatives. Further, the lawsuit alleges the case manager told those relatives that if they didn’t allow the children to stay with them, the children would be placed in an unspecified location four hours away.

Although DCS said they had substantiated claims of abuse and neglect, police in their investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and the prosecutor did not pursue charges, according to the lawsuit. However, the couple allege, DCS knew this and did not inform the court of those developments, so the judge ordered the children’s continued removal from their parents’ care on March 17.

The five children were left in the care of the couple’s 25-year-old daughter, Paige. On March 24, a family case manager visited the home and noted everyone was “healthy and clean.” Days later, Paige and the children were dead.

A fire broke out around 3 a.m. March 28, according to Indiana State Police, and had already engulfed the two-story home by the time first responders arrived. Paige’s boyfriend, who told authorities he tried to go back in but was pushed back by smoke and fire, was the only survivor.

Investigators at the time said no foul play was involved.

The family alleges violations of their Fourth and 14th amendment rights, as well as abuse of process, frivolous litigation, wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Blessing, who is also representing another family that alleges DCS falsified reports to support the removal of their children, said his office has received hundreds of calls from families across the state alleging similar experiences with the agency.

“We’re seeing example after example of DCS lying to these juvenile court judges about the basis for the removal,” he told IndyStar Friday. “And sometimes that’s making affirmative misrepresentations to the court, or it’s omitting material facts when they file things — things that a judge would like to know.”

Blessing said there’s a clear pattern.

“DCS is a rogue agency and it’s removing children all over the state,” Blessing said. “We believe this is a widespread and systemic problem.”

A DCS spokeswoman said the agency did not have a statement regarding the case.

Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Cameron Knight contributed.

You can reach IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.

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Published at Fri, 07 May 2021 22:40:45 +0000

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