Relatives of 8-year-old girl found dead in Austin sue the state

July 15, 2014
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The mother and maternal grandfather of Gizzell Ford, the 8-year old girl who authorities say was strangled, beaten and left for dead in the squalor-filled Austin home where she lived with her father and paternal grandmother, have filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, charging it failed to report signs of trouble that led to the girl’s death.

Ford, a straight-A student who was placed in the custody of her father and paternal grandmother months before, was found dead July 12, 2013.

Her autopsy revealed injuries over her entire body, including head trauma, broken bones, deep lacerations, cuts, bruises, puncture wounds, and burns and ligature marks on her legs and wrists.

Her grandmother, Helen Ford, and father, Andre Ford, both of whom had previous criminal histories, were charged in the murder that “involved the infliction of torture,” according to prosecutors.

In filing the civil lawsuit, the family contends her death could have been prevented, particularly if DCFS and its investigators who had visited the decrepit and garbage-strewn home in the 5200 block of West Adams Street and examined Gizzell just weeks before her death. They would have seen the visible instances of abuse and uninhabitable  conditions, lawyers for the relatives say.

“Gizzy was a smart and loving little girl whose life was tragically cut short because of the incompetence of professionals whose responsibility is to ensure that our children are protected,” the mother’s attorney, Martin Dolan of Dolan Law, said in a press release.

“All of the warning signs pointed that something was very wrong in this household and indicated that Gizzy was being abused on a regular basis. Because DCFS sat idle while Gizzy was fighting for her life, she lost the battle.”

According to court documents, a caseworker visited the home just weeks before Ford’s death. But the caseworker failed to take steps to remove her from the home, place her into protective custody or report the evidence of physical and emotional abuse, lawyers for the relatives said.

Three weeks before her death, a child-abuse pediatrician examined Gizzy and identified what “looked like a healing loop mark over the buttocks.” The doctor did not report the mark and findings, which were available to DCFS officials.

“How the very people who are supposed to protect children could visit that home, find obvious signs of abuse and leave my granddaughter to suffer and die, I’ll never know,” Gizzy’s grandfather Juan Mercado said in a press release.

“If they would have done their jobs right, Gizzy would be alive and well today. We want justice for Gizzy and for all our children by making sure something as horrific as this never happens again.”

The Chicago Tribune detailed the case, as has the Chicago Sun-Times.


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