Courts & Crime

Suit: Social worker failed to prevent toddler's beating death

A family's lawsuit accuses a Kansas state social worker of gross negligence, saying she failed to protect a 23-month-old girl beaten to death by her father's meth-addicted girlfriend.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court Tuesday, accuses SRS social worker Linda Gillen of not taking steps to remove Brooklyn Coons and her brother from a dangerous household after the maternal grandparents repeatedly raised concerns about injuries to Brooklyn.

The lawsuit — brought by Brooklyn's maternal grandparents, Larry and Mary Crosetto — contends Gillen "failed to act to protect their grandchildren because of a pre-existing grudge." The grudge involved actions the Crosettos took years earlier in their adoption of Brooklyn's mother, Angela Crosetto Coons, the lawsuit says.

Brooklyn's death is a case of a social worker who remained determined to keep children with a parent even when it put the children at serious risk, the lawsuit contends. Other agencies that could have protected Brooklyn deferred to SRS because they thought the social worker was taking steps to monitor the girl, it says.

In an interview, Larry Crosetto said Gillen, a licensed social worker with the Coffeyville office of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS), "was aware there was a situation in that home. She didn't investigate and find out what the situation was.

"What we hope to do is get SRS to act in these situations . . . and prevent it from happening to another family," Crosetto said.

SRS won't comment because of the pending litigation, spokeswoman Michelle Ponce said Friday.

Gillen remains employed as an SRS social worker, Ponce said.

Gillen could not be reached for comment.

The litigation is filed in federal court because of the argument that Brooklyn and her survivors were denied their constitutional rights by the state, said Randy Rathbun, a Wichita lawyer and former U.S. attorney for Kansas who is representing the Crosettos in their lawsuit.

The Kansas Attorney General's Office prosecuted the girlfriend in Brooklyn's death, which occurred on Jan. 20, 2008. The girlfriend later married Brooklyn's father. On Dec. 30, 2009, a judge sentenced Melissa Wells Coons to life in prison for the murder of Brooklyn.

The same day the judge sentenced Melissa Coons, Brooklyn's father, Randy Coons, was charged with aggravated child endangerment, said Ashley Anstaett, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.

The lawsuit against Gillen seeks more than $75,000 in damages.