A $50 million payment has been awarded to a Cobb County woman who was sexually assaulted by a male adult while she was a 15-year-old patient at a Kennesaw facility for troubled youth.
The woman, whose identity is protected on account of her being a child at the time of the assault, has just won her Feb. 1, 2017, civil lawsuit against The Devereux Foundation, which has owned and operated its rehabilitation facility on Stanley Road in Kennesaw since 1973.
Devereux is a nonprofit headquartered in Pennsylvania that operates facilities in a dozen states, accommodating and offering programs to people up to 21 years of age who have significant emotional and behavioral problems.
On Nov. 19, 2019, a jury in the Cobb County State Court found Devereux liable for $50 million in punitive damages awarded to the Cobb woman assaulted at the Kennesaw center as a 15-year-old in 2012.
The jury found Devereux was 50% at fault in relation to the woman’s sexual abuse, and the man who abused her, Jimmy Anthony Singleterry, was also 50% at fault in the civil case.
Singleterry was an employee of the organization and was unsupervised when he assaulted the teenage patient.
Singleterry, now around 50 years of age, was also criminally prosecuted and ultimately pleaded guilty to charges of statutory rape, child molestation and sexual assault of a person in custody in relation to the incidents at Devereux’s Kennesaw clinic on the evening of May 17, 2012.
Police said he was working there as a “direct support professional” overseeing and supervising patients at the Cobb center when he assaulted the then-15-year-old female patient on that date.
Singleterry was sentenced on Oct. 29, 2013, in Cobb Superior Court to 20 years, with 12 to serve in prison. At the time he was 43 years old.
In the woman’s civil lawsuit against Devereux, she and her lawyers argued the organization failed in its duty of care toward her, that it failed to ensure Singleterry was appropriately qualified and trained for the job and that it allowed him to be alone in the female resident’s cottage unsupervised and with unrestricted access to her as a 15-year-old patient.
She had been admitted for treatment of “sexualized and oppositional behavior,” and was especially vulnerable, her lawsuit claimed.
The Cobb jury found she suffered damages of $10 million, and that Devereux should also pay her legal expenses because the organization acted in bad faith and has been “stubbornly litigious” or caused unnecessary trouble and expense.
Gwendolyn Skinner, who is responsible for all operations at Devereux’s Georgia and Florida centers, is named in the Cobb woman’s lawsuit as a defendant.
Skinner, who is based at the Kennesaw facility, has been employed there since joining Devereux in 2009 as the center’s executive director. She’s now vice president of operations for the organization — a role she started in May 2017.
Skinner did not return the MDJ’s request for comment by press time.
Devereux admitted it was negligent at the time Singleterry assaulted the 15-year-old girl, court documents in the case show.
“Because Singleterry was not properly supervised during that period of time defendant has admitted that it breached a duty of care to the plaintiff and that the breach contributed in part to the sexual contact between Singleterry and the plaintiff,” a case summary states.
In a statement on behalf of Devereux supplied to the MDJ Wednesday, the foundation’s senior vice president and chief strategy officer, Leah Yaw, wrote the organization shares the Cobb jury’s outrage at Singleterry’s actions.
“Mr. Singleterry’s 2012 assault of this young woman was an unquestionably tragic and terrible event,” Yaw wrote. “Devereux staff uncovered this crime in the course of our regular therapeutic engagement with the young woman, and we immediately reported it to our local police.”
Yaw maintains Devereux undertakes extensive state and federal background checks on its staff, which Singleterry passed, before training them.
“With the obvious exception of this young woman and her family, there is no party more aggrieved by what Mr. Singleterry did, nor more dedicated to ensuring he met justice, than Devereux,” Yaw stated. “To suggest Devereux is not sincerely sorry for what happened, or that we did not do everything possible to support this young woman, both before and after the assault, is ridiculous, offensive and categorically untrue. Mr. Singleterry’s actions were not only a crime against this young woman; they were a crime against Devereux and our nonprofit mission.”
The Cobb woman assaulted by Singleterry was represented by attorneys from Atlanta law firm Deitch and Rogers, The Crime Victim Law Group.
Kara Phillips, one of those lawyers, said the $50 million damages awarded in the case was “properly measured” by the Cobb jury “to punish for very reprehensible conduct that occurred here, and to deter a defendant of Devereux’s substantial scale and size.”
Phillips said Devereux delayed turning over documents regarding prior incidents of staff-on-patient inappropriate sexual activity during the case, but media reports of prior incidents, including by the MDJ, proved helpful in shedding light on the history of abuse.
Another lawyer representing the assaulted Cobb woman, Andrew Rogers, said Devereux’s financial circumstances were relevant in the punitive damages award of $50 million.
“In our case, the jury heard evidence of Devereux’s revenues and financial holdings, including revenues of $467 million in 2018 alone,” Rogers told the MDJ on Wednesday.
The foundation’s Cobb facility has been involved in several sexual assault cases over the years.
In 2000, a Devereux counselor there was accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old who had gone to the facility for help.
In 2003, two 16-year-old male patients were accused of raping a woman after running away from the center.
In 2013 two teenage female patients were accused of sexually assaulting another young female patient at the Kennesaw center. Their case was transferred to juvenile court when one pleaded guilty in March 2014, court records show.
In 2017, a male Devereux therapist at the Kennesaw center admitted to federal agents he was grooming two 16-year-old boys in order to have sex with them.