ATLANTA-- The family of a 16-year-old girl starved to death has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Division of Family and Children's Services.
DFCS first started developing a case on Markea Berry in 2009. 11Alive obtained case files where Markea was described as "very thin". In another entry the caseworker was "very concerned" that Markea was "not being fed."
In 2010, Markea ran away. An Amber Alert was issued. Authorities later found the girl, then 14, at a nearby Walmart. She told investigators she often went there to "sleep overnight" sometimes on a shelf concealed by packages of paper towels and sometimes outside under shopping carts. She told investigators she'd rather stay at the store than go home, because she felt she was a burden on her mother.
In June 2012, Ebony Berry called 911 saying her daughter was unresponsive. Detectives determined she was starved to death by her mother and charged Berry with murder.
The lawsuit filed in the State Court of Cobb County contains additional details of Markea's life leading up to her 2010 death:
- In 2005, a DFCS caseworker said Markea "looks like a child who is being isolated and locked/confined to a room and not being fed".
- DFCS received incomplete records from Michigan DFCS, including a number of referrals from 1999 through 2004 . "Despite these alarming reports in the Michigan records... DFCS never followed up to ensure it received complete records from Michigan."
- DFCS never confirmed Ms. Berry took her children to see a doctor.
- Despite numerous warning flags, Cobb County DFCS closed the investigation due to "lack of cooperation".
The lawsuit claims "A proper investigation is likely to have led DFCS to undertake interventions that would have led either to a safer home environment or to placing the children in foster care. A proper DFCS investigation is likely to have prevented Markea Berry's death by starvation."
The lawsuit is filed by John Figures. Figures is the administrator of Markea's estate. The lawsuit claim is for $1,000,000.
A similar wrongful death lawsuit was planned by Emani Moss's grandmother. She and her lawyers sent a letter of intent in November 2013. On February 24 2014, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a decision reaffirming Georgia's sovereign immunity laws. The decision means a plaintiff must prove that a government action (in this case DFCS) acted with malice. The Moss' case against DFCS was not pursued in light of the court's decision.
Attorney Marc Howard admits they had to rethink their case after the Supreme Court ruling. Still, he believes they can win if they prove case workers failed to follow the state's own written policies.
Howard said the timing of the lawsuit has nothing to do with Gov. Deal's shake-up of the division. DFCS would not comment on the case.