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Montana DPHHS sued for negligence in a case of preteen rape and pregnancy

“How do you make this right? It's an impossible task.”
Posted at 8:36 AM, Feb 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-06 10:39:23-05

BILLINGS — A woman, now 21 years old, who was in the care of Yellowstone County Child Protective Services for years is now suing for harm she endured while under the agency’s protection, harm that includes being raped and impregnated at 11 years old.

“The Child Protective Services did not respond to family complaints of issues with this particular person, in the biological mother’s home, and it was discovered when she was 12 years old that he had impregnated her through rape,” said Larry Henke, the attorney representing the woman.

Henke is an attorney at Vicevich Law in Butte. The complaint and request for a jury trial was filed in December in Butte-Silver Bow County.

In 2016, 41-year-old William Thomas Spencer was sentenced to 30 years in the Montana State Prison for the rape.

Now, his victim is suing the Montana Department of Health and Human Service, which oversees CPS, for damages due to negligence.

“There was no hiding that she was raped and had to have a child. But she had the courage now to come forward and say what can be done about it. This young woman’s courage…touched me. That’s number one. The second thing is the abject failure of the agency in response to an impregnated 12-year-old girl,” Henke said.

Here’s the timeline Henke outlines in the complaint:

Child Protective Services first cared for the victim in 2008, when she was 7, and her brother was 5.

From 2008 to 2014, the two kids bounced around between their biological parents and grandparents due to drug abuse and domestic abuse.

In 2011, the biological mother got custody of the kids and they went to live with her and her live-in boyfriend, William Spencer.

Henke said in court documents that Spencer was known to DPHHS because he was investigated for molesting his biological daughter in 2004.

In February of 2014, DPHHS was informed by doctors at RiverStone Health that the girl was pregnant at age 12.

“His involvement with her living situation was more than a red flag. It was painfully obvious that that’s probably the first place they should have started,” Henke said.

She was returned to the home where Spencer still lived.

William Spencer

In March of 2014, family members reported concerns about Spencer multiple times; that he had raped her, that she was sleeping in his bed, that he continued to assault her.

In April, DPHHS interviewed the girl. They noted at the time that “the victim was not cooperative,” and there was no further investigation.

“I don’t think the agency exercised the standard of care that it is required to have by simply overlooking a 12-year-old pregnant girl because she won’t talk about how she got pregnant,” Henke said.

There were more reports that Spencer was the father.

“The child was born, I believe on May 14, 2014, and the agency still returned her to the home,” Henke said.

Both children were returned to the home.

More reports came in.

On August 2, 2014, the girl’s grandmother presented DPHHS with her own private DNA test that proved the now two-month-old baby was fathered by Spencer.

On August 6, DPHHS removed the girl, her baby, and her brother.

“How do you make this right? It's an impossible task,” Henke said.

DPHHS declined to comment on the pending case.

The state filed a response last Thursday saying the summary of events provided in the initial complaint should be stricken from the record and deny many of its allegations.

A jury will decide compensation if the case goes to trial.

A similar case is now being considered by the Montana Supreme Court, challenging the state’s immunity from liability for negligence in fulfilling it statutory duties, and the cap on damages a plaintiff could receive in this case.