State, county DHR named in suit

Published 1:58 am Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An unidentified Covington County woman is suing Alabama Department of Human Resources, the Covington County Department of Human Resources and 13 other defendants in which she accuses employees of failing to protect her nephew.

The child’s father, Jerry Cowan, identified only as “J.C.” in the lawsuit, was sentenced to 40 years in prison in September after pleading guilty to domestic violence II and aggravated child abuse. He was charged after school officials reported signs of horrible physical abuse. Investigators said he used a steam iron and bamboo walking cane to abuse his child.

The suit, filed by Birmingham attorney Tommy James of Morris, Haynes and Hornsby, identifies the plaintiff as “D.B.,” and the victim’s aunt. In a press statement released when the suit was filed the attorney said, “Multiple entities and individuals, including the boy’s aunt, notified DHR numerous times of suspicious that the child was being abused by his father.”

James said the child’s injuries are an example of systematic problems within DHR in the state.

“This is really the worst case of physical abuse that I have ever seen in my almost 15 years of representing abuse victims,” James said. “The pictures of my client show scarring and mutilation worse than prisoner of war photographs I have seen where the soldiers had been tortured. This is one of the most tragic cases I’ve handled. It is shocking that the DHR workers did nothing to protect this little boy.”

The suit claims that DHR employees “acted willfully, maliciously, fraudulently” in failing to remove the child from an unsafe environment and asks for compensatory and punitive damages plus costs.

Named individually in the suit are Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner; former Covington County DHR director Cathy Leverington; and local case workers and supervisors.