Beverly Hills doctor Susan Spell has filed a new $750 million lawsuit against the county of Los Angeles and individual social workers as she continues the battle to regain custody of her children who were removed from her care in 2013 without a warrant or court order.
In the lawsuit, Spell claims that social workers for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) falsified evidence and perjured testimony to justify removing Spell’s four children from her care and placing them with their father, who has a documented history of domestic violence.
As The Chronicle of Social Change reported last year, in March 2018, the county paid out a $150,000 settlement to Spell regarding these issues.
In this new lawsuit, Spell’s eldest son, Nicholas, now 18, joins her as a co-plaintiff. The two assert that the wrongful removal of the children from Spell’s care amounts to a violation of the Civil Rights Act and of their Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The suit — in which DCFS is referred to repeatedly as a “flank of the al Quada [sic] cell in the County of Los Angeles” — also alleges a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), claiming that DCFS along with the county, the Superior Court, Family Court judges and county counsel collectively engaged in witness tampering, obstruction of justice, extortion and conspiracy to cover up these acts while carrying out the case against Spell.
Spell filed for divorce in July 2012 after her ex-husband, Brian Evans, was arrested for spousal abuse. An ugly custody battle between the two had been playing out a year — with family court ultimately ruling in Spell’s favor in July 2013 — before DCFS stepped in and placed the children with Evans in October 2013. Spell says that all four children were the product of a sperm donor, and that Evans is not their biological father.
During the custody battle, Evans had visitation rights. Several instances of abuse occurred during these visits, some even warranting trips to the emergency room, according to medical records. These records and a DCFS safety plan show social workers and a number of doctors reported that the children were in danger with Evans. But the children’s caseworkers closed each investigation against Evans, and court transcripts show that the caseworkers told family court officials no such abuse had ever been found.
One social worker who investigated allegations against Evans, Barbara Smith, found that the children weren’t safe with Evans, but pages of her notes were removed from the case file, according to text messages between Smith and Spell and a July 2019 affidavit from former DCFS employee Melinda Wallace.
In the affidavit reviewed by The Chronicle, Wallace says the department “has a tendency, even if the parent is innocent, to make them appear guilty in some way, and that includes perjuring testimony, falsifying reports and fabricating evidence to justify taking the children.” She estimates that in 20 percent of cases, parents are “thoroughly innocent,” but DCFS refuses to “admit their mistake(s).”
Throughout subsequent years of back-and-forth decisions in dependency court and appeals by DCFS, Evans has retained custody of the children. He agreed to let the eldest child, now 18, move back in with Spell last year because the tension between he and the boy were so high, but the youngest three — 14-year-old twin girls and a 9-year-old boy — still live with him.
Following the 2018 $150,000 settlement payout, Spell told The Chronicle she wasn’t done fighting for her kids to be returned to her.
“I think the settlement is a statement,” she said. “The mere fact that they’re willing to give $150,000 just for us not to take it to court implies that something happened — you did something wrong. I wish along with that, we could do something that makes them act right.”