Originally created 08/31/99

Verdict not a vote of confidence



AIKEN -- Jurors in the civil trial against the South Carolina Department of Social Services have a message for the agency:

The verdict was not a vote of confidence.

"All 12 jurors agreed that DSS was negligent, but they weren't wrong under DSS guidelines," juror Lance Bailey said. "They did what they could do to get by. We don't think they went the extra mile."

The reaction came two days after the Aiken County panel rejected claims by Troy Williams that DSS was "grossly" negligent for ignoring claims that his daughter, Brittany Tindal, was being neglected by her alcoholic grandmother, Linda Tindal. The Aiken County branch investigated three reports but took little action to address the alcohol concerns or remove the Wagener girl from the home, the plaintiff contended.

Ms. Tindal was intoxicated when she ran her vehicle head-on into a school bus in 1996 and killed Brittany and three other children.

After the verdict, DSS Director Keith Moon said he interpreted the decision as a vote of confidence for the employees in child protective services division.

Juror Betsy Barrett saw his published statement Sunday and faxed her reaction to The Augusta Chronicle, saying she took exception to his remark.

"The DSS was negligent in not protecting the Tindal children. In my opinion, they did not properly address the allegations of alcohol abuse by credible members of the Wagener community," Mrs. Barrett wrote. "There was no justice for Brittany Tindal. Perhaps God showed her mercy when he took her home."

Another juror, Charles Cummings, said he felt like the agency might want to re-examine their policies. But he said caseworker Evelyn Perry, who investigated the allegations against Ms. Tindal, followed her job duties.

"She did everything by the book," he said. "Mrs. Perry stayed within the guidelines and the parameters of her job. She did the best she could with what she had."

Mr. Moon, contacted Monday, said it wouldn't be appropriate to react to jurors' comments.

"I think the verdict speaks for itself," he said, adding that the DSS workers are frequently second-guessed in their decisions.

Mrs. Perry testified during the trial that she had more options in trying to substantiate the reports of alcohol abuse, sexual abuse and child neglect in the Tindal family. But the family was not cooperative when she paid a visit to the home, she said.

Plaintiff attorneys argued that Mrs. Perry relied solely on the denials of Ms. Tindal and the children in finding the allegations unfounded. The defense countered that there was no proof of alcohol abuse when Mrs. Perry made home visits.

It was clearly an emotional trial for everyone involved, including the jury. The panel's eight men and four women bowed their heads for a moment of silence and then prayed before beginning deliberations Friday. It took them 10 hours over two days to reach a unanimous decision.

The panel agreed that everyone -- the parents, the police, other relatives and DSS -- could have done more to save the children from harm, Mr. Bailey said.

Once they decided that DSS had not met the definition of grossly negligent, jurors discussed writing a note at the end of the verdict form to address the agency. They chose not to.

"We didn't want them to think they did a good job," Mr. Bailey said. "It definitely wasn't a vote of confidence."

Plaintiff attorneys have 10 days to decide whether to appeal.

Greg Rickabaugh can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.