Foster kid placed in West Philly ‘house of horrors’ wins $11M in lawsuit

Foster kid placed in West Philly ‘house of horrors’ wins $11M in lawsuit

Walter Ola Scott, 63, has been inmate #MK5319 since his 2015 conviction on multiple charges of sexually abusing children, and is currently serving a 20-year sentence at the state correctional facility in Graterford.

But new details are only now coming to light about what exactly transpired inside Scott’s West Philly home, which was once a government-sanctioned foster home for children in need.

“It was a house of horrors,” said attorney Nadeem Bezar, of Kline & Spector P.C., who last week along with co-counsel Emily Marks won an $11 million verdict on behalf of Scott’s adopted daughter, who came forward in 2015 after she saw Scott charged with abusing other children.

“The Scotts actually adopted this child,” Bezar said. “It’s just that much more disgusting and torturous, to say, ‘I want to take you, I’m going to give you my name,’ while this man is doing these horrible things.”

The victim, now 23, was 6 in 2000 when she was placed in Scott’s home. By the age of 10, she was had been raped by Scott, Bezar said.

The victim only remembers three separate assaults, Bezar said, and survived 12 more years in Scott’s Florence Street home before reaching the age of 18.

She also experienced emotional abuse from Scott and his wife during her time there, Bezar said, at some points packing her possessions and threatening to throw her out of their home. 

“That was downright cruel,” Bezar said. “That was known to the agency.”

Bezar said despite “obvious tension between the child and her foster mother,” physical punishment and signs of abuse, and requests by the victim to move to another home, she was adopted by the Scotts in 2005 with the approval of Bethanna, the foster care agency which originally placed the victim with Scott. The agency responded in a statement that they had “no knowledge of these terrible incidents.”

“Bethanna is disappointed by the verdict, but more saddened by the abuse inflicted on the real victim in this case. We applaud her courage in coming forward.  Our prayers and hope are for her continued healing,” the agency said in a statement.

“Bethanna was assigned 10 percent of the verdict,” they said. “Unfortunately, child abuse is all too often hidden, and some sexual predators have mastered their façade and skillfully obscure their abuse. This reality is a source of great frustration and fuels our passion to always be vigilant in our work to ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of children. While we cannot comment on all of the details of this case, as litigation remains ongoing, we wish our community to understand that our agency and staff had no knowledge whatsoever of these terrible incidents, which happened over a decade ago.”

But Bezar claimed staff should have been aware, saying social workers missed signs of sexual abuse in his client, including bed-wetting, regression in speech and behavior, and a sexual “acting out” incident involving touching a boy.

The jury ordered the $11 million verdict ($10 million compensatory and $1 million punitive damages) against Scott, who is not believed to have substantial assets, and Bethanna, which since 2015 has been a “community umbrella agency” (CUA) contracted by Philadelphia’ Department of Human Services (DHS) to provide foster care and other social services. In DHS’ recent public CUA “scorecard,” Bethanna, which is licensed by the state, received the worst score of all 10 CUAs: a grade of a “D,” and a ranking of 10th.

“Philadelphia DHS monitors all CUAs for quality of child welfare practice,” DHS spokeswoman Heather Keafer said via email. “If CUAs do not show improvement over time, then Philadelphia DHS will evaluate their ability to continue contracting with Philadelphia DHS to provide child welfare case management.”

Keafer noted that the state’s Department of Human Services licenses foster homes and is responsible for investigating allegations of wrongdoing in those homes.

“We are saddened to learn about this incident which occurred in 2000,” Keafer said via email about the recent case. “When Philadelphia DHS is alerted by the state about issues with a foster home, we immediately take the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of children in its care. We strive for quality and believe that all children need to be placed in safe homes.”

Bezar previously won a $3.5 million verdict for another girl who was sexually assaulted twice by Scott at age 7. She was placed there for two separate, temporary stays by Presbyterian Children’s Village, despite reporting being abused after the first stay.

Bezar is considering filing suit on behalf of another victim in the house, he said, but declined to share details about that case.

“Walter Scott was convicted of abusing three girls. The pattern of, ‘Come here, be quiet, don’t tell anybody, here’s some money for snacks or treats,’ was consistent throughout,” Bezar said.

“Anything involving Walter Scott should just be put to rest. Nobody needs to relive this.”