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A couple from the Swiss county are suing the Indiana Department of Child Services for “reckless, willful and malicious” violations of their rights that preceded the deaths of their six children following agency intervention.
Paige Ridener, 25; James Ridener, 15; Jordan Ridener, 13; Joshua Ridener, 12; Emilee Ridener, 11; and Elizabeth Ridener, 10, were killed when their home in Vevay, Indiana, caught fire in March 2020. Vevay is about two hours southeast of Indianapolis on the Ohio River.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in the Indiana Southern District, Darwin and Lisa Ridener allege DCS intentionally withheld information from a court that resulted in the removal of the five underage children from their care.
Red flag judge: Send me cases first, not the prosecutor
DCS received reports that the Ridener’s underage children and two foster children were victims of abuse and neglect by Lisa. Based on interviews conducted that day, DCS substantiated allegations of neglect of all children and two allegations of abuse. The foster children were removed from the house and the five Ridener children were placed with a relative.
Six people were killed in a house fire in the county of Switzerland, Indiana, on March 28, 2020. (Photo: Assuming Indiana State Police)
According to the lawsuit, a family case manager informed the couple that they could not be around their children and that they could leave the house or remove the children from the house and place them with relatives. The lawsuit also alleges that the case manager told these relatives that the children would be placed four hours away in an unspecified location if they did not allow the children to stay with them.
Although DCS claimed to have made claims of abuse and neglect, the police found no evidence of criminal misconduct in their investigation and the prosecutor did not pursue any charges, according to the complaint. However, the couple claim that DCS knew this and did not inform the court of these developments. The judge therefore ordered that the children continue to be taken out of their parents’ care on March 17th.
The five children were left in the care of the couple’s 25-year-old daughter, Paige. On March 24th, a family case manager visited the home and found that they were all “healthy and clean.” Days later, Paige and the children were dead.
According to the Indiana State Police, a fire broke out around 3 a.m. on March 28 and had already engulfed the two-story house by the time first responders arrived. Paige’s friend, who told authorities he tried to go back in but was pushed back by smoke and fire, was the only survivor.
Investigators said at the time that no foul play was involved.
The family alleges violations of their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights, as well as legal abuse, frivolous litigation, unjustified death, and willful infliction of emotional stress.
Blessing, who also represents another family who claims DCS falsified reports to help remove their children, said his office had received hundreds of calls from families across the state claiming similar experiences with the agency.
“We see example after example of DCS lying to these juvenile judges about the basis for removal,” he told IndyStar on Friday. “And sometimes that makes affirmative misrepresentations to the court, or it leaves out material facts when they submit things – things a judge would like to know.”
Blessing said there is a clear pattern.
“DCS is a rogue agency that removes children across the state,” said Blessing. “We believe this is a widespread and systemic problem.”
A DCS spokeswoman said the agency hadn’t issued an opinion on the case.
Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Cameron Knight contributed.
You can reach IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.
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