By Paul Gable
A SC Senate subcommittee investigation into DSS brings to mind the case of Doris Holt and its ties to the Southern Holdings lawsuit.
The Senate subcommittee this week began an investigation into what is described as “major problems” at the SC Department of Social Services (DSS), the agency that supposedly handles the welfare of children and families.
At the top of the list of DSS failings were a large number of child deaths in cases where DSS was already involved.
This investigation is long overdue of an agency whose goals do not appear to complement its mission.
But, it’s not only DSS handling of children that should be investigated. Instead, the agency should be subjected to close scrutiny of its overall operation.
For over seven years, we have reported on the lawsuit of Southern Holdings v. Horry County and various other legal machinations stemming from it.
One of these is the case of elderly Doris Holt who was illegally removed from her home by DSS in 2009 and died of malnutrition in early 2011 while under DSS care.
The original Southern Holdings et al. v. Horry County et al. lawsuit, filed in 2002, was allegedly “settled” in court on May 9, 2007 by the attorneys for the two sides and federal judge Bryan Harwell under extremely questionable circumstances not provided by law.
Doris Holt, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, was not in court on May 9, 2007, nor represented by an attorney when a supposed settlement to the Southern Holdings case was allegedly offered and no signature demonstrating her agreement to the settlement has ever been produced. She was a wild card.
After the plaintiffs in the Southern Holdings lawsuit filed a tort claims lawsuit against the state of South Carolina, among other defendants, in May 2009, state officials, threatened by the tort claims action, apparently decided to get custody of Doris Holt.
On July 27, 2009, DSS case worker Susan Stroman, without any evidence or medical reports, filed a complaint and affidavit and attempted to obtain a Court Order to take Doris Holt into protective custody. The Court Order was denied.
On July 29, 2009, Stroman changed her affidavit, adding considerably sensationalized allegations into it without any further investigation into the case or any new physical evidence or medical reports. Stroman submitted her complaint to a different Judge, according to the Clerk of Court records and obtained a protective order to take Doris Holt into custody.
South Carolina state law definitively makes such “judge shopping” on Stroman’s part illegal.
On August 3, 2009, a hearing where Holt’s son, James Spencer, another plaintiff in the Southern Holdings case, was not allowed to speak or present evidence as he was not charged with anything and therefore had no standing. Additionally, Doris Holt was not present, preventing her from speaking on her own behalf. Despite being subpoenaed, neither doctor nor nurse that supposedly treated Doris Holt’s alleged injuries on July 24, 2009, appeared in court.
It took Spencer until August 30, 2009, to legally gain access to the sealed court files, including the DSS affidavits. Just prior to the files being unsealed and the files being given to Spencer, DSS lawyers showed up at the Clerk of Courts office.
Prior to Spencer being given copies of the files he was taken upstairs to meet with other DSS lawyers. He was at that time notified DSS had changed its position regarding him having abused his mother. He was informed there was no evidence of abuse and he done a fantastic job of taking care of her.
However, Spencer was informed Doris Holt’s medical condition had worsened since she was taken into custody on July 29, 2009, and, without further explanation, he was informed his mother would be kept at the home.
DSS transferred Holt from the nursing home she was being kept at in February 2010, not notifying Spencer of the transfer and refusing to tell him of his mother’s whereabouts. The transfer came after things began heating up in the tort claims case.
It took Spencer until September 2010 to locate his mother in another nursing home in the state where she ultimately died.
Holt’s custody by DSS was not based on abuse or any medical condition. It was based on a perceived political and monetary need on the part of the state.
While the senate investigates the current neglect of duty by DSS employees, it is hoped the subcommittee will also look into the Doris Holt case.