The family of Sophia Mason, the eight-year-old girl whose body was found a year ago in a bathtub in Merced following months of abuse and neglect, has now formally filed suit against Alameda County over social workers' failure to identify and address that abuse.
The harrowing, tragic story of Sophia Mason unfolded during the pandemic, when she was taken out of the care of the grandmother and aunt who raised her in early 2021. Mason's mother suffers from apparent intellectual disabilities and addiction issues and allegedly left the girl in the care of her boyfriend in early 2022, who physically and sexually abused the girl.
A cousin told the media last year that the grandmother, Silvia Johnson, received a phone call from her daughter, Samantha Johnson, saying that she was coming to visit and that Sophia was "gone." When pressed, Samantha Johnson allegedly said, "I got rid of her. I was tired of her."
Sophia's remains would be discovered in March 2022, decomposing in the bathtub of a home in Merced that belonged to Johnson's boyfriend, Dhante Jackson.
After her arrest, Johnson reportedly admitted much of the abuse and neglect that her daughter suffered at Jackson's home, including sexual abuse, and said that she had found Sophia in a shed in February 2022 "covered in feces." Jackson reportedly locked the girl in the shed as punishment.
Jackson would ultimately be arrested after a six-month manhunt, and three women — girlfriends who allegedly helped Jackson hide out during that time — have all been charged as accessories after the fact in Sophia's murder.
In a newly filed lawsuit, as Bay Area News Group reports, Silvia Johnson alleges that social workers in Alameda County's Department of Children and Family Services failed to adequately assess Sophia's case after family members filed seven notices of potential abuse in 2021. The suit also alleges that those workers tried to cover up their failures after the fact.
The lawsuit centers on one of the last reports made to the county in September 2021. Sophia Mason was examined by hospital workers that month following a minor car crash, and they reported finding cigarette burn marks on the girl and bruising around her thighs that was unrelated to the crash.
Per Bay Area News Group:
The lawsuit claims that despite medical workers’ concerns, DCFS told the hospital it was okay for Sophia to leave with her mother and that there was no need to call law enforcement. A social worker claimed in county records to have seen the girl two days later and reported no signs of abuse.
But, the suit says, the county later acknowledged that was false; no one from DCFS saw Sophia in person after that September 2021 report.
An attorney for Silvia Johnson, Carly Sanchez, has been working with the family since last September, when they filed a legal notice of this potential suit. Some of the revelations that led to the suit came out of reporting by Bay Area News Group last June that documented the systemic failures by the county as the grandmother and Sophia's aunt Emerald Johnson struggled to get custody of the eight-year-old back from her mother — who had come back into Sophia's life after a lengthy absence, and who they suspected was not capable of properly caring for her.
"It’s horrifying — not only did [the social workers] fail to protect Sophia while she was alive, even in her death they’re failing to admit mistakes that they made," said Sanchez in a statement to Bay Area New Group.
She added that the suit would be seeking monetary damages "large enough to get the county’s attention, in order to gently encourage them to make the changes that are necessary to make Alameda County a safe place for children."
Samantha Johnson and Dhante Jackson remain in custody awaiting trial, which will occur in Merced County. An evidentiary hearing is scheduled for June.
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