DALLAS – Five adopted children of Tinitale and April Makalea have filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against their parents, the Department of Human Services and individual employees of DHS on June 16.
The children’s guardians brought the suit on behalf of the children, who are all still minors. It was filed by Salem attorney David L. Kramer.
The suit alleges the children suffered years of abuse at the hands of the Makaleas, and DHS knowledge of the abuse, but taking no action to thoroughly investigate reports or allegations, or protect the children.
Tinatale Makalea was arrested on several counts of sexual abuse involving a minor female in 2015. More charges were added in a separate case in 2016. He pleaded guilty to two of the charges in 2017 and was sentenced 45 days in jail and five years of probation. April Makalea was charged with witness tampering, as police said she knew of the abuse but did not report it and told the girl not to report it.
The five plantiffs, identified by their initials in the lawsuit, are suing the state, DHS, and individuals Steve Gilkson, Christine Hubbard, Tanya Burroughs, Tinatale Makalea and April Makalea.
The lawsuit states that the abuse began after the oldest children, all siblings, were placed in foster care with the Makakleas in December of 2006. Two more siblings would be placed with the Makaleas in 2008 and 2009. The couple adopted the first four children in 2008 and younger two in 2009 and 2011.
The couple operated a farm like a homestead, and had the children work on the farm.
“Between at least 2006 through 2016, Defendants Makalea operated the Makalea farm like a compound, supported by forced child labor and the significant funds DHS paid the Makaleas,” the lawsuit read. “The (children) worked excessively long hours, seven days a week, from early morning until night. The older girls were expected to be the caregivers of the younger siblings and performed parental duties, including dressing the small children, bathing them, cooking for them and making their clothes. The children’s work was exhausting, and was to the exclusion of attending school, socializing with other children and adults, and enjoying the benefits of a safe upbringing.”
The lawsuit said the Makaleas held strict control of the children “through violence fear and intimidation,” often getting angry when the children were not following rules or meeting expectations.
Abuse included yelling, name-calling and insults. For the boys and older girls, the verbal abuse escalated to severe physical abuse, food deprivation, and seclusion in locked rooms.
“The children were beaten with implements, including tree branches, leather belts, wooden boards, wooden dowels, long glue sticks used as whips, a gun belt with bullets still in it, wooden and metal spatulas and other objects.
The lawsuit also states that the oldest girls placed in the house were subjected to sexual abuse by Tinitale Makalea. The suit read that the oldest girl in the sibling group was “groomed, fondled and raped” repeatedly starting in the fall of 2015. The girl was threatened with the beating of her younger siblings if she did not comply, the suit read.
The girl disclosed the abuse in late 2015, but the children were not removed from the home.
The 48-page lawsuit details several allegations and reports of abuse at the Makalea home starting 2006, but said none were thoroughly investigated, and the children were not removed from the home until May 25, 2016.
In May 2016, Polk County CASA (court-appointed special advocates) assistant director Michael Barnett reported “these children have been victims of extreme abuse for many years. They were kept isolated from the general public and forced to work on the farm. They will require may years of tutoring to get them back on track (educationally).”
CASA further reported, “These children had been through significant abuse and have lived in fear for years. These children should not only be looked at as victims, but also as witnesses to each other’s abuse.”
The children were taken to Liberty House for an abuse assessment after removal from the home, where two of the children provided details and pointed out scars that marked their bodies from the abuse.
In August 2016, DHS determined the children had suffered “extreme physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect” while living at the Makalea farm.
“Throughout the time the (children) were at the Makalea farm, DHS and its employees knew or should have known that defendant Makalea posed an unreasonable safety risk for abusing and neglecting children in their care,” the lawsuit read. “Time and again, DHS failed to properly assess information DHS had about child safety threats. When it received information about Defendant Makaleas safety risks, DHS failed to evaluate it in light of safety information already in its files. At all times, DHS failed to reasonably protect the (children) from defendants Makalea’s systemic violence and neglect.”