Lawsuit filed in alleged child starvation

  • From left, Henrietta Stone, Kevin Lehano and Tiffany Stone.

HILO — The maternal aunt of a 9-year-old Hilo girl allegedly starved to death almost two years ago by her parents and maternal grandmother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state, the girl’s parents and her maternal grandmother.

Honolulu attorney Randall Rosenberg and Hilo attorney Robert Marx filed the civil suit Tuesday in Honolulu Circuit Court on behalf of Tina Marie Kasten, personal representative of the estate of Shaelynn Alohalani Haleaka Lehano-Stone, who died June 28, 2016, after being found unconscious and apparently malnourished in her grandmother’s apartment on Kinoole Street. Kasten also is filing as guardian of the interests of Lehano-Stone’s two minor siblings, listed only by their initials, K.L.-S. and S.L.-S.

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The lawsuit names the state of Hawaii, the girl’s parents, Kevin Lehano and Tiffany Stone, and maternal grandmother, Henrietta Stone, as defendants. Lehano and the Stones are facing second-degree murder charges in the child’s death and are awaiting individual trials.

The suit alleges the girl’s parents and grandmother “breached their parental duties, failing to provide Shaelynn and the siblings with food and sustenance, medical care and a safe home.”

It also alleges the state, including employees of Child Welfare Services, Department of Human Services and Department of Education, was “negligent in failing to protect Shaelynn and the siblings from abuse and neglect and to exercise reasonable care in the placement” of the children in foster care or in their return to Lehano and the Stones.

The suit seeks unspecified general, special and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs, plus interest.

Rosenberg, who also represents the surviving siblings of the late Peter Kema Jr., aka “Peter Boy,” in their lawsuit against the state, said he doesn’t know how much money would be a fair settlement of the case until he obtains records that, so far, have been unavailable and can “meet with the surviving children and find out how they’re doing.”

“I can tell you that the state of Hawaii has settled cases like this for multi-seven figures,” Rosenberg said. “We don’t have a lot of documents. In the Peter Boy case, I had a lot of information already by the time we filed the lawsuit, and I was well-versed in the facts. But here, I’m at a disadvantage.”

According to the suit, the cause of Shaelynn’s death is listed as malnutrition, and she was diagnosed with acute pneumonia and a kidney infection.

“The death certificate noted, ‘She was denied food by her caregivers,’” the filing alleges.

Shaelynn was born developmentally disabled Sept. 5, 2016, the suit states, and was first removed from the home of Kevin Lehano and Tiffany Stone by CWS and/or DHS in 2007 with K. L.-S. “due to allegations of violence in the home.” The filing alleges she and her siblings were taken from the home and put in emergency and/or foster care “on multiple occasions.”

“On at least one or more of those occasions, Shaelynn was removed because she … lost weight and was clearly suffering from severe malnutrition,” the suit states.

Shaelynn was placed in Henrietta Stone’s care by CWS or DHS in either 2014 or 2015, according to the suit, even though Kevin Lehano and Tiffany Stone lived in the same building. State child welfare officials received additional reports of abuse and neglect, the filing states, but did nothing.

The suit further alleges that Henrietta Stone took Shaelynn out of Hilo Union Elementary School shortly thereafter to home-school her, and CWS and DHS officials weren’t notified by the Department of Education.

The two-year statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in the case expires in about two weeks.

“We needed to file something right away to protect both the estate’s claims and the siblings’ claims,” Rosenberg said. “We definitely wanted to see these claims protected. We don’t have any records of the protective proceedings, so it’s hard to determine completely … what happened. We’ll be trying to get those documents in discovery and then sort everything out as we go.”

“There seems to be a lot of cases — and I’ve looked at many cases coming out of the Big Island — that relate to Child Welfare Services and Child Protective Services handling abuse cases and returning (the children) to their families or placing them in foster care,” he added.

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“And I have a hard time grasping the number of severe abuse cases that occurred there where it appears that state agencies have made horrible mistakes. … There is one particular wrinkle in this case which we haven’t had in other cases, and that is that there may be some involvement by the Department of Education. This child was enrolled in school, and despite all the problems, the family was able to get her home-schooled.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.