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Hawaii News

Men molested as teens sue state foster care system


WAILUKU » A lawsuit was filed against the state Department of Human Services on behalf of two boys the suit says were sexually assaulted while in foster care.

The lawsuit claims department officials were negligent and should have known that Florentino Rios, now serving a 20-year prison term for sexual assault, was unfit to be a foster parent, the Maui News reported Tuesday.

Attorneys Matson Kelley, David Wiltsie and Jon Jacobs filed the lawsuit last month on behalf of the boys, who were 14 and 15 when the abuse began.

"We just feel if you’re going to take a child from their home, they need to be placed in a safe home," Kelley said.

"In this case, there were so many indicators that this person was unfit to be a foster parent, and yet time and time again they were placing children into this home."

Rios, 33, also known as Zack Morris, pleaded no contest in February to six counts of sexual assault.

Department of Human Services spokeswoman Kayla Rosenfeld said she was aware of the issue but had no comment.

Rios moved from Puerto Rico to Maui in 2008. He had lived in a homeless shelter, never held a job in Hawaii, and tried to collect disability benefits, according to the lawsuit.

The 14-year-old boy was placed in Rios’ custody in March 2009 in a one-bedroom apartment in Kihei. The department did not inspect the apartment, and the juvenile was forced to consume alcohol, the lawsuit states.

The boy was eventually placed in a juvenile detention center when Rios claimed the youth had assaulted him. The boy told authorities Rios was a child molester, according to the lawsuit.

In 2010, Rios filed two lawsuits against the department, claiming discrimination against him as a foster parent and unlawful investigations.

The 15-year-old boy was placed in Rios’ custody from October 2010 to October 2011. The boy’s 10-year-old brother reported he also was abused and police launched an investigation that led to the convictions against Rios, according to the lawsuit.

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