AURORA, Colo — A lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses Robin Niceta, the onetime partner of former Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, of "baselessly, falsely, and unconstitutionally" separating or trying to separate children from their parents in her role as a social worker for the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services (DHS).
The lawsuit was filed by Danielle Jurinsky, the Aurora city councilwoman who Niceta is accused of filing a false child abuse claim against earlier this year. A DHS investigation determined Jurinksy did not do anything wrong, and the case was closed in February, Aurora police said in an affidavit.
Niceta is facing criminal charges in that case. She is accused of retaliating against Jurinsky after Jurinsky was critical of Wilson.
Wilson was fired from the Aurora Police Department in April. Niceta resigned from her position at the Arapahoe County DHS in early May. The Denver Gazette reports the couple has since broken up.
Niceta's next court appearance in the criminal case is set for Monday.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday. It seeks class-action status, saying more than 40 people have been affected. It names as defendants:
- The Arapahoe County Department of Human Services' Division of Child and Adult Protection Services.
- Niceta, in her capacity as an employee of that department.
- Michelle Dossey, in her capacity as division manager of that division.
- The Arapahoe County Board of County Commissioners.
The lawsuit says through the defendants' actions, "dozens, if not hundreds (or more), of Arapahoe County families have been torn apart, sometimes permanently, on the basis of constitutionally improper investigations, false sworn testimony by Arapahoe County employees, fabricated evidence introduced by Arapahoe County employees in both investigatory and judicial proceedings, and a downright inexplicable, unfounded, and unjust desire to separate or attempt to separate children from their parents or other caretakers."
It accuses Niceta specifically of:
- making false abuse or neglect complaints in order to separate or attempt to separate children from their parents and caretakers.
- attempting to improperly influence the outcome of DHS investigations by asking that certain complaints in which she had a personal interest be assigned to her.
- attempting to improperly influence the outcome of DHS investigations by accessing open investigations not assigned to her.
- improperly influencing the outcome of judicial proceedings by conspiring with or inducing other DHS employees to offer false testimony.
- introducing false testimony into judicial proceedings.
- seeking to engage in sexual relations with parents and caretakers she was actively investigating, including by offering alcoholic beverages at her personal home and giving away her personal cell phone number, and then actively seeking to separate children from these parents and caretakers when they refused her sexual advances.
- introducing false evidence, including fabricated investigative reports, conclusions, and altered statements of parents, caretakers, and other witnesses into proceedings.
Niceta is also named in a federal lawsuit filed Aug. 14 by a Colorado family. That lawsuit accuses Niceta and several others of removing a teen girl from her home "based only on deliberate cultural assumptions and bias."
"What happened to me is not an isolated incident at all," Jurinsky said at a press conference Thursday morning. "I believe it to be more systemic than just her. I think there’s a gross failure to supervise."
The families who gathered outside the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services Thursday morning don’t know each other. But their lawyer said they’ve all experienced the same thing.
"These are parents or caretakers who have had their children ripped away from them or nearly ripped away from them," said Elliot Singer, an attorney with Conduit Law. "Conduit Law yesterday filed a class action lawsuit naming four defendants, including the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services, regarding unconstitutional and illegal violations of many of these parents who are standing behind me."
The Colorado Department of Human Services confirmed to 9NEWS Thursday that it is "conducting an evaluation of potential fraud and child safety concerns" related to Niceta's actions. CDHS said that investigation was requested by Arapahoe County Human Services.
Arapahoe County released a statement Thursday, saying:
Arapahoe County is equally appalled and concerned as our community is about the alleged criminal actions of Robin Niceta, a former employee of our Human Services department.
There are many checks and balances within the child protection system to weed out false allegations. We have confidence in our ability to protect children from abuse and neglect in our County, and at the same time to preserve the rights of parents and guarantee due process. All allegations of abuse and neglect of children are fully evaluated and investigated by multiple layers of human services, educational, medical, mental health, and legal professionals, in accordance with State laws and regulations. When disputes arise during these investigations, all parties have the right to have their case heard by a judge or jury, and also to appeal. There also is a State-prescribed process for reviewing complaints we receive about closed cases, and we act upon the conclusions of those evaluations as needed.
We have not yet had a chance to review all of the allegations in the recently filed complaints but point out that many of them draw conclusions without citing factual specifics. We are not aware of any evidence of widespread misconduct by the caseworkers and other professionals within the Arapahoe County Human Services Department, despite what is alleged in the complaints.
The Colorado Department of Human Services, as the supervising agency of each county department of human services, is investigating, at our request, whether there are potentially other issues of concern in all assessments and cases conducted by Ms. Niceta during her tenure with the County. We are awaiting the results of this independent investigation and will swiftly take any appropriate action after it is completed.
The Denver Gazette also reports the FBI is investigating Niceta's own child custody case with a former partner, and claims she may have filed a false report then, too.
9NEWS reached out to the FBI Wednesday, but a spokesperson would not confirm or deny the investigation. The FBI offered this statement by email:
Except in rare circumstances, the FBI cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. In general, when we do get involved, we consider the facts of a situation to determine whether there is a possible federal criminal violation. Such a review does not necessarily result in the opening of an investigation. When an investigation is warranted and it is determined a federal law appears to have been violated, those results are forwarded to the appropriate US Attorney’s Office, which decides whether or not to move forward with charges. If an FBI review or investigation determines there are no federal violations, the case can be referred to relevant state and local law enforcement partners.
During the course of a review or investigation we might speak with numerous individuals, but to protect the privacy of people who report information to the FBI, we cannot confirm or deny any particular contact.
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