The damages bill would award the survivor of the 2010 Riviera Beach mass shooting $296,000

More than a decade after a federal investigator’s negligence failed to prevent a Palm Beach County mass shooting that killed six, the father of one survivor is on his way to raising more than $296,000 on his son’s behalf.

On Friday, the Republican Sen. Nick Di Ceglie Legislation submitted by Indian Rocks Beach (SB90) to settle a comparison payment from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to Michael Barnett and his son Ryan.

The settlement that Barnett and the state reached after a Florida Supreme Court ruling in September 2020, stems from a murder-suicide that took place almost exactly 10 years earlier.

DiCeglie’s bill is classified as an “indemnity account” or “act of assistance” because it is intended to compensate a person or entity for injury or loss caused by the negligence or error of an official or government agency.

Claims for damages arise when reasonable damages exceed Florida’s allowable limits sovereign immunity Laws that protect government agencies from costly lawsuits. State law currently limits what can be paid without legislative action to $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident, although lawmakers have done so try to increase these payout caps.

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Di Ceglie. told Florida Politics this is the second time he has backed legislation to authorize payment to Barnett. He called the case “tragic”.

“The worst thing is that the DCF clearly didn’t do their job effectively, which led to this tragedy,” he said. “I take that responsibility pretty seriously.”

On September 27, 2010, 41 years old Patrick Dell entered the home of his estranged wife, age 36, in Riviera Beach Natasha Whyte Dell, and fatally shot her and four of her children, the eldest of whom was 14 years old. He also shot Ryan Barnett, then 15, in the neck. Dell left two others, his birth children, unharmed before leaving the premises and killing himself.

Ryan Barnett issued more than a week in the hospital to recover from his injuries, which it turned out after the shooting were entirely preventable, as was the death of his half-brothers and sisters.

Eight months before Dell’s killing spree, DCF received a call abuse hotline about an incident in December 2019 which, combined with other information available to the Authority, should have alerted the Authority.

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Whyte-Dell was visiting Dell with a friend who is notorious in the neighborhood for his hot temper and paranoia, threatened to kill her, attacked her with a knife before going outside to flatten all four tires on her vehicle, according to a police report. Citing the 2012 report, the Palm Beach Post Whyte-Dell said Dell told her through a door she and her friend barricaded themselves behind, “Your family is going to cry today” and “You are going to the morgue.”

Police arrested Dell later that morning on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and criminal mischief.

The DCF investigated the case but subsequently closed the case on February 25, 2010, concluding that the children were not at a “significant risk” of harm. Less than three months later, after attacking her again, Whyte-Dell obtained an injunction against Dell. In her petition, she said she heard he was trying to buy a gun and feared he would use it against her and her children.

The DCF was grossly wrong in closing Whyte-Dell’s case, evidenced by Dell’s disturbing pattern of threats and violence leading up to the shooting. In the four years prior to the tragic event, the Riviera Beach Police Department responded to Whyte-Dell’s home 34 times. Eleven of these responses concerned domestic violence disorders.

DCF “was aware of or had reason to be aware of the threats and had numerous opportunities to remove the children from this dangerous environment, but took no action and closed their case file,” DiCeglie’s bill reads.

This feeling was shared by Perry Bormanthe former executive director of the DFC Southeast region, who described the investigation as “below average”.

It turned out that the child protection officer assigned to the case George Shahoodwho had only been with DCF for five months, found himself facing pending domestic violence charges.

For that matter, Shahood didn’t speak to neighbors or anyone outside of the Whyte Dell home. His safety plan: Family members should call the emergency number 911 “if further incidents occur”.

He was later released. But DCF “failed to conduct a secondary review or re-examination after[Shahood’s]pending domestic violence charges were released,” the bill said.

Michael Barnett, as Ryan Barnett’s biological father and acting guardian and as personal representative of the estates of three of the murdered children – Diana Barnett, Daniel Barnett and Bryan Barnettsued DCF in March 2012 for wrongful death and negligence. Leroy Nelson Jr.the father of the murdered child, Javon Nelsonfiled a separate wrongful death lawsuit against the department.

Both complaints alleged that DCF breached several non-delegable duties and failed to protect the children from an “unreasonable risk of harm”. DCF raised several objections, including that Florida’s limited waiver of state immunity limited total reimbursement to a low six-figure amount.

After years of court proceedings, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled decided in October 2018 that the Whyte Dell murders “constituted a single charge of negligence against the (DCF) for failing to properly investigate the family and stepfather before closing their files.” Therefore, Barnett and Nelson could only claim damages for a single incident, payable up to $300,000, rather than $200,000 per person, which would have put DCF at risk for far more.

The Florida Supreme Court unanimously upheld that decision on September 24, 2020, ruling that it was appropriate to treat the Whyte-Dell family shooting as a single incident attributable to Shahood’s negligence, rather than one that where each murder was a separate incident of negligence. Shortly thereafter, Barnett entered into a settlement agreement with the state for $296,400.

For a time, the Supreme Court’s decision in this case marked one big setback for the bereaved and relatives of the victims from 2018 Massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highsince their claims for compensation – with 17 killed and another 17 wounded – depended on what the court ruled that the state’s financial responsibility in the Whyte-Dell affair lay.

That was not the case. In December 2021, the Broward County School District agreed pay more than 26 million dollars to the families of those killed and injured in the school shooting. And last March, the US Department of Justice agreed to one $127.5 million settlement with the victims and their families after filing 40 civil lawsuits alleging that the Federal Bureau of Investigation acted negligently in refusing to act on leads that could have prevented a killing spree.

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https://floridapolitics.com/archives/577370-claims-bill-would-clear-296k-to-survivor-of-2010-mass-shooting-in-riviera-beach/ The damages bill would award the survivor of the 2010 Riviera Beach mass shooting $296,000

Callan Tansill

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