BY LISE FISHER
THE GAINESVILLE SUN
Published: Saturday, September 29, 2007 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 29, 2007 at 1:17 a.m.
GAINESVILLE – State officials will pay $14 million to settle lawsuits involving 20 children who were abused while they were in the care of a Gainesville woman, attorneys for the children and the Florida Department of Children and Families confirmed Friday.
The money will be divided among the children who had lived with Nellie Jasper Johnson, 64. They testified at her 2003 trial that they were beaten, force-fed until they vomited, and made to fight one another.
Johnson is serving a 60-year prison sentence at Lowell Correctional Institution in Marion County for 14 counts of aggravated child abuse, 12 counts of child abuse, three counts of tampering with a witness or victim, and two counts of child neglect. Johnson’s adopted daughter, Colony Latrisa Johnson, 24, also was convicted at the Gainesville trial and is serving a 15-year prison sentence at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy on three counts of aggravated child abuse and three counts of child abuse.
Nellie Johnson had cared for more than 25 children, many who she had adopted, after becoming a Florida foster parent in 1991, according to attorneys. In 2001, the Florida Department of Children & Families removed 17 children from her home after one child came forward with allegations of abuse.
Lawyers for the children later reported that DCF investigators had previously visited the woman’s Gainesville home but reported the allegations were not founded, or started by the children, or their biological families who wanted to regain custody. During a two-month period in 1997, investigators went to the home seven times but didn’t pursue allegations. Nellie Johnson was allowed to remain while some children were interviewed and was sometimes informed prior to their visits that investigators were coming.
Lawyers for the children said the children were beaten with sticks, pipes, belts, extension cords and paddles during more than 10 years of abuse.
The settlement involved federal civil rights claims filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and a negligence claim filed in Alachua County.
The children involved in the cases now are in their mid-teens to mid-20s, Fletcher said.
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