Child services worker lied about abuse to separate 6-year-old from family, lawsuit says

A former case manager with the Department of Child Services lied in court so that a 6-year-old child would be removed from one family and placed with the case manager's sexual partner, according to a lawsuit.

Jason and Myka Kelly, the plaintiffs in the suit, say Sandra Sell was in a sexual relationship with the father of Myka Kelly's 6-year-old son in late 2020 — the same period Sell was a case manager assigned to the Kellys' children out of the department's Wabash County office.

IndyStar has requested comment from Sell's attorney. DCS declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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False statements lead to kids' removal

The Kellys' six children had previously been designated as children in need of services, or CHINS, after a report of a domestic dispute between Jason and Myka Kelly in January 2020. While investigating the report, DCS workers became concerned that the Kellys were using "illegal substances" in front of their family, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says DCS violated the Kellys' constitutional rights by removing the children from their home in February 2020 without a court order.

The children were returned in May 2020. Sell was assigned to their case.

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In October 2020, Sell began a sexual relationship with the 6-year-old boy's father, Larry Noland, after she supervised a visit between Noland and the 6-year-old, according to the lawsuit.

Because of that relationship, the lawsuit states, Sell took steps to drive the removal process in favor of her partner, Larry Noland. She pushed Noland to ask his attorney about a change in placement, talked with her supervisor about a change in placement for the 6-year-old and accused Jason Kelly of sexually abusing the child.

According to the lawsuit, Sell lied in an affidavit submitted to the courts in December 2020 that backed claims the Kellys had violated court orders and engaged in abuse and neglect of the children earlier that month.

The day after that affidavit was submitted, all of the Kellys' six children were removed from the home.

Father convicted of neglect of a dependent

The 6-year-old was placed with Noland, who had recently left prison after serving five years for a felony of neglect of a dependent resulting in serious injury. The lawsuit states Noland was charged in 2015 after medical personnel responding to a 911 call found a two-and-a-half-month-old infant in his care was suffering from a brain hemorrhage and symptoms of shaken baby syndrome.

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The Kellys' other five children were placed in foster care.

Sell was fired four months later, in March 2021, after DCS' Wabash County director learned about the relationship between Sell and Noland. All six children were returned to the Kellys in April 2021.

The Wabash County Prosecutor's Office filed charges against Sell in November 2021. She was charged with felonies of official misconduct and obstruction of justice, and a misdemeanor of falsifying child abuse or neglect information or records.

She pleaded guilty to the obstruction of justice charge and was sentenced Monday to 179 days probation. The other two charges were dismissed.

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Also in November 2021, the Indiana Office of Inspector General issued a report outlining its investigation of Sell. It corroborated the allegations that Sell had attempted to manipulate the removal of the 6-year-old from the Kellys to the benefit of Noland. Sell admitted her conduct in an affidavit provided to the office.

State goes silent on $2.75m settlement

The Kellys began to move forward with a suit against the state. At an undisclosed date, they presented a draft copy of their legal complaint to the Indiana Attorney General's Office.

The state met with the Kellys in January and "engaged in a full-day mediation," according to the lawsuit. The state offered to resolve the dispute by settling for $2.75 million. But the lawsuit claims that the settlement had to be approved by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and Gov. Eric Holcomb.

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Four months later, the Kellys found out that the settlement amount had not been approved. They say they were never told why.

The attorney general's office and the governor's office declined to comment for this article.

The family's lawsuit was filed Wednesday, June 8 in Wabash Circuit Court. Defendants include the State of Indiana, Sell and five other DCS employees accused of unconstitutionally removing the children from the Kellys without a court order in February 2020.

Read a copy of the lawsuit here.

Call IndyStar courts reporter Johnny Magdaleno at 317-273-3188 or email him at Follow him on Twitter @IndyStarJohnny

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: DCS worker lied about abuse to remove child from family, lawsuit says