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Judge Sides With Family Of Boy Who Died From Child Abuse

DENVER (CBS4) - A federal judge has made a decision that could bring justice to the family of a 7-year-old boy more than 4 years after his death.

Chandler Grafner died from starvation in 2007, but until now his family wasn't allowed to sue county agencies and their employees for negligence in a child abuse case. A judge has now decided two employees of one of the agencies no longer have immunity from legal action.

The attorney who represents Grafner, Kyle Bachus, says the motion is a major change for the case. He believes it could affect all children who end up in the care of human services in Colorado.

Grafner died of starvation while living with foster parents Jon Philips and Sarah Berry, who are both serving prison sentences. Police say Grafner was kept in a closet with feces and urine in the couple's apartment. He weighed just 34 pounds.

Jon Phillips and Sarah Berry
Jon Phillips and Sarah Berry (credit: CBS)

"I know it's too late to bring Chandler back ... but maybe it's now to help a bunch of other kids," Grafner's grandmother told CBS4.

Grafner's biological parents and an appointed representative tried to sue Jefferson and Denver counties, as well as two employees, for failing to properly investigate reports of abuse in the home.

Last April a federal judge ruled Denver and Jefferson counties' human services could not be sued. Those agencies are an arm of the state government and have immunity. But now the child's attorney says a new ruling says the employees are denied immunity.

Margaret Booker and Mary Peagler are named in a civil lawsuit.

"It's the start of justice for Chandler," Bachus said.

Bachus says the motion sends a message to case workers statewide.

"You've got to take care of these children," he said.

Bachus say the lawsuit alleges Booker and Peagler knew of multiple abuse reports involving the foster parents and failed to investigate. Both women are still employed at Denver Human Services.

"That's not the case workers I would want overseeing my child's care," Bachus said.

The Denver city attorney representing the two case workers didn't return calls from CBS4.

Denver Human Services said they can't comment on open litigation and because it's a confidential matter.

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