- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Attorney General’s office has asked a judge to dismiss a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the estate of an Omaha boy strangled by his mother in 2009.

On Wednesday, the office asked a judge to grant a motion for summary judgment, which would effectively throw out the lawsuit against the state’s Health and Human Services Department. Douglas County judge Mark Ashford took the motion under advisement, the Omaha World-Herald reported (https://bit.ly/1ubRIkp ).

The suit claims the agency failed in acting on repeated warnings from the 12-year-old boy’s mother and other family members about his welfare. It also claims the department was negligent in failing to properly investigate allegations of neglect and abuse of Michael Belitz.

Before Belitz’s death, his mother left a voicemail for a health and human services caseworker asking to place her son in foster care.

“It feels like I’m spiraling downward, so I’m concerned for him and me,” Angela Manns told the caseworker in a message.

Department officials said the caseworker tried to return Manns’ call, but that a voicemail wasn’t available. Manns called the department back again days later, and the caseworker called back, saying in a voicemail to contact the agency’s child abuse and neglect hotline.

The state argues it couldn’t have known based on those phone calls that Manns planned to kill her son. Authorities found her son’s decomposed body in a bathtub of water and cat litter. Manns admitted to strangling him with a phone cord while he slept. She pleaded no contest to second-degree murder.

“Any reasonable reading of the transcript of that phone call does not give rise to a belief that physical abuse of any kind was imminent or even about to happen,” Assistant Attorney General Dave Lopez said in court Wednesday. “There is no way what happened could have been foreseeable.”

He added that the state didn’t have a duty to step in because Manns hadn’t been charged in abusing her son.

Lawyer Mandy Strigenz, representing Belitz’s estate, said Manns reached out for help and that the department ignored her pleas despite policies telling workers to act.

“The department is essentially Child Protective Services,” Strigenz said. “It is their duty to protect the children of this state. It would be proper for the court to determine that the duty of care was owed to Michael Belitz.”

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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