The mother of an Oak Hill girl who police say was tortured and killed while in the custody of her biological father has filed a federal civil lawsuit against West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources for her child’s 2018 death.
Fayetteville attorney Anthony Salvatore filed the suit in United States District Court for the District of Southern West Virginia on behalf of Janice Wriston, the mother of 8-year-old Raylee Browning. The suit alleges that West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Child Protective Services (CPS) failed to adequately protect Raylee, even after teachers at a Nicholas County elementary school had notified CPS that Raylee was being battered in the home, and that the agency later falsified and withheld records to cover up their role in causing Raylee’s death on Dec. 26, 2018.
“The defendants willfully and recklessly falsified records to hide the abuse of R.B.,” the suit states.
“The defendants failed to take action to ensure that there was an adequate safety plan for R.B. in the home of Marty Browning and Julie Titchenell, failed to ensure that Marty Browning and Julie Titchenell were capable and competent to house children and to ensure the safety of all children, failed to ensure that the home was up to code and in compliance with WVDHHR policies and standards with respect to heating systems, electrical wiring and other potential causes of fire in the home.”
Later, the suit states that WVDHHR “altered records to conceal the failure to properly care for” Raylee and that CPS altered and deleted computer records on Raylee’s file to “correct their gross, reckless conduct.”
Raylee, 8, died at Plateau Medical Center in Oak Hill of respiratory complications related to pneumonia.
Her body was covered in bruises and scratches and her rectum was torn, suggesting sexual assault.
Her biological father, Marty Browning Jr., had been given primary custody of the girl. Marty, now 35, shared a house with his girlfriend, Julie Titchenell, 37, and Julie’s sister, 36-year-old Sherie Titchenell.
Browning, Julie and Sherie were arrested in December 2018, all on one charge each of death of a child by a parent, guardian or custodian and child abuse and neglect resulting in death.
At the time of Raylee’s death, the trio were living in the 400 block of Park Street in Oak Hill with Raylee and Julie’s three children.
They had previously lived in Nicholas County, where Raylee had briefly attended elementary school.
Witnesses told OHPD that the three adults had singled out Raylee for abuse.
According to police, Raylee had been beaten with wooden and metal objects, starved, denied an education, forbidden to drink water for three days and forced to wear a diaper and sleep on a floor.
The little girl once drank water from a toilet to survive, according to a witness.
Browning and Julie married after Raylee died and while OHPD was investigating the child’s death in 2019.
Fayette officials told The Register-Herald in December 2019 that the investigation had been hampered because WVDHHR had refused to provide Raylee’s records to police. The federal lawsuit reports that Raylee had also been sexually assaulted.
“Her body had multiple abrasions and bruising as a result of assault/molestation,” the lawsuit states.
Nicholas County elementary school teachers, Wriston and at least one additional witness had made reports to CPS in 2018.
According to the lawsuit, CPS ignored those reports and refused to take steps to protect Raylee from the abuse, which would prove deadly.
One woman reported to CPS that Raylee was kept locked in a room while living with her father and the two women in Nicholas County.
“The defendants willfully ignored reports of potential child abuse and/or neglect of R.B. within the home, breached their statutory and regulatory protocols, policies and procedures to ensure the safety and welfare of R.B. and to protect her from harm...”
The suit reports that WVDHHR violated Raylee’s Constitutional Eighth Amendment rights. The Eighth Amendment protects against the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment, which the girl reportedly received while she was ordered by the state to reside in her father’s care.
Wriston is seeking unspecified compensation, court costs and punitive damages.
The mother, who called Raylee “my sunshine,” told The Register- Herald in 2019 that she had made reports to Fayette Family Court, West Virginia State Police, CPS, New River Health and other agencies in an attempt to rescue Raylee.
Her pleas for help went unanswered, resulting in the death of her child, she said.
Former Fayette Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Liz Campbell was prosecuting the criminal case.
Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney Anthony Ciliberti began serving as prosecutor in January, after winning the seat in the November general election.
Raleigh County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brian Parsons said Friday that the criminal case was transferred to Raleigh County Circuit Court in December because Ciliberti’s wife is a witness in the criminal case.