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Suit: DCFS contractor negligent before father set two children on fire

The county-appointed public guardian of a boy and girl who were set on fire by their father in late 2012 is suing a DCFS-contracted welfare agency, alleging its negligence led to the death of one child and the severe, ongoing injuries of the other.

Robert F. Harris, the appointed estate administrator of Nariyah Beler and the public guardian of her brother Naciere, filed the lawsuit Monday in Cook County Circuit Court against the Humboldt Park-based welfare agency Association House.

On Dec. 28, 2012, Nathaniel Beler set his two children, their mother and himself on fire at his mother’s West Side home, the suit stated. His daughter, 4-year-old Nariyah, and her mother, Taniya Johnson, died. His son Naciere, then 9, suffered burns to more than 40 percent of his body.

Beler’s death was ruled a suicide by self-immolation, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

In the months that led up to the fatal arson, Harris alleges, Association House and several of its employees breached duties that could have prevented Nariyah’s death and Naciere’s injuries.

DCFS recommended that Beler – a diagnosed schizophrenic and PCP addict with a history of going off his medication – should see his two children only in the company of a caseworker and in a “neutral” public place, the suit stated.

Under pressure from Beler, the assigned Association House caseworker allowed him to see his children at his mother’s house, the eventual scene of the fatal fire, the suit stated.

“Association House ignored or downplayed the severe danger that Mr. Beler posed,” the suit claims.

During an argument with Johnson in September 2012, Beler threatened to kill himself and his two children by pouring gasoline on them and lighting a match, the suit stated. Beler showed her two cans of gasoline, but she persuaded him to let her leave the home and go to work.

Once Johnson – who left her two children alone with Beler – got to work, her co-workers told her to call the police, leading to a standoff that eventually resulted in the safe release of both children and Beler’s involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital, the suit stated. There was enough gasoline in the home’s bathtub “to level the building.”

Association House knew Beler had a history of violent, erractic behavior when he was off his medication and no one from the agency ever tried to determine if he still was taking his prescriptions, the suit claims.

The agency also took Beler at his word when he said he was no longer using PCP and did not ever screen his urine to confirm he wasn’t using drugs, the suit alleges.

A representative from Association House could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

The six-count wrongful death and negligence suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages.