A Riviera Beach funeral home is facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit, after a family claims the business failed to preserve an 11-year-old girl’s body.
The family of Re’Asia Washington claims they noticed her body was decomposed and nearly unrecognizable leading up to her memorial service.
“My daughter was deteriorated beyond recognition, her skin has come off her body,” says Ebony Morgan, Re’Asia’s mother.
The fifth-grader died on Jan. 22 after suffering an asthma attack while in Georgia.
Morgan hired Shawn Johnson Funeral and Cremation Services to handle the arrangements.
However, “When I saw her face, it looked like someone had threw acid on her face, or she was pushed into a fire and just left to burn,” Morgan explains. She adds that her daughter’s scalp appeared to be coming off the girl’s head.
In the lawsuit, which was filed by Tayson Gaines with the Palm Beach County-based Gaines Firm, the family alleges a breach of contract with the funeral home, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, deceptive and unfair trade practices, and conspiracy.
The family has also filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services, according to Pierre Ifill, Re’Asia’s uncle and an attorney who is helping Gaines with the lawsuit.
“What we got was a mummified body that was not presentable for a service. What we got was excuses,” Ifill says. “That’s not acceptable.”
On Jan. 24, an employee of the funeral home transported Re’Asia’s body to Florida from Georgia without embalming or refrigerating it.
The funeral home also lacked the disposition permit that is required by Georgia law to move a body across state lines.
On Jan. 31, Shawn Johnson allegedly refused to allow Ebony Morgan to see her daughter’s body. Johnson refused again on Feb. 5 and 6.
However, Morgan paid Johnson $3,055 on Feb 4.
After Johnson refused to allow Morgan to see the body on Feb. 6, Morgan contacted state officials to inquire about her rights to see her daughter’s body at the funeral home, and was told she could.
Later that day, Morgan visited the funeral home with a police escort. A few hours later, Johnson returned to the funeral home and rolled Re’Asia’s body into the office. She allowed Morgan and her sister to only see the girl’s face and hand.
When Morgan’s sister began taking photos of the body, Johnson reportedly threatened to sue if she showed them to other people.
On Feb. 7, Morgan informed Johnson that she was planning to pick up the body. Johnson claimed that it was in a Fort Lauderdale morgue. However, the morgue claims that it does not have a contract with the funeral home.
“We have not heard one apology” from the funeral home or anyone associated with the business, Ifill states.
The family says it had to cancel Re’Asia’s viewing due to what happened.
Ifill adds that a makeshift memorial service was held last weekend without Re’Asia’s body, and she will be cremated following an autopsy.
Morgan and Re’Asia’s father, Reginald Washington, are now seeking $10 million in damages from the funeral home, its three managers — Shandelrio “Shawn” Johnson, Ronald Warnecke and Alterraon Phillips — and the funeral home’s embalmer, Adrienne Leger.