Eli Hart’s father files wrongful death lawsuit against Dakota County, employees

The father of a boy who was found dead in the trunk of the vehicle his mother was driving in May has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dakota County and three county employees.

In a federal lawsuit, Tory Hart claims the county, two social workers, and a court-appointed guardian ignored the warning signs that led to the death of his 6-year-old son, Eli.

Eli’s mother, 28-year-old Julissa Angelica Genrich Thaler, is charged with murdering her son. Her next court hearing is set for Sept. 14.

Thaler had sole legal custody of Eli when the boy died, and the lawsuit lists multiple instances in the year-and-a-half prior to his death where Thaler was arrested or admitted to a hospital and Eli was found in “disgusting” conditions and without his hearing aids.

In late January 2021, a judge moved Eli into a foster home and was given a court-appointed guardian, according to the lawsuit.

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The lawsuit adds that Thaler showed “signs of being mentally unfit to care for Eli” multiple times in the year-plus before Eli’s death and repeatedly failed to follow plans made by the county and court to ensure Eli’s safety and allow her to visit her son.

On multiple occasions, the social workers, court-appointed guardian, foster parents, and Hart himself all expressed concerns about Thaler’s abilities and Eli’s safety in the event he’d be placed in her care again, the lawsuit notes. However, despite those concerns and county reports that Eli’s visits with his father had “gone well” and he seemingly enjoyed them, the court-appointed guardian still recommended a permanency plan to reunite Eli with Thaler and the judge endorsed those plans.

In November, Hart’s lawsuit states he continued seeking full custody of Eli but also raised concerns to the guardian and social worker about Thaler and her visits with his son. Despite that and concerns that were allegedly raised by other family members and the foster parents, Eli and Thaler were reunified in late December 2021. Several other concerns were raised in the following months, and the court-appointed guardian even formally opposed the social workers’ recommendations to give Thaler custody of Eli again. However, the guardian later reversed course, and Thaler was given custody of Eli in May — just 10 days before he was found dead.

The lawsuit states, “while Thaler ‘pulled the trigger,’ it was the failures of Dakota County, its agents and employees, and others that permitted Eli to be reunified with Thaler” and played a significant role in his death.

The Dakota County Attorney’s Office issued the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:

“Our deepest sympathy goes out to family and friends impacted by this tragic loss. Due to the current litigation, we will not comment further at this time.”