No charges in Russian boy’s death
ODESSA, Texas (AP) — Prosecutors will not charge a Texas couple in the death of a 3-year-old boy they adopted from Russia, a case that has become the latest flashpoint in the debate over whether American families should be allowed to adopt Russian children.
Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland said his office would not charge Alan and Laura Shatto in the Jan. 21 death of Max Alan Shatto, who was born Maxim Kuzmin.
“The grand jury determined there was insufficient evidence to charge them with anything,” Bland said at a news conference.
Laura Shatto told authorities she found Max unresponsive outside their Gardendale, Texas, home while he was playing with his younger brother, Ector County Sheriff Mark Donaldson has said. The boy was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later. Preliminary autopsy results indicated Max had bruises on several parts of his body, though four doctors reviewing the final autopsy results ruled his death to be accidental.
Bland said the bruises on Max’s body appeared to be the result of accidental injuries. The boy died due to an internal laceration of an artery caused by blunt force trauma, authorities have previously said.
Authorities believe Max hurt himself fatally while Laura Shatto was in the bathroom for about 10 minutes, Bland said.
“It would not have taken too much force” for Max’s injuries, perhaps from contact with playground equipment, he said. Max was underweight, which may have made him more vulnerable to injury, Bland said.
Grand jurors heard evidence in the case Monday and declined to indict either parent. Bland would not say what potential charges, if any, the grand jury discussed.
Russian authorities and state-run media have blamed the Shattos for Max’s death and used the case as justification for a recently enacted ban on all American adoptions of Russian children. Russia’s Investigative Committee has said it has opened its own investigation. It’s unclear whether the committee could charge the Shatto family or force their prosecution.
U.S. State Department officials and adoption agency advocates have called for caution.
The Russian government passed the ban in December in retaliation for a new U.S. law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators. The ban also reflects lingering resentment over the perceived mistreatment of some of the 60,000 children Americans have adopted over the last two decades. At least 20 of those children have died, and reports of abuse have garnered attention in Russia.
Foreign Ministry official Konstantin Dolgov has called Max’s death “yet another case of inhuman treatment of a Russian child adopted by American parents.”
“Regrettably, the matter falls into the general pattern of ‘leniency’ by the law-enforcement agencies and courts of the USA at various levels regarding American adoptive parents, by whose fault adopted children from Russia die,” Dolgov said in a Tuesday statement. “In connection with this we confirm our demand to present the Russian side without further delay all relevant documents concerning the circumstances of the death of M. Kuzmin including the results of pathology tests.”
Texas Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins said Monday that the agency continued to investigate allegations that Max was subject to physical abuse and neglect. The agency that processed the Shattos’ adoption, the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, was cleared in a separate state investigation to find out whether it followed all guidelines.
The Shattos adopted Max and his biological half-brother, 2-year-old Kristopher, from the same orphanage in western Russia. Kristopher has remained with his adoptive parents.
In a tightly choreographed interview on state television, the boys’ biological mother, Yulia Kuzmina insisted Russian custody officials seized her children unfairly and said that she wanted to be reunited with her other son. She said she had given up drinking, found a job and pledged to fight to get the boy back.