Russian agency criticizes US ruling in boy's death

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Associated Press

Posted on March 19, 2013 at 4:03 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 19 at 5:32 PM

DALLAS (AP) — Russian officials expressed disbelief Tuesday with an American grand jury's decision not to charge a Texas couple in the death of their 3-year-old adopted son from Russia after a prosecutor concluded his fatal injuries were accidental.

The Russian Foreign Ministry pointed to a continuing "general line of leniency" that they say American authorities give to adoptive parents. The ministry's statement came hours after Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland said no charges were brought against Alan and Laura Shatto, the parents of 3-year-old Max Shatto.

The boy, born Maxim Kuzmin, died Jan. 21 after his mother found him unresponsive outside their home in Gardendale, Texas. Bland said four pathologists reviewed an autopsy report and ruled Max's death to be accidental. He said Max likely suffered the fatal injuries during 10 minutes when he was playing outside and Laura Shatto was in the bathroom.

The boy's death has become the latest flashpoint in a debate over American adoptions of Russian children. Many American families were left in limbo after Russia banned adoptions in retaliation for a new American law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators. Russian officials have used Max's death to justify the ban, claiming Max was the victim of "inhuman treatment."

The lack of charges "raises serious questions," Konstantin Dolgov, a Foreign Ministry official, told a state-controlled television channel. "It turns out that the child died and his adoptive parents are in no way guilty of this. Moreover, they are trying to persuade us that the boy's lethal injuries were inflicted by himself."

West Texas authorities say no drugs were found in the boy's system during an autopsy and the bruises on his body were accidental.

"The injuries on the child were not consistent with abuse," Bland said. "They were, instead, consistent with the previously diagnosed behavioral disorder."

About 10 percent of adopted children have behavioral problems, said Dr. Elizabeth Montgomery of the Texas Children's Health Center for International Adoption in Houston. Some adoptees from Russian and Romanian orphanages can develop disorders from having had numerous caregivers and not being able to build trust, she said.

Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of the Virginia-based National Council for Adoption, said Russian authorities had "already prejudged the outcome" of any investigation and wouldn't have budged on the ban even if charges were filed.

"Whatever impact it's had, it's already had, in my opinion," Johnson said of the case.

The Foreign Ministry has demanded documents in the case and access to the boy's half-brother, Kristopher, who also was adopted by the Shatto family. Both requests have been denied.

Bland said on Tuesday that he had not turned over any case documents and would not do so at least as long as Texas Child Protective Services is investigating allegations that Max was abused and neglected. That investigation is ongoing. The Shattos' attorney, Michael J. Brown, said Russian officials have not been allowed continued contact with Kristopher.

"I don't know what good would come of it, frankly," Brown said. "The Russians had every opportunity given to them to adopt those children and chose not to."

Kristopher was naturalized as an American citizen as part of the adoption process, which was handled by a private agency licensed in Russia. Johnson said it was very unlikely that Russia could get Kristopher back.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated that American officials had tried to assist officials in both Russia and Texas.

"This is a tragic case," Nuland said. "But we don't think it ought to change our ability to work through the remaining adoption cases in Russia."

An estimated 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans in the past two decades, but at least 20 adopted children have died. Incidents of alleged mistreatment have been reported widely in Russia and helped to drive resentment over adoptions.

An agreement ratified last year between the United States and Russia would have prevented the conditions that led to many deaths and high-profile abuse cases. One change in particular would have required all adoptions to go through agencies licensed in Russia, a move that would have prevented many problems, according to adoption advocates.

That's left many prospective adoptive parents weighing their options.

Debbie Wynne, a director in Dallas at Buckner Adoption and Maternity Services, said her agency was continuing to file regular reports to Russian authorities on the adoptees it had already processed. Parents stuck in the process are being forced to decide whether to wait for a resolution or adopt from the U.S. or a different country. A handful of families have opted for adoptions from Hong Kong, South Korea or elsewhere in Eastern Europe through a different agency, she said.

"Some of them have started to move on to other countries," she said.

Ann Suhs, a Georgia woman who is the mother of one 7-year-old boy adopted from Russia, had filled out paperwork to take in a second child when the ban was enacted. She and her husband had not yet traveled to Russia to meet the child. She said Tuesday that she was getting increasingly discouraged.

"When you start this process, you think, 'I'm going to become a parent again,'" Suhs said. "And then you become an expert in international politics and economics."

"... We've tried to remain hopeful," she said. "But there's not a lot of hope left."

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Blaney reported from Lubbock, Texas. Lynn Berry in Moscow and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Blaney on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/betsyblaney and Merchant at http://www.twitter.com/nomaanmerchant.

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