WASHINGTON, February 28 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) Texas authorities investigating the Jan. 21 death of 3-year-old Russian adoptee Max Shatto adamantly denied statements made Thursday by Russia’s child rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov, claiming a Texas social worker said the boy’s adopted mother is responsible for his death.
“We have not concluded whether or not physical abuse caused or contributed to Max Shatto's death, and we have not concluded whether or not neglectful supervision caused or contributed to his death," said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Child Protective Services (CPS), in a statement to RIA Novosti.
“It is both inappropriate and inaccurate to state that we have made a decision in this case,” the statement said.
Crimmins’ office is investigating the death, but has not made a final report.
“They’re trying to pin down that the mother did this to this boy. We’re trying to say we don’t know if the mother did anything, or if anybody else did anything to that child. We don’t know that,” Ector County, Texas Sheriff Mark Donaldson told RIA Novosti.
At a news conference Thursday in Moscow, Astakhov quoted a Texas social worker as saying, “I am confident that the boy died as a result of abuse from the adoptive mother." He also cited the social worker as saying that medication the boy was reportedly given “wasn’t justified, and it could have damaged his cardiovascular, endocrine and digestive system.”
“It is inaccurate,” said Crimmins.
The social worker was identified at the press conference and her name was published in some Russian media reports. The woman did not respond to calls and emails from RIA Novosti requesting comment, and CPS would not confirm that she had worked on the case.
Max Shatto, also known by his Russian name Maxim Kuzmin, and his younger brother were adopted by Alan and Laura Shatto of Gardendale, Texas in November.
Donaldson said Laura Shatto told his investigators she had been outside with the boys on Jan. 21 as they were playing, went inside her house to use the bathroom, and found Max unresponsive on the ground when she returned. The boy was transported by ambulance to a hospital and died.
Medical examiners in the case have told RIA Novosti there were some bruises on the child’s body, but said it wasn’t clear if they were the result of routine child’s play or caused by abuse. An autopsy and medical examiner’s report are expected soon, but have not been released publicly.
An attorney hired by the Shatto family, Michael Brown, said Laura Shatto did not kill her adopted son and told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that, “The child himself was subject to self-inflicted bruising.”
Astakhov also cited two deputies from the Ector County Sheriff’s Office as saying, “The death of Max Allan Shatto is one of those rare occasions when it is extremely difficult to identify the real criminal. Unfortunately, there is not a single witness of the incident. The boy's mother Laura may not be the only suspect.”
“That quote is wrong. I don’t believe they said ‘criminal.’ I’ve talked to the two of them and deny having said this,” Donaldson told RIA Novosti on Thursday.
“The only way I believe this is a quote is if they recorded the conversation with these two. If they don’t have a recording then I don’t believe that came from these two guys,” he said.
“We don’t even know that a crime was committed,” added Donaldson.
The sheriff said the two deputies Astakhov named did meet with a Russian official two weeks ago, and admitted he found the claims from Astakhov frustrating.
“We have people that don’t have any clue what’s going on down here mouthing off when they don’t know anything about what happened,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Gladney Center for Adoption, which handled the Shatto adoption, told RIA Novosti authorities were reviewing the screening process to see if Gladney followed state standards, a move CPS said was “common” when an adopted child has died.
“With an international lens on Max Shatto’s death, it is absolutely appropriate for the State of Texas to review our policies and procedures,” spokeswoman Jennifer Latner said.
“We provided background information to the authorities who are trying to determine what happened to Max. All of us at Gladney are deeply saddened about this child’s death, and we are hopeful the authorities will complete their investigation soon,” she added.
An Ector County Sheriff’s Department spokesman said the parents had been “cooperating, absolutely,” in the investigation, and said they were “extremely distraught,” about the boy’s death, adding, “It’s a tragedy for them.”
Crimmins said CPS was “monitoring” the Shatto family but do not believe 2-year-old Kris Shatto, Max’s brother who was also adopted from Russia, is in any danger.
“In a case like this we want to ensure the safety of the other children. If it involves removing the child from the home we will do that, if it involves making other arrangements we will do that… We believe he’s safe at home,” said Crimmins.