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, the top prosecutor in Ector County, about 350 miles west of Dallas, 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.
“This child did not kill himself,” Bland said Monday. “This child hurt himself.”
Early Tuesday, Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman, criticized the handling of the case on Twitter.
“The position of the Texas prosecutor contradicts initial information presented by the sheriff, social services, statement of the adoptive father, doctors’ conclusions,” Astakhov wrote.
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 also 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.
The Shattos’ attorney, Michael J. Brown, did not immediately return a phone message. The Shattos’ voicemail greeting on Monday said the family did not have any comment.
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.”
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 but had not determined whether those allegations were true. Crimmins said he did not know when that investigation will be complete.
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. Since Max’s death, Kristopher has remained with his adoptive parents.
Russian state media have featured the boys’ biological mother, Yulia Kuzmina, who lost custody over negligence and serious drinking problems.
In a tightly choreographed Feb. 21 interview on state television, Kuzmina insisted that Russian custody officials seized her children unfairly and said that she wanted to be reunited with her other son, born Kirill Kuzmin. She said she had given up drinking, found a job and pledged to fight to get the boy back.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has said it is necessary “to temper emotions” over the case, and U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has called for “sensational exploitations of human tragedy to end and for professional work between our two countries to grow, on this issue and many others.”
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