Tuesday, November 4, 2008

$30M suit filed in death of boy

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Legal action claims 9-year old was starved to death while in custody of state foster care home.

Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News
DETROIT -- A quadriplegic 9-year-old, turned over to the state by a Dearborn mother who said she could no longer afford to care for him after losing her job, starved to death while in a Department of Human Services supervised care facility, according to a $30 million lawsuit filed Monday in Wayne Circuit Court.

Johnny Dragomir was found dead on March 9, 2007, beside his bed in the Monroe Foster Home, 20600 Orangelawn, according to the lawsuit. An autopsy found no food or liquid in the boy's stomach and the Wayne County Medical Examiner's report listed malnutrition as the cause of his death.

The boy had withered from 5 feet tall and 80 pounds to 40 pounds while in the foster home, according to Arnold Reed, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit against operators of the home and numerous others, including a registered nurse, dietician and the company contracted by Wayne County to oversee foster placements. Reed said state officials also will be sued next week in a companion complaint in federal district court.

"I wouldn't stop complaining and I got barred from seeing him, because I was irrational," said the boy's mother, Elena Andron, 32. "I thought I was doing what I had to do. I didn't see him for four or five months. When I identified him in the morgue, it didn't look like my son any more."

Dragomir was born with cerebral palsy. Andron placed him in the care of the state two years ago after she lost her job. She said she continued to visit her son after he was placed at the Monroe Foster Home by Community Living Services Inc., which is funded by the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Agency to provide services to almost 3,000 adults and children. "She might not have been able to care for him on her own, but at least she cared about him and when she started calling four times a day because he was losing so much weight," Reed said. "They prevented her from seeing her son ... Meanwhile, he's dying a slow, steady death."

Reed said those entrusted with planning and overseeing the boy's care failed to make certain he was fed. Documents show that between Jan. 29, 2006, and March 9, 2007, the boy's feeding chart had 500 blank entries indicating his caregivers were aware he wasn't eating, Reed said. Other documents cited in the lawsuit indicate concerns about the youth's plummeting weight, but Reed claims no one acted on those concerns.

Gisgie Davila Gendreau, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, said there is an open investigation of the incident, but added she was prevented from saying anything more because of laws that guard against the release of information about children in foster care.

Although Reed said the foster home closed shorty after Dragomir's death, the state continues to show an active license that was authorized in December 2002. The News was unable to reach representatives of the foster home or Community Living Services for comment.

The state's child and protective care services were placed last month under the supervision of a court-appointed monitor to settle a class-action lawsuit brought in 2006 by a national children's advocacy group that complained Michigan's foster care system was broken and harming kids.

$30M suit filed in death of boy

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