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Lawyer: Shattos Not Informed Of Russian Adoptee's Psychological Problems

  • Richard Solash

Max Shatto (Maksim Kuzmin) died in January.

Max Shatto (Maksim Kuzmin) died in January.

The lawyer for the American parents of Max Shatto, the adopted Russian boy whose death early this year caused an international dispute, says his clients knew "almost nothing" about the child's psychological problems when they took custody of him.

Michael J. Brown told RFE/RL that Laura and Alan Shatto were given little information about their son's condition when they adopted him from an orphanage in Russia's Pskov region in late 2012.

He also said his clients had not been informed of the "extreme possibility that Max had fetal alcohol syndrome."

The child's biological mother, Yulia Kuzmina, lost custody of Max and his half-brother in 2011 due to alcohol addiction.

The Pechora orphanage in Russia could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jennifer Lanter, a spokesperson for the Gladney Center, which facilitated the adoption, told RFE/RL, "In our experience working with adoptions from Russia, as well as other countries, orphanages often do not or are not able to provide a lot of information about the child's social and psychological history.

"We recommend all of our families contact an international pediatrician to get their initial assessment of the child's health based on their medical file," she said.

Three-year-old Max Shatto, born Maksim Kuzmin, died in January after he was found unresponsive near play equipment outside his family's Texas home. Doctors ruled that the death was "accidental" and caused by blunt trauma to the abdomen that lacerated an artery.

They said the cause of death fit into the boy's pattern of hurting himself, behavior brought on by psychological problems.

An interview with Laura Shatto included in her son's autopsy report paints a picture of a child with severe psychological disturbances. His behavior allegedly included banging his head on hard surfaces, clawing at himself, throwing himself to the ground, and holding his breath until he passed out.

The report also states that the child's pediatrician prescribed Risperidone, an antipsychotic drug, but that Laura Shatto stopped administering the medication over fear of its side effects.

Max Shatto's death caused an outcry in Russia after officials accused his adoptive mother of murder.

Officials also cited the case as justification for Moscow's ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children, which went into effect at the start of 2013. The ban was instituted in part as retaliation for U.S. human rights sanctions against Russian officials.

Texas authorities have said they will not file charges against Max Shatto's adoptive parents, a decision that Russia has criticized.

On April 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry's commissioner for human rights, democracy, and rule of law, Konstantin Dolgov, cited "inconsistencies" in the official account of the child's history with the Shattos. He said those inconsistences raise "serious questions about the integrity of the investigation."

Russian lawmakers have also demanded the return of Max Shatto's 2-year-old half-brother, Kristopher, born Kirill, who was also adopted by the Shatto family.

Dolgov said the doubts raised by Max Shatto's death provide a "more than solid foundation" for those demands.

Brown, the Shattos' lawyer, told RFE/RL that Laura Shatto's full access to Kristopher was restored last week. It had been restricted amid an investigation by Texas's Department of Family and Protective Services.

"Laura is completely free from any supervision by [Child Protective Services] or anyone else with respect to Kristopher," he said.

"She's very relieved that this is all over and she's real positive about getting back with Kristopher at home and going forward. They're going to be, I think, very devoted parents."

Brown described Kristopher Shatto as a "strong-looking, healthy kid who has never been a problem."

The Department of Family and Protective Services said it could not comment on Laura Shatto's access to Kristopher because its investigation has not concluded.
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