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State faces suit in boy's alleged rape

Officials continue to investigate the reported assaults on the severely disabled youth in a juvenile justice facility.

Published October 27, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - The family of a severely disabled teenager allegedly raped while in custody of the state Department of Juvenile Justice announced plans Wednesday to sue the state.

Pearlie Russ, the 71-year-old grandmother of the teenager, and Mattie Russ, his 84-year-old great aunt, appeared at a press conference to question the way state juvenile officers treated Robert, a 300-pound teenager with the mind of an infant, when they allowed another juvenile with a history of sexual abuse to care for him.

Robert allegedly was raped by Lee Donton, 17, after guards assigned Donton to change the disabled teen's diapers while both were being held at the Leon County Regional Detention Center in the spring. Donton was charged after Tallahassee police investigated reports of sexual assaults.

"Shame on the whole state," said Pearlie Russ as she talked about caring for Robert before he was placed in a juvenile detention center in 2004.

Benjamin L. Crump, the Tallahassee lawyer for the family, said he filed a notice with the state of his intent to sue for damages.

Crump said the family has learned what it knows of the alleged assaults from newspapers. He said the family has received no information from state authorities, who he said are trying to cover up the incident and have withheld videotapes that show the area where the two teens were held.

The family lives in Quincy, a town about 30 miles west of Tallahassee. Family members were taking a birthday cake to Robert, who turned 16 Wednesday.

Last week, state legislators angrily denounced Juvenile Justice Secretary Anthony Schembri at a hearing, questioning the absence of a detailed internal investigation.

A day later, one guard at the facility was fired and the superintendent was suspended with pay pending the completion of an internal investigation.

Tom Denham, a spokesman for Schembri, said the agency was asked by police to delay its inquiry until the criminal investigation was complete. A final report is expected in about two weeks, Denham said.

Denham said the agency is cooperating with police and sympathizes with the family but cannot discuss details because Robert is a juvenile and litigation is pending.

Denham also questioned whether any videotapes have been withheld, saying Tallahassee police impounded tapes from the center during their investigation and have not returned them.

The teenager's mother, Nancy Murphy, died of cancer about two years ago, leaving him in the hands of relatives. His great-aunt says she promised his dying mother that she and others would take care of the disabled child.

Crump said the teen was taken into state custody after he knocked his grandmother down and she called 911 for assistance. Frail and aging family members have been trying to place Robert in a state facility since 2000, Crump said.

[Last modified October 27, 2005, 01:27:13]

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