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Injured boy's mother sues foster parents

“He used to laugh, he used to cry,’’ she says.  Doctors think his brain is permanently damaged.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published September 7, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG — Struggling with cocaine, Niccole  Booze made a deal with the state: She would temporarily give up her three sons to foster care while she rehabilitated.

But in March, she learned that the system that was supposed to safeguard her children had failed terribly.
Her youngest son suffered some sort of injury that caused severe brain damage, leaving him in a persistent vegetative state.

He had entered foster care happy and healthy.

On Thursday, attorney Darryl Rouson’s office filed a lawsuit against the boy’s foster parents and the private agency that contracts to provide child welfare services in Pinellas County. The suit accuses the foster parents of abuse and the Safe Children Coalition of negligence. The suit seeks undisclosed financial damages.

A videotape shown at a news conference at Rouson’s office shows the boy, now 1½ years old, sitting with his mouth open and eyes shut or blankly staring into space.

“He used to laugh, he used to cry, he used to do the things a normal baby would do,” Booze, 28, said Thursday.

“It’s been hard because I expected to get my kids back the way they were.”

The Times is not identifying the boy, known only as L.G. in court records, by his full name because of his age and the nature of the accusations.

Marcus and Tenesia Brown, the foster parents who cared for L.G., have not been charged with any crimes in the case. St. Petersburg police say they investigated the incident and turned their findings over to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office, which is reviewing the matter.

Lee Johnson, the executive vice president for the Sarasota YMCA, which provides child welfare services in Pinellas County as the Safe Children Coalition, said he could not comment on the lawsuit because he had not seen it.

John Trevena, an attorney for the Browns, said they were innocent and would fight the lawsuit. He said Marcus Brown, 44, works as a computer programmer for the city of Pinellas Park and Tenesia Brown, 38, is a certified nursing assistant.

“Marcus and Tenesia Brown have done nothing other than provide a loving and safe environment for the foster children in their care,” Trevena said in a statement.

Trevena said several other adults had contact with L.G. on the March day when he was hurt. Authorities should expand their investigation, he said.

But Rouson said the Browns were delinquent foster parents who couldn’t take care of L.G. They even asked child welfare officials to take the boy from their custody, he said.

“We believe (the abuse) occurred while he was under the care of the foster parents,” Rouson said.

The Browns became licensed foster parents last November, according to the Department of Children and Families.

Their licenses were deactivated just four months later in March, after L.G. was taken to All Children’s Hospital and police began investigating his injuries.

Kris Emden, a DCF licensing manager, said the agency was still investigating the incident and had not yet made a decision on whether to revoke the family’s license permanently. But she said foster families under investigation generally do not have any children in their care.

Booze, the boy’s mother, recently regained custody of her other two sons, ages 3 and 8. They all live at Operation PAR Village.

She said she thinks a lot about L.G., who remains in a nursing home. She said a doctor recently told her that his brain damage was so severe he would probably need extensive medical attention for the rest of his life.

“I want to know some answers,” she said. “Who did this to him?”

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

[Last modified September 7, 2006, 22:04:09]


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