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Sunday, July 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Tragic Tale of|a Russian Orphan

DENVER (CN) - A Russian orphan with schizoaffective disorder spent two harrowing weeks on the streets of Denver after a mental health facility let him walk away, the child's adoptive parents claim in court.

John and Rita Meskel sued the Denver Children's Home Inc., in Denver County Court.

The Meskels adopted A.M. from a Russian orphanage in 2001, when he was 5, according to the complaint. Medical exams showed that he had a host of problems, including pervasive developmental disorder, major depression and "significant motor and sensory issues," the Meskels say. By 2010, he had got in trouble with the law and courts, which "opined that A.M. exhibited significant anger, depression, hostility and was an out-of-control child," the complaint states.

A psychiatrist diagnosed him with "schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type; PTSD (early childhood abuse, neglect, and profound deprivation); reactive attachment disorder, childhood onset and secondary to PTSD, and developing conduct disorder," according to the complaint. (Parentheses in complaint.)

The Meskels claim that A.M. had suffered "significant abuse and neglect from A.M.'s biological parents and sexual abuse from older children at the orphanage," before he even got to the United States.

A.M. eventually was placed in the defendant Denver Children's Home, at the recommendation of the Jefferson County Department of Human Services.

The Meskels claim there were many problems at the Children's Home, that the home "performed unauthorized medical procedures on A.M." and "mismanaged A.M.'s medication." It blames it above all for failing "to adequately supervise and contain A.M."

"The Meskels had fully informed DCH about A.M.'s history, including A.M.'s significant run risk, upon A.M.'s arrival," the complaint states.

The Meskels say the Children's Home took A.M.'s shoes away to discourage him from trying to escape.

"On July 1, 2011, A.M. was playing an early basketball game on the outside court at DCH after 'contracting' to get A.M.'s shoes back," the complaint states. "Only one staff member, Matthew Gutzmer, was supervising the basketball game. During the basketball game, A.M. got into a verbal altercation with one of the other players. Mr. Gutzmer asked A.M. to go inside. A.M. did not comply.

"Mr. Gutzmer did not take A.M.'s shoes back, did not request assistance from other DCH staff, did not keep A.M. in his line of sight, and did not do anything to de-escalate the situation. Instead, Mr. Gutzmer directed A.M.'s peers into the DCH facility and followed them into the building, leaving A.M. outside alone, with shoes on, and unsupervised.

"At approximately 6:50 p.m., A.M. moved to the front of the DCH building and sat down. Another DCH staff member, Mr. Jeff Griffin, instructed A.M to come inside or sit on the front porch in camera view. Mr. Griffin saw A.M. move off of the DCH grounds onto the sidewalk close to Colfax, and then saw A.M. talking to another young man the DCH staff recognized as a former DCH resident. Mr. Griffin overheard A.M. speak of running away versus staying at DCH during A.M.'s conversation with that man, and yet did nothing. Mr. Griffin did not talk to A.M. about what A.M. was thinking or feeling, did not try to dissuade A.M. from running, did not try to calm A.M. down and take physical control of A.M., did not take away the shoes that A.M. was not supposed to have once recreation had ended, and did nothing to report the incident to others. Instead, Mr. Griffin went back inside the building at 7:25 and left A.M. alone outside and out of sight of any DCH staff member for thirty minutes. That was the last time A.M. was seen at DCH. No one checked on A.M. again until 7:55. When that belated check finally did occur, A.M. was gone.

"A.M., who had diagnosed schizoaffective disorder, bipolar tendencies, and difficulty with reality, spent the next two weeks alone on East Colfax and the streets of Denver with no money, no support, no supervision and no medications. A.M. slept in alleys. A.M.'s shoes were stolen off A.M.'s feet while A.M. slept. A.M. sold a watch and a coat for food. A.M. quickly lost A.M.'s glasses and was unable to see past A.M.'s fingertips. A.M. was involved in two fights and twisted A.M.'s ankle. A.M had severe tooth pain from the infection arising from the prior root canal.

"Meanwhile, the Meskels were sick with worry. They did not know whether A.M. was alive or dead - by A.M.'s own hand or the hand of others. Once they were notified A.M. was missing, they searched for A.M. on East Colfax near DCH, canvassed stores and public buildings, and distributed flyers with A.M.'s pictures and information, all to no avail. DCH did nothing to assist in the search effort. In fact, Mr. Griffin told the Meskels that DCH did not search for residents unless the staff 'actually see the person run,' despite the fact that A.M. had been able to run because no one from DCH watched or supervised A.M., outside and with shoes on, for half an hour. As a result of their inaction, DCH had no information about A.M. to give to the police. Only when pressed by the Mesksels during an in-person visit the following day did Mr. Griffin mention, for the first time, that A.M. had been talking to a former resident named Tony, who may have come from 5280, a teen center directly across the street, about running. The Meskels called 5280 and no one answered. They visited but it was closed. DCH offered them no assistance in locating or pursuing Tony or any lead with 5280.

"The Denver Police picked up A.M. on July 15, 2011. Because of the failure of DCH to contain and supervise A.M. while A.M. was in their control, A.M.'s probation was revoked, A.M. was adjudicated delinquent, and was sentenced to up to two years in DYC [Department of Youth Corrections]. A.M. remains in DYC's custody today."

The Meskels seek damages for outrageous conduct, gross negligence, negligent supervision, intentional misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation.

They are represented by Valerie Simons with the Education Law Group, of Golden.

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