Pair refuses to turn over child to Md.

May 28, 1994|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Sun Staff Writer

An Indianapolis couple yesterday was defying the state of Maryland and the courts of Indiana by refusing to turn over to authorities the 4-year-old Worcester County girl they had hoped to adopt.

Nearly two hours after the 2 p.m. (CST) deadline for the child's transfer, she remained at the couple's home watching cartoons with Beverly Newman, her prospective adoptive mother. Outside, a troop of television cameramen stood ready in case state troopers arrived to enforce the decree of the Marion County Superior Court that the Newmans relinquish Laura.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Newman's husband, Lawrence, was racing around Indianapolis, from the federal courthouse to the Indiana governor's office, in a desperate effort to prevent Maryland from taking Laura.

Even if her husband was unsuccessful, Ms. Newman said, the couple had no intention of turning Laura over to authorities. She said she fully expected uniformed officers to arrive outside her home any moment.

Late yesterday afternoon, Wendy Greenberg, an assistant attorney general in Maryland, said Maryland will take steps to retrieve the child, but she would not be specific.

Mrs. Newman and the child have not left the house since `D Wednesday.

"I don't want them to take her," she said in a telephone interview. "I think these people are fully capable of just grabbing a baby. They are baby-snatchers and we aren't going to give them an easy opportunity to do that."

The Newmans have made nothing easy for the state of Maryland, which first got a court order for Laura's removal from the Newmans' home in March. Since then, the Newmans have appealed the decision through every tier of the Indiana judiciary. They lost at all levels, most recently on Thursday when the Indiana Supreme Court ruled against them.

They nonetheless have gathered supporters along the way, including the DeBoer Committee for Children's Rights (named after the Michigan couple involved in the Baby Jessica adoption controversy last year) and a local congressman, Dan Burton, a Republican, who wrote Thursday to Donna Shalala, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asking for an investigation of the episode.

In court papers, the state of Maryland says that the Newmans proved themselves unfit parents for Laura. The Newmans, however, say that Maryland is trying to cover up the abuse Laura and her twin brothers suffered in a Worcester County foster home.

Laura was born in 1989, about four years after her twin brothers. Her mother was murdered and, when Laura was 3 years old, her father's parental rights were terminated. He is now serving a prison sentence for armed robbery.

In March 1993, the children were placed with the Newmans with the expectation that they would adopt the children after a period of adjustment and assessment. Helen C. Szablya, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources said it was rare for an adoption to be interrupted after such a placement because of the screening that occurs beforehand.

However, after eight months, the Newmans decided they couldn't handle the boys, who were returned to Maryland. Mrs. Newman claimed the boys were aggressive and abusive and engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with each other and with Laura.

Soon after, Maryland officials, in consultation with the Children's Bureau of Indianapolis, an adoption agency, began having severe reservations about the Newmans, owners of a small school in Indianapolis, as parents for Laura.

Citing confidentiality requirements in juvenile cases, Maryland officials refuse to discuss the reasons for their revised opinion. However, court documents in Indiana lay out Maryland's case against the Newmans.

In those papers, Maryland claims that beginning in January, the Newmans refused to allow caseworkers to evaluate how the adoption was proceeding. Officials were also concerned that the Newmans would not make sure that Laura remained in touch with her brothers and her maternal grandmother. On the other hand, the Newmans were interested in establishing contact with Laura's father, which caseworkers thought harmful to the child.

Officials were also disturbed by reports about the Newmans' treatment of the boys while they were in the Newmans' care. They claimed that the Newmans had locked one of the boys out of a hotel room as punishment and withheld food from one of them as punishment for bed-wetting.

Finally, after the conflict began between Maryland and the Newmans, state officials said they were alarmed that the Newmans pushed Laura before the media and made public claims about alleged abuse while the children were in foster care in Maryland. "The Newmans recklessly made public confidential information about the children which is certainly contrary to their best interests," one document says.

The Newmans claim that their disclosures about that abuse are why Maryland is trying to take Laura away. They say that they told Maryland officials about the abuse from the time they took custody of the children and that Maryland refused to investigate. Mrs. Newman says she fears for Laura's safety if she returns to Maryland.

"Larry and I believe God is saving Laura," said Mrs. Newman. "We have felt all along that this situation was given to us to fight for the rights of children and certainly for the rights of Laura. We see this as God's work."

Ms. Greenberg said that the Newmans' allegations about abuse in foster care had been thoroughly investigated and found to be groundless. She did point out, however, that the children had not always lived in foster care.

In any case, Ms. Greenberg said, the Newmans' allegations have nothing to do with Maryland's insistence that Laura be returned. "The decision," she said, "was based solely on the fitness of the Newmans as parents of Laura."

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