State settles case of boy abused in foster care

December 18, 2007|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

The Maryland Department of Human Resources has agreed to pay out $1.5 million to care for a Baltimore boy who suffered irreversible brain damage after he was abused by another child in the foster home where he was placed by the city Department of Social Services.

The boy, Brandon Williams, who is now 5 years old and still unable to speak or walk, will receive an annuity of $80,000 a year for life to pay for his medical care, according to attorneys. The state has also agreed to pay the family $580,000 and guarantee that the boy will receive Medicaid assistance even though the annuity would have rendered him financially ineligible.

"It is a remarkable indictment of the foster care system," said Joseph B. Espo, an attorney who represented the boy and his mother, Martina Ford, also of Baltimore. "Brandon was in the hospital for more than a year after he was injured."

Part of the money that the state will pay the family will be used to purchase a house with easy emergency-vehicle access and to buy a van to take Brandon, who uses a wheelchair, to his medical and therapy appointments, said Philip Lohrey, an assistant attorney general assigned to the Department of Human Resources. Lohrey said the settlement represented a good outcome for both sides.

"We believe that we were able to balance Brandon's needs without unduly burdening the state treasury and the taxpayer," he said.

Lawyers for Ford and her son initially sought $34 million in damages and other penalties from the state.

A spokesman for the DHR said the state agency wanted to make sure the boy was well cared for.

The $1.5 million figure includes the $580,000 cash payout as well as the insurance annuity, which was purchased by the state from an insurance company, said Espo. The annuity, which cost the state roughly $900,000 but guarantees the child an annual payment from the insurance company for the rest of his life, also includes a 4 percent annual increase to account for inflation.

Brandon's mother, who received a separate, undisclosed payout through an insurer for the Social Services Department, said the settlement has ended the "roller coaster ride" that has been her life since her son's injury.

Ford, 32, lost custody of her four children for a period starting in 2004 when she was hospitalized for sickle cell anemia. Brandon and his sister Naya were sent to live with a foster family in Randallstown.

The foster mother, Chloe Ann Jones, left Brandon and his sister in the care of her adopted teenage daughter, a former foster child, who abused the younger children, according to records reviewed by Espo. The teenager, whose name has not been released, was charged as a juvenile in the case. She is accused of tossing the boy into the air and failing to catch him as he fell. His head slammed into a set of concrete steps.

When Jones, the foster mother, returned home, the teenager told her that the boy was sleeping, according to court documents. Jones did not check on the toddler until another child told her he would not wake up.

Jones took Brandon to Northwest Hospital Center, where doctors examined him and discovered multiple fractures to his skull.

They also found an earlier fracture of his right wrist that had not been treated, according to court documents.

A social services caseworker who went to the hospital to check on Brandon told Ford that he had fallen and that it was "just an accident," court records state.

Because of the severity of his injuries, Brandon was moved to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he stayed for about two months. It was Hopkins officials who suspected child abuse.

"I'm happy that it is finally over," said Ford. "I am glad that Brandon is going to get everything that he deserves and that he needs for the rest of his life."

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