The lawyer for the parents of Max Shatto, the Russian adoptee whose death last month in the U.S. state of Texas provoked outrage in Moscow, says bruises found on the child’s body were “self-inflicted.”
“It’s complicated. The child himself was subject to self-inflicted bruising,” criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown told RFE/RL.
“There is a very long story with respect to bruising which does not fit in [the Russians’] little formula. When they go and find the bruising on the child, they immediately say, ‘Well, the parent caused it,’ [but] there’s a lengthy story with respect to the entire Russian adoption process and the child himself.”
Asked if he was suggesting that an emotional disturbance was behind the child’s alleged actions, Brown said, “Yes.” He did not elaborate.
Three-year-old Max Shatto, born Maksim Kuzmin, died on January 21 at a hospital in Odessa, Texas. Local officials said an ambulance had been called to the Shatto home in unincorporated Gardendale earlier in the day after the child allegedly collapsed while unattended outside.
Ector County Chief Medical Examiner Shirley Standefer told RFE/RL that investigators saw bruising over much of the child’s body before it was taken away for an autopsy.
An investigation is underway and no criminal charges have been filed in the case.
The examiner’s office told RFE/RL that a ruling on the manner and cause of the child’s death could come this week.
The case grabbed international headlines earlier this month when Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, claimed that Max had been severely beaten and given heavy psychiatric drugs before he died. Other Russian officials and Russian state media accused Laura Shatto, the child’s adoptive mother, of “murder.”
Russian officials have cited the case as further justification for the country’s recent ban on U.S. adoptions, which was widely seen as a political response to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. The act, signed by U.S. President Barack Obama in December, imposes sanctions on Russian officials said to be guilty of gross human rights abuses.
Attorney Brown, who told RFE/RL he was hired by the Shatto family shortly after the child’s death, said the Russian accusations in the case are unfounded.
“Astakhov has no access to facts. It was an accusation that he just made for political purposes,” he said.
“I’m not expecting that charges will be brought. That doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be, but based upon what I’ve seen [and] based upon my conversations with everybody that I’ve talked to, I’m not. I don’t think [Laura Shatto] had anything to do with [Max Shatto’s] death at all.”
In a February 20 interview with the “Dallas Telegraph,” a Russian-language Texas publication, Sergei Azizov, the vice consul at the Russian Consulate in Houston, said Russian diplomats had visited the Shatto family before Moscow made its public accusations.
The Shatto home in Gardendale, TexasThe Shatto home in Gardendale, Texas
Azizov also said that Texas Child Protective Services were only allowing Laura Shatto to spend two hours per day with her other adopted child, Max Shatto’s two-year-old half-brother, Kristopher.
Russian lawmakers have demanded that Kristopher be returned to his birth country.
Brown confirmed that Russian officials had spoken to Alan Shatto, the boys’ adoptive father. He said, “Nothing that Alan would have told them would have led them to any conclusion like [the one they drew], so they just sort of went on their own.”
He also confirmed Laura Shatto’s limited access to her surviving adopted son. Brown said Kristopher, whose Russian name is Kirill, is in his father’s custody and that both remain in the family’s home. He said Laura Shatto is staying elsewhere.
“[Child Protective Services] will do this for a little while and then, most likely, her access will be increased. Of course, I’m putting pressure on them to let her back in the house, period,” he said.
“That’s just per CPS procedure. There’s nothing to be drawn from that other than a child’s death occurs, she was in the house when the death occurred, and it’s been widely publicized that there was bruising on the child. Therefore they go on their little formula.”
Russia’s state-controlled Channel One claims that Max Shatto is the 20th Russian adoptee to have died in the United States.
U.S. officials point out that more than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by American families in the past 20 years.