Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.

Suit over boy's death refiled
State had custody of child, it claims
Ron Martz - Staff
Friday, October 20, 2000

By removing 5-year-old Terrell Peterson from his mother's care and placing him with his grandmother, Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services "had control and custody" of the boy, contends a federal lawsuit refiled Thursday.

Those actions, said lawyer Don Keenan in an interview, "were something a concerned citizen or neighbor could not do and that's take custody of the boy," which made the state responsible for him.

U.S. District Judge Jack Camp had dismissed the suit last month, saying it did not clearly show that the state actually had custody of Terrell at the time of his death. Camp gave Keenan 20 days to amend the suit. Terrell died from abuse in 1998. His grandmother, aunt and the aunt's boyfriend have been charged with murder and are awaiting trial.

Keenan said information in the amended suit, which includes affidavits and supporting documents, "clearly shows the state had custody" of Terrell. The state claimed in its motion to dismiss that it never formally took custody of the youngster and therefore was not responsible for his welfare.

Terrell and his siblings were the subjects of eight reports of neglect or abuse to DFACS over several years. Keenan said copies of case records filed with the amended suit show that on three occasions in 1996, DFACS "had control and custody of Terrell Peterson."

On two occasions they removed him from his mother's care and placed him with his grandmother. The other time DFACS took him from the grandmother and returned the boy to his mother, according to the suit.

Placing Terrell with his grandmother, with whom he was living at the time of his death, constituted kinship care or relative care, Keenan said. And, according to DFACS' own documents, the suit reads, "kinship care is one of the forms of foster care in Georgia."

Renee Huie, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources, which oversees DFACS, said it was "not appropriate to comment on a pending lawsuit."

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