MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Teachers of a child with special-needs suspected neglect and came up with an idea to test their theory, according to an attorney representing the deceased boy’s estate.
Tommy James, who amended his civil complaint Tuesday to name three additional defendants, told FOX10 News that the teachers at Augusta Evans Special School were extremely concerned about LeBrawn Rankin.
“Some of the school workers initialed his diapers on Friday, and he’d come back with that same diaper with the initials on it on Monday,” James said. “He was rapidly losing weight.”
The lawsuit accuses Rankin’s mother, the Alabama Department of Human Resources and its commissioner. After receiving documents from DHR, James said, he added three caseworkers assigned to the case.
Citing departmental policy on pending litigation, a spokesman for the agency declined to comment.
Rankin was 8 years old and had cerebral palsy and required intense care. He died in April 2018, weighing just 23 pounds. James said the death certificate lists the causes of death as malnutrition, severe dehydration and neglect.
James said teachers at Augusta Evans noticed the boy was in trouble and tried to get him help. As a testament to their relationship, he added, they paid for his grave marker.
“They loved this child. They knew that something was going on. They were begging DHR for help,” he said. “They literally told DHR, ‘We’re concerned this child is gonna die if he stays at home. They were concerned every time there was a break, every time there was a long weekend.”
James said school employees noticed LeBrawn had unexplained injuries, multiple cases of ringwork and cockroaches coming out of his wheelchair and his clothes.
But James said the agency tasked with investigating complaints related to child welfare failed to act. He said DHR records indicate that DHR made a home inspection at Sandpiper Apartments two weeks before LeBrawn’s death but failed to note conditions documented by Mobile police. Those conditions included a strong smell of odor, feces and filth in the apartment.
“I’ve seen pictures,” James said. “This apartment – there were dirty diapers everywhere. There was trash everywhere. There was urine and feces on the walls – just horrific.”
James said he plans to begin taking testimony from witnesses early next year and hopes to bring the case to trial by the end of next year. But he added that COVID-19 might disrupt that timeline.