05/28/2024

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Lorina Bourne, on the left; and Jason Troy, on the right, with their two children in a local news screenshot

Parents falsely accused of child abuse over misdiagnosis file lawsuit against hospital, doctor, and child welfare agents after having children taken away for months

Lorina Bourne and Jason Troy hold onto their sons in an undated picture. (Lorina Bourne via KXAN)

A child welfare investigation was blinkered from the start and sloppy as it progressed — but the adults caught in the bureaucratic nightmare were ultimately cleared of all wrongdoing. Now, those Texas parents who lost custody of their two children for five months over a hospital’s alleged misdiagnosis are fighting back against state agents and medical professionals in a 14-count federal lawsuit.

Lorina Bourne and Jason Troy, on behalf of themselves and their minor children, accused several members of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) of myriad Fourth Amendment and other constitutional violations. The parents are also suing a child abuse doctor and the hospital where she worked for alleged negligence related to inaccurate and incomplete medical charts.

“The action arises out of an arbitrary investigation of child abuse, the unreasonable search and seizure of JT and KT, and the unlawful removal and continued withholding of JT and KT from their parents long after any probable cause for their removal dissipated,” the original petition filed in late April reads. “Jason and Lorina are loving parents, who never abused or neglected JT or KT.”

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    On New Year’s Eve in 2014, JT was born with a head circumference in the 95th percentile. At a two-week exam, his head circumference was the same as at birth and he was dropped down to the 65th percentile. Then, the next time his head was measured by his pediatrician in May 2015, the swelling had returned and he was in the 99th percentile.

    The boy has since been diagnosed with benign external hydrocephalus — a condition where fluid collects between the brain and inner skull. The cause of the condition is unknown but is believed to arise from birth complications, the lawsuits states.

    “JT had a complicated birth,” the lawsuit reads. “JT’s birth records include documentation that he was born with a collection of blood between his scalp and skull. That physical finding was due to birth related trauma.”

    Less than a week after his third head measurement, Bourne and Troy took JT to Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin. There, according to the filing, Bourne was “confronted” by DPFS agent James Guyton, who introduced himself as a caseworker and allegedly said the couple “must cooperate” with an investigation into their son’s “head injury.”

    A doctor who worked at the hospital — and who has a contractual relationship with the state of Texas — had apparently determined JT was a victim of shaken baby syndrome. The family says they did not know the doctor in question was “embedded” at the hospital to act as an agent for the state.

    “Mr. Guyton told Lorina and Jason that they must sign a safety plan,” the filing goes on. “Mr. Guyton told Lorina and Jason that if they did not sign the safety plan, then Mr. Guyton and his supervisor, Roger Robinson, would immediately remove their children. Based on Guyton’s statements and under duress, Lorina and Jason signed the safety plan to avoid the removal of their children.”

    Despite the questioning of JT’s older brother turning up no evidence of the parents ever shaking their children, DFPS allegedly insisted on the safety plan.

    Under the terms of that 30-day plan, the father of two was forced to move out of the family’s home by the state. Additionally, the mother had to be supervised by another adult at all times when she was with her children. Bourne and Troy went through those motions, the lawsuit says, and “complied with the safety plan.”

    When the state’s authority lapsed in mid-June 2015, and having received no word from the state about any alleged violation or a continuance of the plan, the family “believed their unfortunate run in with DFPS had come to an end,” according to the lawsuit.

    It had not.

    Through counsel, however, “and out of an abundance of caution,” the parents notified DFPS that they were taking the kids out of state to visit family in Oklahoma, the lawsuit says. Then, in July 2015, two DFPS agents attempted to conduct a surprise visit at the family’s home in Elgin, a small suburb some 25 miles east of Austin.

    According to the lawsuit, those two agents “did not accept” that the family had gone on vacation or that JT was healthy after a recent checkup at a hospital in Oklahoma, as Bourne told them over the phone.

    In turn, the DFPS sought to have Oklahoma University Hospital take protective custody of the boy — but the hospital refused.

    Next, Texas DFPS convinced Sooner State child welfare authorities to conduct their own investigation — which they did. This secondary investigation resulted in a literal clean bill of health for JT and a figurative clean bill of health for his parents — finding abuse allegations “unsubstantiated,” the lawsuit says.

    Still, Texas DFPS continued to investigate.

    Two Lone Star State child welfare agents, identified in the lawsuit as Bridgette Hughes and Jennifer Evans, went on to obtain a court order that authorized the removal of JT and his older brother from their parents’ custody, according to the lawsuit.

    “Ms. Evans and Ms. Hughes crossed state lines into Oklahoma,” the filing reads. “They showed up where Lorina was visiting with family in Oklahoma, and Ms. Evans and Ms. Hughes took the children from their parents and loving family. Prior to the removal of JT and KT, Lorina made JT’s medical records available to Ms. Evans and Ms. Hughes.”

    The parents subsequently lost their children to a series of foster homes from July 20, 2015, through Dec. 21, 2015, the lawsuit explains.

    To make matters worse, the filing alleges, two other DFPS agents repeatedly ignored the parents when they provided the state with familial alternatives to foster care — despite the Lone Star State’s statutory presumption of keeping children with family if possible.

    After being forced to sell their house to deal with mounting legal costs, a Travis County court ruled in the family’s favor and returned custody to the parents.

    The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, litigation expenses, interest, and a declaratory judgment forcing the hospital to correct JT’s medical charts and remove all references to “neglect” and “abuse.”

    Law&Crime reached out to Ascension, the Catholic health system that runs Dell Children’s Medical Center, but no response was immediately forthcoming at the time of publication.

    A spokesperson for the Austin branch of DFPS said the agency has “no comment on the pending litigation.”

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    The post Parents falsely accused of child abuse over misdiagnosis file lawsuit against hospital, doctor, and child welfare agents after having children taken away for months first appeared on Law & Crime.