ODESSA, Texas (AP) — The death of a 3-year-old Russian boy adopted by a West Texas couple has been ruled an accident, but an investigation is ongoing, officials said Friday.
The county's medical examiner determined Max Shatto's death Jan. 21 was not intentional, Ector County Sheriff Mark Donaldson and District Attorney Bobby Bland said.
Preliminary autopsy results had indicated Max had bruises on several parts of his body, and Bland said Friday that the bruises appeared to be self-inflicted. He also said no drugs were found in Max's system.
"I had four doctors agree that this is the result of an accident," he said. "We have to take that as fact."
Alan and Laura Shatto adopted Max, born Maxim Kuzmin, and his half brother, 2-year-old Kristopher, from an orphanage in western Russia this past fall. Laura Shatto told authorities she found Max unresponsive outside their Gardendale, Texas, home while he was playing with his younger brother. The boy was pronounced dead a short time later.
The Shatto's attorney, Michael J. Brown, said he agreed "with the conclusion that it was an accidental death and I've been saying it all along."
"This is not a surprise to me at all," he said.
The investigation into the boy's death continues, Bland said. Once investigators complete their work, Bland will meet with them and decide whether to pursue charges such as negligent supervision or injury to a child by omission.
Russian authorities and state-run media have blamed the Shattos for Max's death and used the case as justification for a recently enacted ban on all American adoptions of Russian children. Russia's Investigative Committee has said it has opened its own investigation. It's unclear whether the committee could charge the Shatto family or force their prosecution.
Alexander K. Zakharov, the Russian consul general in Houston, said he wanted to see an official report from authorities before commenting on Friday's announcement.
U.S. State Department officials and adoption agency advocates have called for caution.
The Russian government passed the ban in December in retaliation for a new U.S. law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators. The ban also reflects lingering resentment over the perceived mistreatment of some of the 60,000 children Americans have adopted during the last two decades. At least 20 of those children have died, and reports of abuse have garnered attention in Russia.
Chuck Johnson, CEO of the Virginia-based National Council for Adoption, said an agreement ratified last year would have prevented the conditions that led to many deaths and abuse cases. One change in particular would have required all adoptions to go through agencies licensed in Russia.
"The deaths were terribly tragic, horrible," Johnson said in a Feb. 19 interview. "But the frustrating thing has been that those cases have become the face of inter-country adoption, and they shouldn't be."
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said Friday it found no violations at the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, the agency that processed the Shattos' adoption. The state's Child Protective Services division is proceeding with a separate investigation into allegations that Max was subject to physical abuse and neglect, but has not determined whether those allegations are true.
Russian state media have featured the boys' biological mother, Yulia Kuzmina, who lost custody over negligence and serious drinking problems. In a tightly choreographed Feb. 21 interview on state television, Kuzmina insisted Russian custody officials seized her children unfairly and said she wanted to be reunited with her other son, born Kirill Kuzmin. She said she had given up drinking, found a job and pledged to fight to get the boy back.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has said it is necessary "to temper emotions" over the case, and U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has called for "sensational exploitations of human tragedy to end and for professional work between our two countries to grow, on this issue and many others."
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Dallas contributed to this report.