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Department of Human Resources hit with lawsuit over death of special-needs 8-year-old

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    Mobile (WALA) — The mother of a special-needs child who died with no adult supervision and the Department of Human Resources face a wrongful-death lawsuit.

The suit, filed Tuesday in Mobile County Circuit Court, accuses the state agency of negligence. The complaint focuses on the April 2018 death of LeBrawn Rankin, who had cerebral palsy.

The suit alleges that the Department of Human Resources and multiple employees ignored numerous complaints of abuse and neglect. Officials at his school, the Augusta Evans School, reported suspicions based on dehydration, bedsores, poor hygiene and unchanged diapers, according to the allegations.

“DHR knew a lot. There were other people that had complained, too,” said Tommy James, an attorney for the plaintiff. “But we’re not going to get into that yet. But they were on notice that this child was being abused, and they left him with his mother in this apartment.”

The mother, Zedria Rankin, who could not be reached for comment.

Barry Spear, a spokesman for DHR, cited the agency’s policy on lawsuits in not responding.

“We don’t ever comment on active litigation,” he said.

Technically, the plaintiff is a lawyer appointed by Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis to oversee the child’s estate. James said he became aware of the case from the boy’s father, who could not be the administrator since he lives out of state.

Mobile police launched an investigation after the boy was found unresponsive at Sandpiper Apartments in west Mobile on April 6, 2018. The Department of Human Resources removed four other children from the apartment; the children’s mother was not present.

Mobile police in August 2018 declared the child’s death a homicide but then retracted it 45 minutes later, calling the initial news release an “error.” Police later said they had closed the case and ruled the child’s death as due to natural causes.

However, the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office subsequently informed the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences that the case was under criminal investigation.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday indicated that LeBrawn’s May 25, 2018, death certificate lists his death as due to natural causes and “complications of cerebral palsy.” More than a year later, on June 5, 2019, authorities reclassified the death as “undetermined’ with the immediate cause of death as “cerebral palsy with malnutrition and dehydration,” according to the civil complaint.

“It’s incomprehensible that he was left in that home,” James said.

The attorney said the agency needs to “tighten up” its policies and procedure.

“The reason we filed this case is because we don’t want it to happen to anyone else again,” he said. “DHR, they need to follow their own policies and procedures. They’re not doing that. They’re violating them. … It’s happening way too often.”

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