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By Sean Pendergast
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By Richard Connelly
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The girl in the film is pretty and funny. She has long, dark curly hair and a great smile. She giggles and kids around. Her family is with her and it's clear she likes being the center of attention. She's in a white gown in a hospital bed, so we know everything isn't totally great, but still it takes a moment of adjustment, just a pause or two, when this nice little home movie detours into a horror film.
"I was walking slow, and I guess she didn't want me to walk slow She told all the people to go to the room and shut the door. That's when she put my leg behind my head and pushed me down the stairs."
That's what 14-year-old Kristen Turner tells the camera from her room at Texas Children's Hospital. She says an employee at the Child and Adolescent Development Center on Southmore got mad at her for dawdling, pulled one leg up behind her head and then shoved her downstairs. Children's Protective Services, which has had charge of Kristen's care and placements for the past five years, says there is absolutely no proof of that.
Instead they say it was a game of hide-and-seek that got out of hand between Kristen and another girl at the center that led to Kristen's being hurt.
Kristen is believed to be mildly mentally retarded. In her first accounting she talked only of the game gone awry, according to CPS spokesman Geoff Wool. By the time CPS got around to investigating the incident, the employee had been dismissed and was never interviewed. There were no witnesses to corroborate Kristen's story.
Not that it would matter if there had been. Alicia Courtney, a licensing investigator with the Texas Department of Public and Regulatory Services, was responsible for investigating the incident. She testified in a Chambers County court hearing last Friday that she interviewed Kristen but did not go to the child and adolescent center or talk with any of its personnel.
The Houston police department conducted an investigation, which also consisted of interviewing the 14-year-old patient.
However Kristen was injured, the result was the same. According to Kristen's family and friends, the girl lay relatively unattended for days at the center. According to CPS, she was taken to see a doctor at the Medi-Clinic on Hillcroft, a minor emergency clinic, on three separate occasions starting March 18 -- which happens to be her birthday. Doctors there could find nothing wrong. She was officially just fine.
Until April 1, that is. That's when Kristen, who was still in pain, was taken to Texas Children's, where doctors said she had a broken leg and a bone infection that will probably stay with her for life because she wasn't treated with antibiotics earlier.
They put her in a body cast and in traction. Kristen Turner would not leave the hospital for another six months.
Elain Philpott is Kristen's mother. She lives in Liberty and hadn't seen Kristen for about a year and a half before she walked into the hospital room on April 1 to find her daughter immobilized. She has two other children, both boys, one older and one younger than Kristen.
Kristen has always been the one who needed extra help.
From the start, Philpott says, she knew something was wrong. As a baby, Kristen didn't make eye contact, rolled over late, didn't walk. In pre-K, she wouldn't get in the circle with the other kids. For two years, she wrote in mirror images.
The elementary school she went to in Chambers County didn't know what to do with Kristen. She acted out. A doctor told Philpott her daughter needed to be in a closed classroom, one-on-one with a teacher, Philpott says, and that wasn't about to happen at that school. When she went to school she could hear Kristen's teacher whispering to the school nurse. Kristen had to have learned that behavior at home, they said, overlooking her brothers who weren't behavioral problems, Philpott says.
When Kristen was nine years old, CPS took custody.
Philpott, who is not affluent, says she relinquished her rights, figuring the state could get her daughter the help she needed. CPS's Wool says no, it wasn't quite that way.
"In May 1998, we had allegations that [Kristen] had been beaten and abused," Wool says. CPS rejected Philpott's explanation, namely that her three children had suffered bruises and abrasions from sliding down a hill on cardboard.
Wool says CPS presented its case to the judge, who signed an order placing Kristen in the care of the state. "Dad's rights were terminated. Mom has the possessory conservator," says Wool. "We're consulting with her regarding the treatment and whenever there's a change in placement. She has a voice." But CPS makes all the final decisions.
Or as Philpott puts it: "I'm allowed to have an opinion about my daughter, but I'm not allowed to take her to doctors and get second opinions."
With Dad long gone, why can't Philpott have her daughter back? "In the eyes of the court," Wool says, "Mom is a danger as well." Philpott angers at this. "Why -- are they saying I didn't protect them? I did what I was supposed to do. I took their father to court. The state of Texas let him go. If you've got a problem with it, take it up with the state of Texas."
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