Parents say son’s court-ordered shot violated their rights

awomack@macon.comJanuary 21, 2014 

On a December afternoon in 2012, a 2-year-old Macon County boy burned the tips of his toes and the tops of his feet while playing outside his family’s home near Ideal.

A day later, while being treated at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, doctors recommended that the boy, Flint Cross, get a tetanus shot.

His parents refused, but the boy was eventually given the shot under court order.

That has prompted a federal lawsuit, filed earlier this month against Doctors Hospital and its staff, along with a host of other people, including a Juvenile Court judge. The parents’ suit alleges that their constitutional rights were violated when a court placed the boy in “shelter care,” causing him to receive the shot without their consent.

The boy’s father, Slayden Cross, said he and his wife filed the complaint to try to hold the people involved in the situation accountable -- not just for forcing their son to get the vaccine. The suit did not mention the parents’ religion as playing a role in their lawsuit.

“You can say ‘no’ and that should be respected,” Cross said.

More than a year after his trip to the hospital, young Flint wears hearing aids. His speech is “profoundly delayed,” and he attends speech therapy in Macon weekly, Cross said.

“We don’t know if it’s because of the vaccine or the other shots he received” at the hospital, he said.

Contacted for comment, Doctors Hospital released a statement saying that hospital employees’ actions were “directed by a court order,” and they “acted appropriately in the best interests of the child to provide the best treatment possible. ... We stand by our staff and will defend ourselves vigorously.”

Lisa Rambo, a Juvenile Court judge in the Southwestern Judicial Circuit, said, “My concern is always the safety and well-being of our circuit’s children.”

The judge referred further comment to Sumter County Attorney Bill NeSmith, who said the portion of the case concerning the judge is “without legal merit.”

“She followed the rules right down to the letter,” he said.

Slayden Cross said he was working in a front yard flower bed on Dec. 4, 2012, when Flint and one of his older brothers tried to jump over a depression in the yard -- possibly an old well, where Cross had been stashing leaves and grass clippings.

The debris in the hole had been burned about a day and a half earlier. Hot coals were still underneath the surface, Cross said.

When Flint’s older brother jumped, he cleared the hole. Flint didn’t make it all the way and slipped in.

His parents washed his burned feet, applied honey to the wounds, wrapped his feet and drove to Coliseum Medical Centers in Macon. Doctors there transferred the boy to Doctors Hospital via ambulance.

In their lawsuit, the parents allege that the following events happened after they arrived at Doctors Hospital on Dec. 5, 2012:

A doctor said Flint should receive a tetanus vaccine before surgery, during which his wounds would be cleaned and skin grafts would be applied.

The Crosses refused the vaccine, saying they saw it as a preventative shot, not an “emergency medical intervention.” They say they never received information, positive or negative, about the vaccine.

The parents said a doctor delayed the surgery because they would not consent to the shot.

That night, armed guards entered the boy’s hospital room and said Flint would receive the vaccine as part of a court order. After being taken into another room, Flint was given a tetanus shot and another shot.

Guards were posted near Flint’s room and the exits for the rest of the night and the following day.

On Dec. 6, social workers took Flint. He was returned to his grandparents the following day, and the court allowed him to go home with his parents on Dec. 10.

The Crosses are seeking a declaration from a judge that their constitutional rights were violated; an award for general, special and punitive damages; and reimbursement of court costs.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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