National Roundup

Jury awards $45M to estate of slain boy

CHICAGO (AP) — A Cook County jury has awarded $45 million to the estate of a 2-year-old suburban Chicago boy who was beaten to death in 2011.

The estate of Lavandis Hudson sued Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, alleging the nonprofit should not have given the boy’s mother, Marles Blackman, custody of him. Lavandis was taken into protective custody after his premature birth when cocaine was found in his system.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was first contacted by doctors who delivered Lavandis at MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island. According to the lawsuit, a DCFS investigation determined Blackman had two previous children who had drugs and alcohol in their systems when born, and none of her five children were in her care. Blackman also had an extensive criminal history that included assault and prostitution.

After Lavandis was placed into foster care, Lutheran Social Services began counseling and evaluating his parents. In September 2010, the social service organization recommended Lavandis be placed with his mother. He returned to the home in October 2010.

In June 2011, Lavandis was taken to an emergency room by his mother who said he had fallen two days earlier. The medical staff found evidence of abuse and contacted DCFS, but nothing was done. The boy was dead three weeks later.

His mother was charged with first-degree murder after an autopsy found multiple blunt-force trauma injuries. Court records show the case against Blackman is pending.

In a statement on Tuesday’s verdict to award the estate, Lutheran Social Services said it grieves the death of Lavandis and continues to be vigilant in advocating for and protecting vulnerable children.

The lawsuit contended that while Lutheran Social Services didn’t conduct a child endangerment risk assessment, it had extensive contact with the family and reunited the boy with his mother.

Lavandis’ estate includes his father, Herbert Hudson, and several siblings. Hudson was estranged from the mother. After the boy’s death, he told reporters he begged the DCFS to release his son to him shortly before he was returned to his mother.

“They gave him to the wrong parent,” Hudson, of Blue Island, said at the time. “If they had given me my son, he’d still be alive today.”

The estate’s attorney, Jay P. Deratany, told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin that had Lutheran Social Services done the required risk assessment, it would have seen signs of abuse.

North Carolina
Judge to prisons: Humanism is a faith group

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina prison system must recognize humanism as a faith group and allow its adherents behind bars to meet and study their beliefs, a federal judge has ruled in an order released Thursday.

The American Humanist Association and a North Carolina inmate serving a life sentence for murder sued state Department of Public Safety officials in 2015. They accused prison leaders of violating the religious establishment and equal protection clauses of the Constitution by repeatedly denying recognition the requests of the inmate, Kwame Jamal Teague.

In the order, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle wrote that prison officials failed to justify treating humanism differently from those religions that are recognized behind bars. Boyle also ordered the state to adjust its computer system so prisoners who declare themselves humanists can be registered under that group.

Federal prisons began recognizing humanism as a faith group in 2015 after similar litigation was filed.

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, praised Boyle’s decision.

“Humanist inmates have the same constitutional rights to study and discuss their values in a group as other religious inmates do,” Speckhardt said in a statement.

The association describes humanism as a nontheistic belief system advocating rational thinking and living ethically for the greater good of society.

The judge’s order noted that state prison authorities keep a list of approved faith groups, providing them time and space for study and worship. But Boyle’s order noted that there were no written standards in that department designed to define what comprises a faith group.

A prison department committee that makes decisions on religious practices had previously rejected Teague’s application for several reasons over time, including that humanism appeared to be “a philosophy of life” rather than a religion practice, according to court filings. The judge’s ruling said the committee had determined humanism appeared to lack a religious structure that included a hierarchy of religious leaders. The committee, however, did allow Teague to study humanism on his own and receive pastoral visits.

Boyle, in the order dated Wednesday, said the department had approved other faith groups that lacked a formal structure or centralized head, such as Hinduism, Rastafarianism and American Indian religion.
State officials “have not demonstrated a secular purpose for denying humanism recognition as a religious group or for the decision to prohibit humanist inmates from organizing group meetings,” Boyle wrote.

Pamela Walker, a department spokeswoman, wrote late Thursday in an email that the agency needs to review the ruling before deciding on its next steps, such as a possible appeal.

Teague and the association identified at least eight inmates other than Teague who are humanists and association members, according to Boyle’s order. There are more than 37,000 people in North Carolina state prisons. Teague previously designated himself as Muslim but later changed to Buddhist because it was the only nontheistic option other than “none,” the ruling said.

South Carolina
Teacher of the year charged with assaulting student in class

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — A high school’s 2015 teacher of the year has been charged with assault and battery on a student in his classroom.

Media outlets report 48-year-old science teacher Timothy Beck turned himself in to police in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Thursday.

A police report based on the student’s account says Beck saw him passing a note and told him to stop, then pulled him from his chair and threw him back into it, hitting a wall.

Beck’s attorney, William Monckton, said other students at Myrtle Beach High School contradict the victim’s version. He says police didn’t have all the facts.