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Medical Examiner Clears Sheriff

July 18, 2009 permalink

Eight-year-old David Alex Cotten died May 25 by hanging. He was at the time in the custody of foster father Kam Sandstrom, a reserve deputy with the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department in Tennessee. Below are three articles, the first from the press just after the death, the second a statement by the boy's father, and the third an unbelievable news report of the state medical examiner clearing the foster family of responsibility. According to the father, he asked for temporary help from DCS, but they would not give the children back. After he realized he could not get his kids, he cooperated with termination of his rights on the promise that his children would go to his parents, but DCS reneged on that promise. The family does not trust the Sheriff to fairly look in to the case because the foster father is a member of the department. The reporter shows only the foster family's side of the story, never quoting the real family. The father's story shows clearly that the family did not, as suggested in the press, abandon the children.



Boy, 8, found hanging from tree in Rutherford Co.

Posted: May 27, 2009 8:21 PM GST

David Alex Cotton death scene
David Alex Cotton death scene

RUTHERFORD CO., Tenn. - The strangulation death of an eight-year-old foster child in Rutherford County is being investigated by local and state officials.

Alex "Charlie" Cotton was found hanging from a tree with bailing wire around his neck Monday.

His foster father, Kam Sandstrom, who is a reserve deputy with the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department, told investigators he had been fishing with him and his two other foster children that day.

He said Charlie was sent to a nearby barn as punishment for being hyperactive.

According to the police report, Sandstrom said he checked on Charlie about 15 minutes later, and the boy yelled from the barn that he was okay.

He sent the other boys to look for him a short time later and they could not find him.

The boy was finally found, hanging from a nearby tree.

He was pronounced dead a short time later.

The state medical examiner found the cause of death to be "ligature strangulation."

Questions still remain about the manner of the boy's death.

Investigators do not know whether it was suicide or foul play.

When asked if an eight-year-old child could commit suicide, Dr. Bruce Levy told News 2, "I am not a child psychiatrist. It is my understanding that a child of only eight years of age may not be capable of forming the intent, having the understanding of life and death to commit suicide."

Levy said the investigation into the boy's death will look at autopsy findings, the initial report investigation from the scene Monday and his family history.

The brothers of the boy have been taken out of the foster care of Sandstrom, which is standard procedure in such situations.

Levy said the investigation could be complete by the end of the week.

Source: WKRN

Dear Robert, I wanted to try and give you a brief rundown on some of the things that have taken place over the last few years in the custody war for my children. I guess maybe about six years ago my wife and I separated and I was left with my three children in fear of losing my job because I had no assistance from anyone. I asked DCS for temporary help and after a few weeks would be able to get them back, not knowing any laws or how DCS worked. I quickly learned that they would not be giving them back to me so easily. They put me through a series of tasks to get them back and after many months of completing all their tasks, a month or so before I got my boys back I allowed their mother to come back into the picture and with only a few days left she walked out again after we were to get them back. DCS decided that I couldn't raise my children on my own so they decided not to allow me to have them. This is pretty much how it all started in the first year and there have been many times in court, and many years of ether myself or my parents trying to get them in their full custody and I fully supported them in doing so because I knew that they would not give them to me and when we went back to court to try and get them placed with my parents. The judge put my parents on a foster parent path, he wanted them to complete a long list of thing including path classes. He also said his intentions were to reunite the boys with there bio family, so after they did all this spent thousands of dollars of their own money they they did not have, we went back to court in hopes that this would end the current foster parents reign and stop DCS, and did it take an insane turn for the worse, when the judge started saying what seemed like he was going to give my parents custody he was silenced by the DCS attorney [Chris Carlton] he was told that he no longer had jurisdiction in this case and could not comment about it, meaning that I guess the day before court the foster family filed for an adoption in another county, also because I was willing to give up my rights to pave the way for my parents, my rights were taken against my will and because I no longer had rights my parents did not either. This was in April 2006. Also after my rights were taken my attorney weirdly decided he could no longer represent me, so me and my grandmother without representation went to appeal the termination of my rights and of course without the money or representation to do so my appeal time expired. Since the my ex-wife came back into the picture and has tried with the help of my parents and failed a few times to get them they removed her right and she appealed. Thats sorta where we are at now. My parents have also contacted the local media for help and they have only distorted the facts to were it seemed to be not in our favor and also my son Alex also was killed he was found hanging by bailing twine in a tree, the examiner of the autopsy said he died from ligature strangulation which is not cause by hanging but is most commonly referred to as being a cause of death in children, women and the elderly in homicide cases where people strangled them with a wire and the examiner also said on TV that he did not believe Alex was capable of doing this to himself. We cannot get any answers. There was never an obituary and no one will tell us anything. They would not even let my family come to the funeral. We desperately need help and will be most grateful for anything you can do to help us get Bryan and Joseph back to this family and help us in getting answers about Alex so that he can be laid to rest. David Cotten

Source: email from David Cotten, July 14, 2009

Child's Strangulation Death Ruled Accidental

8-Year-Old Boy May Have Been Swinging With Rope Got Tied Around Neck

Reported by Jeremy Finley, POSTED: 4:59 pm CDT July 17, 2009, UPDATED: 7:01 pm CDT July 17, 2009

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- New details may lift a shadow of doubt that has been hanging over a foster family in Rutherford County.

A child in the custody of a foster family died from a hanging in late May, but the medical investigation came to the conclusion that the death was a tragic accident.

The state's chief medical examiner, Dr. Bruce Levy, told the Channel 4 I-Team that 8-year-old Alex Cotten's death in late May was a "tragic, accidental death."

Cotten and his brothers went to live with his foster family, the Sandstroms, after investigators found their biological parents were not providing the children with enough food.

Alex's father gave up his parental rights, and his mother later lost hers the week before the child died.

Just before his body was found, Alex had been reprimanded by his foster father, leading to the question of if the boy had taken his own life.

The medical examiner says no.

"We literally believe he was just playing with a rope like kids might do and just got caught in this tragic situation," said Levy.

Levy asked Rutherford County investigators to go back to the scene. While they were there, they discovered the twine rope had knots in it and was tied to the tree with piece of wood, like a makeshift swing. But there were no knots to indicate a noose.

"We believe while he was swinging that the rope tangled around his neck. It's just tragic," said Levy.

Levy believes the foster family is in no way to blame for the boy's death.

"I think understanding that this is a tragic accident is important. In my experience, I'm not sure that these people will feel better because of it because it's a tragic loss either way," said Levy.

The Sandstrom family didn't want to comment but said they were in the process of adopting Alex and his brothers when the incident happened.

A Rutherford County Sheriff's Department representative said this case isn't yet closed.

Source: WSMV Nashville