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Punished After Proven Innocent

May 13, 2014 permalink

In 2007 Olga and Boris Shved were accused of child abuse and their two children were placed in foster care. After seven years of legal struggles, the courts have completely exonerated the parents, based on evidence that the injuries to the younger child were the result of medical conditions, not abuse. The child protectors response? They are keeping the children. When falsely accused of abuse, the easier part is proving innocence to a court. The harder part is getting social workers to respect the decision of the court.



Pasco parents still fighting to get their kids back

Despite being cleared of abuse allegations, a Pasco couple haven’t seen their kids in almost eight years.

PASCO — Olga and Boris Shved never got to walk their kids to class on the first day of school.

They didn’t get to see baby Ella take her first steps or push trucks around the sandbox with her brother, Ryslan. They’ve missed many milestones and special occasions.

For almost eight years, Olga and Boris Shved have missed the joys and challenges of parenting.

There are two bedrooms in their home for their son and daughter, but they’ve been empty since 2006, when Ella and Ryslan were taken.

Olga Shved, now 31, was charged with abusing her baby girl, and Boris, 34, of failing to protect his kids. After years of legal battles — including a prison stint for Olga — the courts recently cleared her of all criminal wrongdoing and reinstated the couple’s parental rights.

Yet on Sunday the Shveds found themselves spending another Mother’s Day alone while their kids, now 8 and 10, live with foster parents in another state.

A Benton County judge is weighing whether the children can be returned.

“We want our kids back so bad,” Olga Shved said.

However, state prosecutors and social workers feel the same as when a judge determined in 2007 that the Shveds were unfit parents and should have no further contact with the children.

Acquitted, but not innocent?

Assistant Attorney General Kevin Hartze has argued that Olga Shved’s acquittal of assault doesn’t mean she is innocent.

At the time, the judge ruled the children were abused or neglected, that Ella had injuries caused by “nonaccidental trauma” when her parents had exclusive control of her and that anger-management issues were involved, Hartze said.

He contends the criminal case is irrelevant to the child-dependency matter, where it is the court’s role to step in and safeguard the kids.

“In essence, what the mother is asking is that we rearrange our system. ... Whatever happened in the criminal case is going to rule, and we’re going to go back and unscrew whatever may or may not have been done,” Hartze said.

He is trying to clear the way for the children to be adopted.

The Shveds know a judge originally ruled they were abusive based on information at the time. They did not participate in parenting services because they refused to admit harming the kids.

But the couple and their attorneys, Linda Lillevik of Seattle and Jim Egan of Kennewick, say the abuse claims are unsubstantiated.

They point to new evidence used in the criminal case showing Ella may have medical conditions from her time in the womb or during childbirth that caused the then-4-month-old’s skull fractures, bleeding in the brain and other injuries.

They are hopeful Court Commissioner Joseph Schneider will reconsider his earlier order, review alleged misconduct by a caseworker and return the kids to their parents.

Doctors: Textbook abuse

Paramedics were called to the Shved home in June 2006. Olga Shved, who went with her daughter to the hospital, told medical staffers she was trying to give the girl “water with an eyedropper when the child appeared to choke and may have stopped breathing.”

Ella, born two months premature, was underweight and had difficulty breast-feeding.

A doctor found numerous scratches on the baby’s body and breaks in her arm, thigh and ribs that were at least 2 weeks old.

Ella also had two subdural hematomas and corresponding skull fractures that were more recent, possibly happening within a day.

Doctors called it textbook child abuse. Olga Shved said the baby slipped from her hands during a bath.

Authorities questioned why she put makeup around the infant’s left eye to cover a bruise. Olga Shved said she was told to buy a certain makeup product because it had medicinal benefits for the skin and didn’t realize at the time that she could get a translucent product.

While prosecutors awaited investigative reports before filing charges, an assistant attorney general moved ahead with the dependency matter and eventual termination of parental rights.

Olga Shved says Ella was taken from her that first day, and 2½-year-old Ryslan several days later.

The children were placed with a foster family, even though Olga Shved said both of their parents and other relatives live nearby.

The Shveds were charged in May 2007 in Franklin County Superior Court: she with first-degree assault of a child, a felony, and he with failing to report an offense against a child, a gross misdemeanor.

His case was dismissed months later. A jury convicted his wife, and she was sentenced in December 2009 to 10 years in prison. The next year, Superior Court Judge Carrie Runge terminated the Shveds’ parental rights.

“Worst time of my life”

Boris Shved described it as “the worst time of my life” — his children were removed from their home, he lost his longtime job as a welder, and his wife was locked up on the other side of the state.

She served two years in the Washington Corrections Center for Women near Gig Harbor. He spent about $1,500 in prison phone calls, in addition to the cost of driving to visit every other weekend.

After the state Court of Appeals reversed her conviction, citing improper jury instructions, her case was returned to Benton County.

At the same time, a panel of judges reviewing their parental-rights case sent that back, as well.

On Feb. 21, Superior Court Judge Vic VanderSchoor found there was insufficient evidence to prove Olga Shved abused her daughter.

The acquittal came after a trial with the judge instead of a jury.

Bone disease, not trauma

Egan said two California doctors refuted the abuse allegations and said Ella’s injuries were the result of bone disease, not trauma.

VanderSchoor ruled an epileptic seizure was responsible, along with diffusely demineralized bones.

The judge also found that medication given to Olga Shved to stop early labor, along with the vacuum-assisted delivery during Ella’s premature birth, could have been responsible for the skull fractures.

Ella reportedly has continued to suffer seizures, and Lillevik and Egan said they have not been able to relay this medical information to the foster-care family to get proper treatment for the girl.

In April, Judge Runge vacated her earlier termination order, giving parental rights back to the Shveds, a move that Lillevik has rarely seen in 27 years practicing law.

Lillevik said it’s frightening that Olga Shved “was convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, and possibly a crime that didn’t even happen.”

Hartze argued that a criminal conviction isn’t needed for a finding of parental unfitness.

“Justice was done, the process was followed and appropriate decisions were made,” he argued.

The lawyers for the Shveds are asking Judge Schneider to throw out his prior findings.

They allege misconduct by the previous assistant attorney general, social worker and guardian appointed in the case.

Egan and Lillevik say it was improper and unethical for the state prosecutor to be in a relationship with the caseworker while they both were handling the Shved matters. The two later married.

The attorneys also gave Schneider paperwork showing the caseworker listed her employment position on Facebook as “professional baby snatcher,” with the description that she is “yelled and screamed at on a daily basis for other people’s problems ... but I do it for the kids and I don’t think I could do anything else.”

The day Olga Shved was sentenced, the caseworker said it’s “freaking time” and replied to a friend that “maybe she’ll fall while in prison and break her ribs, or nose, or arm, or leg or ...”

Lillevik said it’s time for justice and for the Shveds to become a family again.

“On the other part of this tragedy is those foster parents. They love Olga’s children, and I’m sure her children love the foster parents,” Lillevik said.

“At this point it’s just a tragedy all the way around.”

Source: Seattle Times