Nonprofit to probe adoptive brothers' claims

Date: 2010-04-08
Source: Philly.com

By Jan Hefler

Inquirer Staff Writer

A nonprofit legal organization that protects the rights of the disabled will investigate the care that a state-run group home is providing to Bruce Jackson seven years after he made national news with his story about how he and his three brothers nearly starved to death in an adoptive home in Collingswood.

Joseph Young, executive director of Disability Rights of New Jersey, said Wednesday that the federally funded agency would ask to interview Jackson, now 26, who lives in a group home in Gloucester County for the developmentally disabled.

Jackson's brothers, TreShawn, 20; Terrell, 16; and Michael, 15, who were adopted by James and Amber Parrish, said in Wednesday's Inquirer that they had been cut off from him and that he had told them he missed them. Bruce Jackson was placed in the group home after a court found him incompetent and unable to survive alone after 12 years of neglect.

"Obviously, we will look into it," Young said after learning that Jackson's brothers had complained that they were not permitted to see him or speak to him on the phone.

James Parrish, a Cumberland County youth minister and paid mentor with the state Division of Youth and Family Services, said Jackson told him in a rare phone call last month that he wondered whether his family had forgotten him.

Young said his agency investigates complaints of abuse, neglect, and denial of access to family and friends involving group-home residents.

"We go out and find out whether the person does want contact," he said. "If a guardian is restricting access, we talk to them and negotiate. If that doesn't work, we'll go to court."

Bruce Jackson has been in court before. In 2006, he told a judge in Camden that his adoptive mother, Vanessa Jackson, had fed him and his brothers raw oatmeal and pancake batter, and that he was so hungry he gnawed on the walls. He escaped when a neighbor saw him foraging for food at 3 a.m. in a garbage can and called police. Though he was 19, he was only 4 feet tall, weighed 45 pounds, and had the appearance of a 7-year-old.

Vanessa Jackson's sentencing was the last time the brothers were all together. She received seven years in prison for child endangerment but was released in February after serving four years because of good behavior. Her husband, Raymond, died of a stroke while awaiting trial.

Bruce Jackson reached a $5 million out-of-court settlement with the state because social workers who visited his home ignored his emaciated condition and that of his three brothers.

The state workers were monitoring a foster child that the Jacksons also were raising.

At the time of the settlement, Michael Critchley, Jackson's court-appointed legal adviser, said in published reports that Jackson could use the money to buy a house and hire a staff to care for him. When asked why that had not happened, Critchley said he couldn't comment, citing Jackson's privacy rights. He said he did the work pro bono and did not submit bills, though he was entitled to be paid for his costs.

"I didn't take a nickel," Critchley said.

William Tambussi, a Westmont lawyer who serves as a guardian reviewing Jackson's trust, said A.G. Edwards Trust Co. was managing the fund. The trust is now worth $5.7 million, due to interest payments, he said, noting that he reviews the account without charge.

Tambussi said his job was "to make sure the account is not depleted" and to approve spending requested by Jackson's caretakers.

So far, he recalled approving Jackson's dental implants - all of the young man's teeth were rotted because he never was taken to a dentist - and a video-game system.

Privacy rights, Tambussi said, prevent him from disclosing any other details about how Jackson is doing and from commenting on the concerns raised by Jackson's family.

Jackson's legal guardian, with the state Department of Human Services, makes the day-to-day decisions about his welfare, Tambussi said.

Human Services spokeswoman Pam Ronan said she could not confirm that Jackson had been placed in a group home and could not comment.

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Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com.

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