Trial in child's death may shed light on disorder

Date: 1997-07-17

By Sandy Shore
Associated Press

DENVER — Six months after 2-year-old David bounded into the lives of Renee and David Polreis. the Russian orphan was rushed to a hospital. Bruises and cuts covered his body. he had internal bleeding and his head and neck were swollen.

A day later. alter he died. his adoptive mother was accused of beating him to death with a wooden spoon.

Police said they found two broken wooden spoons wrapped in a blood-soaked diaper.

But in her trial. starting Monday in Greeley. Mrs. Polreis will argue her son died of natural causes. She will contend David's injuries were self-inflicted because he suffered from reactive attachment disorder. a psychological condition that causes emotionally deprived children to lie. destroy property and even harm themselves.

Weld County District Judge Roger Klein has said Mrs. Polreis may cite the disorder to show what may have caused David's bruises and other injuries. but may not say the disorder caused tlle little boy to lull himself. In spite of the judge's ruling. therapists who work with children suffering from the disorder worry that the defense could still. in effect. put the victim on trial.

"That would be my concern about how this gets utilized." said Terri James. director of social work at the Kempe National Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse. "l think the judge has made it clear in that case there is a difference between self-injury and self-destructive behavior."

Mrs. Polreis‘ attorney. Harvey Steinberg. did not return a call for comment. But he has said he does plan to argue that David developed reactive attachment disorder because he was deprived of attention in a Russian orphanage.

No one has said specifically that David was diagnosed with the disorder. but he and his adoptive parents had been in therapy.

The trial could bring new attention to the disorder as Americans increasingly adopt children from foreign countries where understaffed orphanages often provide inadequate care.

Studies show that children don't develop properly if they lack loving. physical contact at an early age.

Reactive attachment disorder ls fairly comm on among adoptees. therapists say. Symptoms include tantrums. anger. a fascination with fire and food hoarding Some say children also may injure themselves.

But several therapists said in interviews they couldn't recall the disorder being cited in a trial before.

With no children of their own. the Polreises. who live in Greeley about 55 miles north of Denver. adopted an American boy named Isaac. in I992. and David. from a Tula. Russia, orphanage. three years later.

While dark-haired Isaac was quiet. the blond. blue-eyed David was vivacious. said Sandy Bright. who owns a day-care center where they stayed briefly.

"David was like the introduction of a little human burst of energy into this quiet home and it was a major transition for everyone in the home to adjust." she said.

Typically. the boys would run to meet their parents at the end of the day. Polreis. a manager at Monfort lnc.. played with them while Mrs. Polreis. an electrologist. chatted with Ms. Bright. whom she has known for years.

Although she never saw signs of abuse in either boy. Ms. Bright said David sometimes would kiss and then slap his dad.

"Isaac clearly demonstrated hesitancy from time to time when David came at him lee fast," said Ms. Bright. who has 28 years of experience in the field. "That was different than what I normally see.“

The Poireises "sought out everyone that was professionally available to help them with this transition and making a positive placement. but something went dramatically wrong." Ms. Bright said.

On Feb. 10. 1996 paramedics dispatched to the Polreis home found David choking on his vomit He later died at Children‘s Hospital in Denver.

His body was cut and bruised, including deep-tissue bruising on the buttoclta. authorities said. His head and neck were swollen. and there was internal bleeding in his testicles. Mrs. Polreis didn't accompany her son to the hospital. reportedly telling police she was "hospital phobic" and had used the time to look for an attorney. Polreis was out of town.

If convicted. the -it-year~old woman faces up to 43 years in prison.

Ms. Bright said Mrs. Polreis has relied on her Christian faith to guide her. “She is convinced the Lord is in control of the proceedings." she said.

Isaac still visits the day-care center occasionally. “I don't see arty visible difference. but then again. little David was only with them for six months." she said.

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