A Linthicum couple filed a $40 million lawsuit against the state yesterday, accusing social workers of misleading them into adopting a child with violent behavioral problems.
John and JoAnne Gregory say they told the Department of Social Services they could not handle a child with special needs and were told by social workers that Rickey Lee Wright, then 3 years old, exhibited only a slight delay in maturation, which could be corrected with glasses.
But, the couple say, the boy started exhibiting anti-social behavior as early as nursery school, when he was restless, immature, aggressive and "began to expose himself to other children." Four years ago, at age 13, the suit says, the boy assaulted and sexually molested a 4-year-old boy. He is now in a Virginia facility for treatment of depression and psychosexual dysfunction.
The suit contends that the agency deliberately withheld documents showing the child's troubled background.
"The Gregorys were not able to make an informed decision" resulting in the adoption, said their attorney, John R. Greiber Jr. "It's incredible that anyone who had these reports could look at these reports and would determine this was a normal child."
Mr. Greiber said the Gregorys, then in their 40s, were told by the agency that the boy's delay in maturation "was due solely to an eye problem" and "was not considered as a disability."
The couple adopted the child in 1980 and renamed him John Richard Gregory. They say problems began soon thereafter. "Over a 10-year period, Rickey's abnormal and violent behavior continued and intensified," the suit says, adding that he abused other children, broke into homes and roamed the neighborhood shouting obscenities.
The suit says it wasn't until 1989 that the Gregorys saw reports -- originally said to have been lost -- that showed the state had known about the child's problems two years before the adoption took place.
According to the suit, the reports say the youth "may have been damaged from birth by his mother's drug use," and that he was born into "a careless, haphazard and filthy lifestyle." The suit also says that the child was unwanted, maltreated and neglected and that the state continues to refuse to turn over medical records.
Mr. Greiber said the Gregorys are in a predicament. "They have formed a bond -- they love this child," he said. "But they should not have gotten into this."