The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Joplin Metro

December 1, 2008

Mother of dead foster child loses lawsuit against state

By Jeff Lehr

A federal appeals court on Monday remanded to a lower court a lawsuit filed on behalf of the mother of an 8-year-old boy who was fatally shot three years ago while in foster care in Alba.

The order carried instructions that the Missouri Department of Social Services and two state social workers be removed as co-defendants in the case.

Braxton Wooden Jr. was shot in the head by Mark and Treva Gordon’s 14-year-old biological son on June 2, 2005, during a game of “cops and robbers” with a handgun taken from a bedroom closet of the Gordons’ home.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis decided that because there was no evidence that the social worker and her supervisor had any knowledge of the presence of unsecured firearms in the home, the case did not rise to the standard of “conscience-shocking conduct” required to override a qualified immunity from lawsuits under which the Department of Social Services and state social workers operate.

The court remanded the case to U.S. District Court in Springfield with instructions that a summary judgment be granted the department, state social worker Mickey Morgan and Morgan’s supervisor, John McGinnis. The appeals court decided that the district court erred in denying the defendants qualified immunity from the lawsuit brought by the boy’s biological mother, Brandie McLean.

The Gordons, who also were named as co-defendants in the case, settled with McLean and her attorneys in 2006 for $100,000. McLean received $34,801 of the settlement, and about $23,200 went to a representative of four surviving siblings of the slain boy. The remainder went to McLean’s attorneys.

All five of McLean’s children were removed from her care in September 2004 after her 2-year-old son, Chandler, was spotted on the roof of their Webb City home while she was sleeping. Three of the children, including the eldest, Braxton Wooden Jr., eventually were placed in the Gordons’ care.

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