Gregory David Bryant-Bruce Jr. was born June 10, 1993, at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. Eight-and-a-half weeks pre-mature, he weighed only 2 pounds, 6 ounces at birth. At the time, his father, Gregory David Bryant-Bruce Sr., was a helicopter pilot in the Army, and his mother, Cheryl Bryant-Bruce, an emergency room physician in the Army, was completing her certification in family practice.
The Bryant-Bruces were already the parents of two adopted children, but Baby Gregory was their first natural-born child. As is often the case with children born so prematurely, Baby Gregory had health problems, almost from the beginning. On July 17, just six weeks after his birth, he was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). His parents suspected that his liver was not functioning properly. After examining Baby Gregory, Vanderbilt doctors diagnosed nutritional problems and “sunken eyes.” They also diagnosed a “paucity” of bile ducts.
Vanderbilt physicians began giving Baby Gregory Vitamin D and Vitamin K. They also insisted that Cheryl Bryant-Bruce stop breast-feeding. Baby Gregory stayed at Vanderbilt University Medical Center until Aug. 4, but he was back on Sept. 11, this time because of a “bleeding disorder.” On Oct. 23 he returned to Vanderbilt because of a respiratory problem. Three days later he was back for a Vitamin K deficiency. On Dec. 7, Vanderbilt doctors treated Baby Gregory for “severe anemia,” “intracranial hemorrhaging,” and “retinal hemorrhaging.”
Over the course of Baby Gregory’s numerous visits to VUMC, relations between the Bryant-Bruces and Vanderbilt became more and more strained. As early as September 1993, Cheryl Bryant-Bruce complained to medical center doctors about Baby Gregory’s care; she alleged that, when she arrived for one visit, she had found the infant lying in his own vomit and feces. What’s more, the Bryant-Bruces had suggested to the Vanderbilt doctors that Baby Gregory might be suffering from Allagile’s Disease, a genetic disorder linked to intracranial and retinal bleeding. The Bryant-Bruces were concerned that the doctors were ignoring their suggestions and instead were pursuing other diagnoses.
The Vanderbilt doctors, meanwhile, were concerned that Baby Gregory’s problems might be, at least in part, the result of parental neglect. In an affidavit that was later filed in federal court, Dr. Niki Oquist, the physician who eventually took charge of Baby Gregory’s care at Vanderbilt, has said that the child seemed to be suffering from “medical neglect” and “failure to thrive.” Doctors had suspicions that Baby Gregory’s mother was not giving him his Vitamin K, which was prescribed to help his blood clot.
As early as September, when Baby Gregory was admitted to the medical center for treatment of a “bleeding disorder,” doctors in Vanderbilt’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit began to suspect child abuse. According to Oquist’s written statement, the suspicions were so great that he contacted the state Department of Human Services (DHS). In December, Oquist formally diagnosed that Baby Gregory suffered from the condition known as “Shaken Infant Syndrome.”
DHS began interviewing Gregory and Cheryl Bryant-Bruce. During those interviews, the Bryant-Bruces asked DHS to consider other possible causes for Baby Gregory’s condition; they even provided written information about Allagile’s Disease. All those requests, the couple later said, were either “ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed.”
Two days before Christmas 1993, DHS filed a petition of child abuse, and the state took custody of Baby Gregory. In March 1994 the Montgomery County Juvenile Court in Clarksville, where the Bryant-Bruces were then living, ruled that there was evidence that Baby Gregory had been abused. The Bryant-Bruces appealed the case to the circuit court. The abuse charges were upheld in August 1994.
All the while, Baby Gregory was living with a Nashville family selected by Catholic Social Services, an agency that often contracts with the state to arrange foster homes for children who are in DHS custody. The Bryant-Bruces were granted only supervised visitation rights, but the child’s physical condition did not improveBaby Gregory was in the hospital no fewer than 36 times during his 13-month stay in the foster home.
In the meantime, in June 1994, the Bryant-Bruces had moved to Atlanta, where they hoped to have Baby Gregory examined by doctors at the Emory Egleston Hospital Pediatric Care Foundation. Tennessee’s Department of Human Services, however, denied the couple’s request to have the child examined in Atlanta.
Emory officials requested that Vanderbilt provide copies of Baby Gregory’s medical records. The Bryant-Bruces allege that, after several requests, Vanderbilt sent “incomplete” records.
It’s hard to say whether what happened next was the desperate act of a heroic mother or a display of sheer stupidity. One thing is certain: Cheryl Bryant-Bruce’s actions on Feb. 9, 1995, launched a court case that would ultimately involve Johnnie Cochran, the attorney made famous by the O.J. Simpson trial, and would turn into a public-relations nightmare for Vanderbilt as the university was forced to defend itself against charges of racial discrimination.
On Feb. 9, 1995, Cheryl Bryant-Bruce drove to Baby Gregory’s foster home for what was supposed to be a routine supervised visit. Instead, however, Bryant-Bruce picked up the child, walked to her car, and, with no one stopping her, took off down Interstate-24 South. Some five hours later, she arrived in Atlanta, where she drove to Emory Egleston Hospital. There, Cheryl Bryant-Bruce was arrested by Georgia authorities, who had a warrant issued by the state of Tennessee, citing her for custodial interference, interstate flight, and for being a fugitive from justice. She was jailed for 30 hours before she was released on bail. Nevertheless, Cheryl Bryant-Bruce got what she wanted: Doctors at Emory performed a medical evaluation of Baby Gregory.
Tennessee’s DHS had objected to Emory performing the evaluation, but in an emergency hearing an Atlanta judge decided that there was indeed a “threat of mismanagement and mistreatment” by DHS and allowed the evaluation to proceed. The results of the tests were what the Bryant-Bruces had hoped they would be. According to the diagnosis of two Emory doctorsBenjamin Gold and James A. BarfieldBaby Gregory was suffering from Allagile’s Disease, just as the Bryant-Bruces had originally suggested. The doctors did not diagnose Shaken Infant Syndrome.
During their earliest evaluations of Baby Gregory, Vanderbilt doctors had also conducted tests for Allagile’s, but they had been unable to locate the defective gene that might have caused the disease. Vanderbilt’s tests were “inconclusive,” according to information later supplied by VUMC’s Oquist. The Emory doctors, for their part, would describe Oquist’s diagnosis of Shaken Infant Syndrome as “unreasonable.”
Upon the strength of Gold and Barfield’s evaluation, the Bryant-Bruces obtained a new custody trial in Montgomery County. On June 12, 1995, the judge reversed his prior ruling and returned the child to his parents. At the same time, the judge ruled that DHS had acted “responsibly” in removing Baby Gregory from his parents’ custody.
That’s where matters rested until early this year, when the Bryant-Bruces filed a suit against VUMC, asking for $25 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.
The Bryant-Bruces’ case is now being considered in U.S. District Court for Middle Tennessee, Judge Robert Echols presiding. A Bush appointee to the federal bench, Echols has a reputation as a slow, though meticulous, jurist. In the Bryant-Bruces’ case, he must consider a stack of documents four feet high.
Gregory Bryant-Bruce versus Vanderbilt University, et. al. alleges that, as a result of certain actions taken by Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 1993, 1994, and 1995, the Bryant-Bruces suffered a gross violation of their civil rights. The suit also levels numerous other charges against Vanderbilt, including malpractice, malicious prosecution, abuse of legal process, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy, defamation of character, and outrageous conduct. Also listed as defendants in the suit are the Tennessee Department of Human Services and Catholic Social Services. Specifically mentioned are Nancy Salyer, who placed Baby Gregory in his foster home, and 11 VUMC doctors.
The Bryant-Bruces’ legal team includes Nashville attorneys Bill and Russ Willis, Atlanta attorney John Mayoue, and California attorney Bryan Dunn, but its star player, inevitably, is another California lawyer, Johnnie L. Cochran.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt’s defense team is headed by Lee Barfield of the distinguished firm of Bass, Berry & Sims. DHS and Catholic Social Services have their own attorneys as well.
On March 28, with Cochran on hand to protest the action, Echols heard Vanderbilt’s motion that the Bryant-Bruces’ case should be dismissed.
At the hearing, Lee Barfield, representing Vanderbilt, asked that the Bryant-Bruces’ case be thrown out without going to trial. Barfield’s arguments were based on a 1972 state law governing child abuse. That law requires physicians who suspect child abuse to report their findings to authorities. If the physicians do not report their suspicions, they can be prosecuted. If they do report their diagnosis, and if it turns out that that diagnosis is incorrect, doctors are granted immunity from prosecution. “Any person reporting harm shall be presumed to be acting in good faith,” the law states, “and shall thereby be immune from any liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed from such action.”
Vanderbilt argues that it should be held harmless in the Bryant-Bruce affair, and the medical center has solid support from the medical community. Dr. Russell Chesney, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Medical School in Memphis, says that any ruling against Vanderbilt would have “a chilling effect” and would keep doctors from reporting their suspicions of child abuse. The Tennessee Division of the American Association of Pediatrics has filed a brief stating that it supports Vanderbilt’s motion to dismiss the case.
Barfield, as Vanderbilt’s lead attorney in the case, argues that the medical center had plenty of reasons to suspect Shaken Infant Syndrome. He points out that Baby Gregory “suffered a bleeding in his eyes 30 days before he came to Vanderbilt,” that “he suffered a separate bleeding incident shortly before admission,” and that “he also suffered bleeding in the brain.” Because “when you have retinal hemorrhaging the presumption is Shaken Infant Syndrome,” Barfield argues, “Vanderbilt was required to make this report and ought to be immune.”
The Bryant-Bruces have a different version of the story. They insist that VUMC doctors were hostile toward them from the beginning. Vanderbilt, Cochran has argued, knew that Baby Gregory hadn’t been abused, but the university, in league with DHS, refused to admit a wrong diagnosis had been made.
At the March 28 hearing, Cochran described the Bryant-Bruces as “two courageous people” who “couldn’t get any of those learned doctors to listen to them. Vanderbilt doctors refused to consider medical literature that would have showed Allagile’s Syndrome. They refused to listen to Cheryl Bryant-Bruce.”
Cheryl and Gregory Bryant-Bruce are well-educated and well-spoken people who clearly appear to be outraged by the position they find themselves in.
When the couple appeared on ABC’s Day One news program in March 1995, reporters went to great pains to point out that the Bryant-Bruces had two other children, that Gregory Bryant-Bruce was a model soldier, and that Cheryl Bryant-Bruce was, herself, a family doctor. In the television show, Cheryl Bryant-Bruce said she had become “hysterical” when DHS lodged its abuse charge against her and her husband. She admitted, “Initially I could see how this is at the top of their list, but you’re taught not to jump at the first conclusion.” Cheryl Bryant-Bruce justified her abduction of Baby Gregory by saying “you can’t kidnap what is rightfully yours.”
Now that their suit against Vanderbilt is being considered, the couple are no longer making public statements. When contacted by the Scene for this article, they declined, through their attorney, to make any comment.
ABC’s Day One also interviewed Oquist, who maintained that “all medical evidence pointed to child abuse,” and then-DHS director Charles Wilson, who insisted that his department’s “responsibility is to the child.” Dr. Ron Sokle, an expert on Allagile’s Syndrome, told Day One that “many children with [Allagile’s] are at an increased risk of child abuse” because they are already fragile. The reporters did not fail to suggest that Baby Gregory may have suffered from both Allagile’s and Shaken Infant Syndrome.
On TV the Bryant-Bruces came across as animated, determined people. During the Nashville hearing, Cheryl Bryant-Bruce clutched photographs of Baby Gregory in her hands. While lawyers on both sides argued, she and her husband frequently glanced down at the snapshots. The couple was unfailingly polite to anyone who approached them. Nevertheless, Vanderbilt has painted a less appealing picture of the Bryant-Bruces.
Dr. Bradley Bullock, one of the physicians who treated Baby Gregory at VUMC, has stated in an affidavit that, when the child was first brought to the medical center, he was “badly malnourished.” Bullock also states that Cheryl Bryant-Bruce “expressed concern about her loss of attachment to Gregory...and her concern that she [would] not be able to deal with the stress of having a sick child at home due to the many other stresses in her life at [that] time.”
According to Bullock, Cheryl Bryant-Bruce was in the process of leaving the Army at the time Baby Gregory first appeared at Vanderbilt. What’s more, she was filing sexual harassment charges and racial discrimination charges against her superior officers. Bullock says Cheryl Bryant-Bruce expressed the fear that, if her baby got too fat, he might develop “butt pads,” and “his daddy might want to spank him when he was bad.” Bullock states that Cheryl Bryant-Bruce told him the couple wanted to start an air ambulance service on the island of St. Croix and that she didn’t know if “she had time to care for Gregory.”
In their formal response to the Bryant-Bruces’ lawsuit, Vanderbilt’s attorneys also state that on Oct. 1, 1993, while Baby Gregory was still a patient at Vanderbilt, nurses noted that the child’s feeding tube had been disconnected several times. Vanderbilt also states that one nurse reported at the time that she suspected Cheryl Bryant-Bruce of disconnecting the tube.
According to Oquist, when Baby Gregory was readmitted on Dec. 7, 1993, Cheryl Bryant-Bruce, without notifying VUMC, had discontinued giving the child the Vitamin K that had been prescribed for him by Vanderbilt physicians. In its reply to the Bryant-Bruces’ suit, VUMC says Cheryl Bryant-Bruce’s refusal to give her child Vitamin K could have resulted in the child’s bleeding to death.
The Bryant-Bruces have claimed all along that Baby Gregory suffered no “outside trauma” that could have led to his internal bleedingwith the exception of two incidents. Once, his parents have said, he became tangled in his mother’s bathrobe and fell off a bed. In a second instance, the parents say, Baby Gregory bumped his head on a medical examination table. On Dec. 8, 1993, however, Dr. Jeremy Garrett of Vanderbilt reported a conversation with Cheryl Bryant-Bruce in which she allegedly said, “Gregory’s father, Gregory Bryant-Bruce Sr., was responsible for Gregory’s injuries.”
On Dec. 16, 1993, Vanderbilt charges, VUMC found still more reason to suspect that all was not well in the Bryant-Bruce household. On that day, with Baby Gregory still in the hospital, VUMC reports state that Cheryl Bryant-Bruce and Gregory Bryant-Bruce Sr. “were involved in a physical altercation in the waiting room.” Staff members in the Vanderbilt Pediatric Intensive Care Unit recall the fight in the waiting room as being “so loud and ugly that we couldn’t get any work done. We all had to close our office doors.” Vanderbilt security guards broke up the scuffle, but Cheryl Bryant-Bruce later told Vanderbilt employees of two other incidents in which her husband “had put his hands on her in what she perceived to be a threatening manner.” She later repeated the story to the DHS and said that her husband had previously assaulted her.
DHS will not release the full transcripts of its interviews with the Bryant-Bruces; however, excerpts are included in Vanderbilt’s response to the couple’s lawsuit. According to one interview excerpt, Cheryl Bryant-Bruce told DHS on Dec. 20, 1993, that she thought her family was at “great risk” and stated that Gregory Sr. “was not acting like himself.” According to Vanderbilt’s summary of the interviews, “She indicated that he was staying out all hours and returning home intoxicated. She stated that she was afraid for her safety. She stated that she had removed his weapon and secured it with friends.... Dr. Cheryl Bryant-Bruce admitted to investigators that she thought it was possible her husband abused Gregory. She advised DHS workers that her husband had been under significant stress because of the death of his mother and a good friend.... She stated that he had been alone with Gregory for a 12-hour period when the nanny was unavailable and it had been ‘a stressful night for him.’ She reported that Gregory Bryant-Bruce Sr. had admitted to her that he was jealous of Gregory. She related that he had told her he felt that ‘another man is getting her titty and is in his bed..., that he used to have an active sex life and now he doesn’t.’ She also reported that Gregory David Bryant-Bruce Sr. disciplined their other two children with a ‘shoe leather.’ ”
Vanderbilt further alleges that, in an interview with a female DHS investigator on Dec. 16, 1993, “Gregory David Bryant-Bruce Sr. touched the investigator in an inappropriate manner. Additionally, after Dr. Cheryl Bryant-Bruce had made a comment to a female investigator that she liked her dress, Gregory David Bryant-Bruce Sr. commented, ‘Yeah, can you take it off?’ ”
The Bryant-Bruces have responded to the Vanderbilt charges with countercharges and explanations of their own behavior. In their response to Vanderbilt, the Bryant-Bruces state that, right in the middle of their troubles with Vanderbilt and DHS, the couple took yet another child into their home. They state that the arrival of that child, given over to their custody by Gregory Bryant-Bruce’s sister, added even more stress to their lives.
The Bryant-Bruces have expert witnesses to support their case. Dr. Richard Papa, the Fort Campbell physician who referred the couple to Vanderbilt, testified in an affidavit, “It has always been my opinion that Vanderbilt’s diagnosis [of child abuse] was unsubstantiated to a degree of medical certainty.” And the Bryant-Bruces have character witnesses too. Thomas Stamper, the attorney who was Baby Gregory’s court-appointed guardian while the child was in the custody of DHS, came out in favor of returning the child to his parents in 1995 “because they [were] good people.”
Vanderbilt has thrown its substantial resources into fighting the lawsuit, on both the legal and public-relations fronts. To its detriment, the university is burdened with a reputation for being traditionally white, wealthy, and conservative. The Bryant-Bruces’ case has done nothing to erase those preconceptions.
When VUMC’s Niki Oquist first saw Baby Gregory in December 1993, the child had already made three visits to the hospital. The child had first been admitted to VUMC in July, when he weighed approximately two pounds. When Baby Gregory was discharged for the first time in August, he was up to three pounds. It was not a significant weight gain, but, given Baby Gregory’s illnesses, at least it was a start. In his affidavit, Oquist states that, in December, his first sight of the child gave him cause for concern. “Both the nursing personnel and the physicians caring for Gregory raised concerns that he was suffering from neglect of his physical and medical needs at home,” the Oquist affidavit states.
Moreover, Oquist, seconded by Vanderbilt’s Dr. Jeremy Garrett, says he had other reasons to suspect abuse. According to Oquist, Gregory’s X-rays revealed “unexplained...bleeding on the brain.” A CT scan showed more hemorrhages, these of a magnitude that only heightened Oquist’s suspicions. Oquist states that he did indeed consider the possibility that Baby Gregory might have Allagile’s Disease, the symptoms of which include yellow skin, abnormally shaped vertebrae, absence of tendon reflexes, facial abnormalities, and shortened fingers. However, Oquist says, the results of his tests for the disease proved “inconclusive.”
Oquist called in other doctors on the VUMC pediatric staff for consultation. In addition to Garrett, the consulting physicians included ophthalmologist Dr. David Johnson, neurosurgeon Dr. Noel Tulipan, blood-disorders specialist Dr. John Edwards, and neuroradiologist Dr. Robert Kessler. Kessler discovered even more brain hemorrhages, while Johnson found in the retinas of both eyes hemorrhages consistent with “severe head trauma of multiple occurrences.” Tulipan found reason for a “high suspicion of abuse,” and Edwards concluded that, “if this child has multiple retinal hemorrhages of different ages...they were...caused by trauma.”
Oquist, who states that he has treated an average of five to seven cases of child trauma every month, suspected Shaken Infant Syndrome, but he says he did not rule out the possibility that Gregory’s liver disease had caused the bleeding. Still, he says he could find no prior cases in which a child had suffered intracranial bleeding as a result of liver disease. Oquist says he also considered the possibility that Baby Gregory’s two accidentsas reported by his parentsmight have caused the bleeding. “Gregory’s intracranial and retinal hemorrhages were multiple, very severe, and life-threatening,” Oquist’s affidavit states. “They were inconsistent with the two short falls described by his mother.”
After consulting with his fellow physicians, Oquist telephoned the Montgomery County DHS on Dec. 9, 1993, relaying his opinion. He followed up the phone call by sending a letter 11 days later. Oquist, Tulipan, Garrett, Johnson, and Bullock have all been named in the Bryant-Bruces’ suit.
The case of Baby Gregory has done nothing to improve relations between Emory and Vanderbilt. Dr. Benjamin Gold, assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory, and Dr. James A. Barfield, assistant professor of child neurology, treated the child at Emory from Feb. 9 through March 2, 1995. Gold wrote the original diagnosis of Allagile’s Disease, in which he stated that the child exhibited three of five primary symptoms of the diseasebile duct paucity, unusual facial features, and “posterior embrotoxins,” or whitened rings on the pupils of the eyes. Barfield reviewed Gold’s findings and agreed. A third doctor, William Treem from the Duke University Medical Center, reviewed the two Emory physicians’ findings and concurred in writing.
At the Bryant-Bruces’ second custody hearing, held in Clarksville in June 1995, Gold testified that the Bryant-Bruces had approached him because of a “misdiagnosis” by VUMC and that he had had trouble obtaining copies of Baby Gregory’s medical records. Gold said the Emory examination revealed Baby Gregory’s obvious liver problems, and a transplant was briefly considered. “I am under the impression...that [Vanderbilt] felt that Allagile Syndrome did not exist in this child,” Gold said during the June hearing.
In the same hearing Gold did testify, however, that Allagile’s Disease can be mistaken for child abuse. “It is my opinion that when one sees a child with retinal hemorrhaging, that one of the things you have to think of highly, and it is your responsibility, is to think of abuse,” Gold said. “However, you have to take it into the context of all the underlying conditions medically that the child has.”
Under cross-examination, Gold testified that he had referred Baby Gregory to an ophthalmologist who “directly refuted everything” found by VUMC’s Dr. David Johnson, specifically the retinal hemorrhages. However, the defense argued that Emory examined Baby Gregory’s eyes 15 months after Johnson had seen them, ample time for the evidence of hemorrhaging to heal.
Gold told the court that he was not attempting to challenge Vanderbilt’s diagnosis. “What I am trying to say is that when a child has liver dysfunction..., he can bleed and he can bleed anywhere, including the eye,” Gold said. “When a child has Allagile Syndrome, he can bleed anywhere, including in his head and eye.”
Later in his testimony, he went so far as to ask, rhetorically, “Would I say that child abuse never happened? No, I wouldn’t do that.” Gold reiterated that he was simply trying to say that there might be various explanations for Baby Gregory’s hemorrhages.
When Emory’s Dr. James Barfield took the stand, he testified that either trauma or a bleeding disorder could have caused Baby Gregory’s problems. Barfield even went so far as to state that, in his opinion, “all of [Baby Gregory’s] brain abnormalities happened to him after his birth.”
A child in Baby Gregory’s fragile condition, Barfield went on to explain, is more prone to hemorrhages caused by “minor trauma” such as a fall from a bedor as a result of Shaken Infant Syndrome. However, Barfield also said that there was no reason to assume that Baby Gregory’s condition had necessarily been caused by trauma or by abuse.
On the basis of Gold’s and Barfield’s testimony, the judge returned Baby Gregory to the custody of his parents. The judge ruled that the state’s case of “clear and convincing” evidence that Baby Gregory had been abused had been undermined and that Gold and Barfield had offered plausible explanations, other than abuse, for Baby Gregory’s hemorrhaging.
At the March 28 hearing in Nashville, Johnnie Cochran barely touched on state law, physicians’ immunity, and preponderance of evidence. Instead, he spoke about conspiracy. And it was clear from his argumentsand from the follow-up arguments of Mayoue and Dunnthat, in their opinion, the chief conspirator in the case of Baby Gregory was Oquist, who had been aided and abetted by the other defendants.
Both Cochran and Dunn raised questions about a letter Oquist wrote the Clarksville judge before the June 1995 custody hearing, a letter in which Oquist said it would be a “crime” if Baby Gregory should be returned to his parents. In the letter Oquist went on to question the Bryant-Bruces’ “flippant” attitude toward their child’s health. Cochran also mentioned the fact that DHS investigators had once described the Bryant-Bruces’ modest home as “adequate for these type of people.”
“There is no record of anything like the N-word,” Cochran told the court, summoning up memories of the Simpson trial. “However, Oquist used derisive references that reflect hostility. I think the animus is racial, sexual, and intellectual.”
Later in the afternoon, Mayoue hammered the point home, arguing that Oquist and other attending physicians became “retaliatory” toward the Bryant-Bruces after Cheryl Bryant-Bruce criticized hygiene at VUMC. Mayoue went on to say it was “no coincidence” that four days after Baby Gregory was discharged from Vanderbilt, DHS workers “came knocking at [the Bryant-Bruces’] door. The Bryant-Bruces considered it openly hostile.”
Judge Echols asked Mayoue how he knew that Vanderbilt had called DHS. He asked the attorney to name names.
Mayoue said that the Bryant-Bruces suspected DHS had been alerted by Vanderbilt doctors Bradley Bullock and Steven Riley. Nevertheless, Mayoue admitted that the team for the plaintiffs had “not explored this issue through to discovery.”
The Bryant-Bruces argue that, even after VUMC reported its suspicions of child abuse to DHS in 1993, the medical center continued to cooperate with DHS in an 18-month “strategy” that involved a misdiagnosis, followed by a cover-up of the fact that they had been wrong. At the March 28 hearing, Dunn argued that Vanderbilt’s failure to provide medical records to Emory was evidence of VUMC’s inability to “sustain their diagnosis.” Dunn also revealed d etails of a 1995 meeting between Vanderbilt doctors and DHS officials, at which Vanderbilt public-relations personnel were present. According to Dunn, one of the subjects discussed at that meeting the fact that Baby Gregory was “closer to death.” At the meeting, Dunn said, the doctors and the DHS officials tried to decide how to handle any publicity that might surround the child’s death.
By the time the hearing adjourned late on Friday, March 28, Echols had agreed to rule on Vanderbilt’s two motionssummary judgment and dismissal. Should the judge rule in Vanderbilt’s favor, Cochran announced, the plaintiffs will pursue medical malpractice charges. Vanderbilt’s attorney, Lee Barfield, says he will seek a dismissal of those allegations as well.
It has been a year and a half since Baby Gregory was returned to his parents, who continue to live in Atlanta. During that time, reportedly, his condition has improved. Some after-effects of his brain hemorrhages persistduring a recess in the March 28 hearing, Gregory Bryant-Bruce Sr. disclosed that the child was having trouble walking and talking as a result of the hemorrhaging. But recent photographs show a healthier, plumper, and happier child.
The truth about Baby Gregory may never be known. If he actually did suffer from Shaken Infant Syndrome, it is entirely possible that he was a victim of accidental abuse. Earlier this year, ABC’s 20/20 news program discussed a Shaken Infant incident in which a parent was sentenced to 15 years in prison for killing his newborn son. The father had shaken his son just four times, but the child died from violent whiplash. In other instances, 20/20 reporters explained, parents had been jailed for causing severe brain damage to their children while administering seemingly innocent discipline.
When an adult shakes an infant, doctors say, the child’s body doesn’t move much. But the baby’s head snaps back and forth, threatening to burst veins that lead to other parts of the bodyparticularly to the brain. The Bryant-Bruces’ lawsuitif it goes to trialwill not hinge on the question of whether Baby Gregory’s parents did or did not abuse him. Instead, it will hinge on the question of whether Vanderbilt had reasonable grounds for thinking that anyone had abused the infant. The defense will argue that, even though VUMC’s doctors may have been wrong and even though they may even have come to dislike the Bryant-Bruces, that does not mean they acted in bad faith or participated in a conspiracy against Baby Gregory’s parents.
If their case does go to trial, the Bryant-Bruces will ask a jury to find that a team of VUMC doctors, led by Niki Oquist, purposely attempted to cover up its mistakesand that the state Department of Human Services was in on it. In a jury trial, it would be Johnnie Cochran’s job to convince a jury that Vanderbilt, in an attempt to protect its own reputation, intentionally attempted to destroy the Bryant-Bruces’ lives.
Meanwhile, one statistic remains certain. In each of the last five years in Tennessee, reported cases of child abuse have increased. In 1995 the figure reached 36,286. If the Bryant-Bruces go to trial and if they win, some doctors will stop, they say, reporting suspected instances of child abuse. In the case of Baby Gregory Bryant-Bruce, there may be no winner at all.
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