HOUSTON (FOX 26) - The gospel singer at the center of a lawsuit, after severely injuring a child, is now responding. Gospel music singer James Fortune says he is "shocked by the lawsuit" but the father filing the suit says he's not sure why.
James Fortune, according to court documents, punished his 4-year-old stepson by putting him in scalding hot water.
The photos, taken by investigators, of the 4-year old's second and third degree burns are graphic and disturbing. "The injuries look like he has been burned with fire," says the 4-year-old's biological father Roderick Davenport.
"He is burned from just above his penis down to the soles of his feet and the upper portions of his buttocks and his hands up to his wrists," says Davenport's attorney Toni Jones.
Davenport has filed a civil lawsuit against James and Cheryl Fortune. Cheryl is Davenport's ex-wife. It was November 2001 when the 4-year old was with his stepfather, James Fortune, and Fortune allegedly disciplined the 4-year-old because he colored on a table at school.
"The child recalls being told to take his clothes off and being whipped naked and pushing him in the tub and not letting him out of the tub," says Jones.
"I could not believe that someone would do that to a 4-year-old," says the boy's father.
Davenport says he was told by doctors the 4-year old was likely held in that scalding bathtub of water in order to receive such severe burns. According to court records, Fortune first said the 4-year old caused his own injuries.
In a 911 recording, Fortune is heard saying, "My son just burned himself in the bathtub. He was messing around in the bath and turned the water on hot".
At times during the call, you can hear the 4-year-old's screams in the distance.
The 4-year-old spent 63-days at Shriner's Burn Hospital in Galveston after he was flown there by life flight. Child Protective Services took custody away from Cheryl. After an investigation Davenport was granted custody and Cheryl was given visitation.
"He has had dreams that awake him at night. He remembers the helicopter," says Davenport. "He remembers pain. He remembers screaming. He remembers crying. The child has flashes of memory of skin and blood in the water," adds Jones.
In 2003, James Fortune pled guilty to Felony Injury to a Child and was given six years deferred adjudication. "You want to be there for your child and you want to protect them as much as you possibly can and I felt I had dropped the ball that I was not there for him," says Davenport.
Here's James Fortune's entire statement:
"Several months ago I received a demand for payment from my stepson's father for an injury to my stepson that occurred in 2001. In the midst of negotiating a settlement regarding that injury, I was served with a lawsuit and now my wife and I are defending ourselves in civil court. At no time in my life was I convicted of felony injury to a child. Following my step-son's injury, there was a criminal investigation and all matters were resolved.
Since that time, my family and I, including my stepson, have maintained a continuous loving family environment. Although his father has maintained custody, Cheryl and I have enjoyed continuous uninterrupted open visitations with my step-son since 2001.
We are shocked by this lawsuit but understand people are free to use the court system to pursue matters, whether or not the claims are baseless. We are confident through this process, the ultimate decision maker will render an outcome that is just and fair. We believe in our American justice system and know that once all facts are made transparent justice will prevail in our favor.
This lawsuit is a direct result of our desire to continue the uninterrupted love, commitment and financial support as well as to protect the ongoing wellbeing while enhancing the current living conditions of our son. We have given our stepson who is currently in our care during his summer break continuous support and understand these allegations are a direct result of not only our increased profile and financial viability but an individuals desire to exploit such.
We intend to vehemently defend our right to protect our family while maintaining the character integrity and trusted core values the Fortune family has been blessed to exemplify."
Davenport is suing for five million dollars. He says he filed the suit because now at 15-years-old his son is old enough to get plastic surgery to correct some of the scarring and Davenport says Fortune was not agreeing to pay for those expenses.