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Homewood family therapist accused of abusing adopted son

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Pittsburgh police charged Christopher Spann, 52, of Homewood with aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of a child after they say he beat his 11-year-old adopted son this week.

A family therapist accused of abusing his adopted son was set to receive a foster child on the night of his arrest, Pittsburgh police said on Thursday.

Investigators charged Christopher Spann, 52, of Homewood with aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of a child. He was arraigned on Thursday and held in the Allegheny County Jail on $250,000 bail. He could not be reached for comment, and no one answered the door at his home.

Employees at The Salvation Army in East Hills called police about 5 p.m. Wednesday when Spann’s adopted son, 11, arrived for an after-school program with hand and finger marks on his face and neck, a black eye, lumps on his head, bruises on both legs, a broken blood vessel in his eye and a split upper lip, police said.

“He had a bright red mark the size of a grain of rice (in his eye),” police Lt. Jason Lando said. “He had bruises and scratches on the left side of his face.”

The boy told police that he did not want to do his homework on Tuesday night and hid it in his garbage can, and that Spann confronted him and beat him for about three hours.

“After speaking with the young boy, it was apparent to me that he is a genuine and respectful kid, and it is upsetting to see him in such a situation,” Lando said.

When police went to Spann’s Bennett Street home to arrest him, a caseworker was there with a teenage boy whom she said Spann planned to foster, Lando said. He said that child was removed. It is unclear which agency the woman was with, Lando said.

The 11-year-old adopted boy told police that Spann kept him from school Wednesday because of the marks on his face and took him to the non-profit Small Seeds Development in East Liberty, where Spann has worked as a subcontractor for two years.

Small Seeds CEO Andrew Cheeseboro said Spann’s work involves trying to keep young black males out of the county Children, Youth and Families child welfare system as part of the Inua Ubuntu program.

Police said Spann adopted the 11-year-old out of the CYF system two years ago, but it wasn’t clear if he was a foster parent to the boy first.

Police notified CYF in this week’s case, and he is in foster care.

“There’s no way any of my staff would see bruises and not report it,” Cheeseboro said. “We are mandated reporters. This is what we do.”

He could not comment on Spann’s employment status.

Elaine Plunkett, spokeswoman for the county Department of Human Services, said it had a contract with Small Seeds Development not to exceed $1.2 million.

CYF Deputy Director Dr. Walter Smith said he couldn’t comment on individual cases, but the agency hires private subcontractors who provide the bulk of foster parent services, including training and monitoring of foster parents. A department within CYF oversees the agencies’ quality of care and spending.

“We’re pretty vigilant about making sure kids are safe,” Smith said. “One of the ways we do that is by making sure agencies we have under contract meet our standards and regulations.”

Spann works a few times a week as an individual and family therapist at the Nuin Center, a wellness and conference facility in Highland Park, assistant office manager Debbie Catania said.

Spann often would bring his adopted son along to do homework, Catania said. She described the boy as quiet, but said he eventually opened up a little.

The child told police that Tuesday’s incident was not the first time Spann beat him; a few weeks ago, he was pushed against a railing, causing a bruise on his leg that was still visible, Lando said.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or [email protected].

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