Parenting Disaster

The tables were sadly turned on a well-meaning former Pennsylvania prosecutor and his wife when they were charged with child abuse. The couple, Douglas and Kristen Barbour, thought they were doing the right thing in adopting two children from Ethiopia, but soon learned they were not equipped to parent these children with special needs.

The Barbour’s adopted a 6-year-old boy and an 18-month-old girl in March of 2012. They believed if they raised the children as they had raised their two biological children, they would fare well in raising four well-adjusted children. Unfortunately, the children did not adjust as well as the parents had hoped and the Barbour’s soon recognized they needed help. They sought the advice of an expert in foreign adoptions but refused to follow his recommendations to be more flexible with their parenting style. They wanted to parent the way they saw fit.

Small Girl

The Barbour’s made sure to bring the children to the doctors when the children were ill and tried their best to handle the children’s behavioral issues. However, it was soon clear the parents could not meet the children’s needs and the children suffered as a result. Although the boy was six, he went to the bathroom in his pants. The parents attempted to discipline him by forcing him to eat in the bathroom or stand alone in the dark. The girl had multiple head fractures – though the parents allege it was because she was clumsy – the doctors who examined her were doubtful of that conclusion. As a result, the boy was malnourished and ended up losing 10 pounds in the Barbour’s custody and the girl was healing from multiple fractures.

Similar situations have happened in Phoenix, Arizona and Birmingham, Alabama in recent years, where excessive punishment lead to criminal charges that made national news. Clearly they were lacking parenting skills that would enable them to cope with behavioral issues. Arguably, none of these parents intended to hurt their children. In fact, several sought help from experts, but in the end were painfully unsuccessful in their parenting attempts.

Click here for more on this story.

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Implications of Protective Orders

Orders of Protection are not to be taken lightly. There are many ways an Order of Protection can affect your life.

In Arizona, Orders of Protection are governed by the Arizona Rules of Protective Order Procedures. An Order of Protection is sought when someone feels they are in danger of being physically harmed or have been physically harmed by another person. The other person must have had some type of relationship with the person they are seeking the order against. There are many relationships the parties could share or have shared in the past giving rise to a need for an Order. These relationships could include former lovers, relationship through marriage or blood, residing together or having a child in common.

Confrontation

In order to get an Order of Protection, the Plaintiff (requesting party) needs to go to Court and file a Petition for the Order of Protection.  The Petition could be filed with a municipal or justice courts in places like Mesa, Glendale or Scottsdale or in the Superior Court in Phoenix.  The Court will consider the Petition for Order of Protection and can grant the Order based solely upon what the Plaintiff says.

Once the Order is granted, it is served upon the defendant (other party).  At that point, the Defendant has the right to contest the Order of Protection.  If a hearing is requested, both parties need to appear in the Court it was requested from and the Court will decide whether the Order should be kept in place, modified or dismissed. This is a crucial point in the case. If an Order is not defended or contested properly, it could have lasting implications on you.

What could that mean for you if the Order is issued against you, or upheld against you after a hearing?

Orders of Protection are likely to show up on background checks run by potential employers preventing you from obtaining certain jobs. An Order of Protection could also get you terminated from your current position or reassigned to other duties within a company or government. Orders of Protection prevent you from possessing a firearm and if you already own one, forces you to relinquish it. The Court could also order the exclusive use of residence to the Plaintiff which could be problematic if the two parties are residing together.

Gated Patio

The Order may also limit your ability to see or communicate with common children, and that could also have an effect on any other pending family court cases.  Fortunately, according to 17 Rules Protect. Ord. Proc., Rule 1, Orders of Protection cannot list a child unless the judicial officer believes that “physical harm has resulted or may result to the child, or the alleged acts of domestic violence involved the child.” Under emergency circumstances, a judge may err on the side of caution and enter a child on a temporary basis, but unless it can be proven that the child is in danger they are not likely to keep the child listed on the order if the Order is contested. This is a small consolation because in the end an Order of Protection could affect overall parenting time and legal decision-making.

Those are just some of the many potential problems that could result from an Order of Protection being entered against you, and upheld after a hearing. Having an attorney could mean the difference between an Order being quashed and an Order being upheld against you.

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Clerical Miracle?

In a bizarre clerical error a man convicted of robbery never saw the inside of the cell he was supposed to occupy. Cornealious “Mike” Anderson waited for his day to come. The sentence was given and he was ready to turn himself in; only Anderson never heard back from court officials. He contacted his attorney and still heard nothing.

Over 13 years later, when Anderson’s sentence was due to end, authorities realized he had never been in their care. In an attempt to correct the error, U.S. marshals picked him up at his home and took him to the facility he should have been spending the last 13 years.

Gavel

However, it turned out that after his courtroom scare, Anderson turned straight. He started a business, got married (twice), had three children and even volunteered as a coach.  He became an exemplary citizen without having served any time.

After hearing the unusual circumstances, the Missouri Judge decided Anderson deserved credit for the “time served.” The time he was supposed to be in prison, according to the judge, now counts toward his sentence, essentially freeing him without jail time.

The current criminal systems main goals serve several purposes: Retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Retribution serves to punish the offender based on the seriousness of the crime. Deterrence is set to deter people from committing crimes, by threat of incarceration. The rehabilitative goal is to reform the offender into a law-abiding citizen. One of the most common occurrences to imprisonment is recidivism. Within 3 years of release, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost 50% of persons released are re-incarcerated.

In Anderson’s case, it seems just the thought of a 13 year sentence scared him straight. Though nothing like this has happened in Phoenix, Arizona, surely it would produce a similar result. Anderson turned his life around and became an upstanding, productive member of society. His success in life may have been due to the fact that he did not go to prison. In fact, not being incarcerated may have been what prevented him from returning to prison later in life. There was no need for him to resort to a life of crime once he was released. Many convicted persons resort to criminal behavior upon release because they have no other way to support themselves. Justice would not have been served to put him behind bars after 13 years and such a positive and successful life.

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Whose Team are they on? CPS Removal and TDM Meetings

A CPS investigation is beyond frightening. What are your rights? Why does it seem like the investigator is interrogating me?  The investigator keeps saying that this is not a criminal matter, but do I need a lawyer?  Do I have to answer the questions the caseworker is asking?  What is this Team Decision Making Meeting (TDM) and who is on the team?

Frequently CPS receives allegations of abuse either through the 1-888-SOS-CHILD hotline or they are contacted by police officers when there are children involved in a related or unrelated investigation. CPS, using their internal protocol, determine whether the information requires further scrutiny/investigation. If they determine further investigation is warranted, an investigation is opened and the case is assigned to a caseworker or “specialist.” The caseworker then meets with the child, interviews the parents, and coordinates with the police to ultimately determine whether the child is safe in their current living situation or if a “removal” is necessary.  If they believe it is an emergency situation, DES/CPS will serve a Temporary Custody Notice on a parent and take the child for 72 hours while they further their investigation.
Office

At the point of removal, CPS has 72 hours to either return the child, develop a “safety plan” approved by the parent, or file a Dependency action requesting the Superior Court place the child in CPS legal care pending further court hearings. During this 72 hour period CPS contacts the parent and invites them to participate in a “Team Decision Making Meeting” (also known as a TDM) at the local CPS office. Often times the meeting consists of family members, friends, the case worker, service providers and sometimes the police.
 
What are my rights regarding the Team Decision Making Meeting?

Foremost, the name is a misnomer and tremendously misleading to parents who are being accused of abuse or neglect.  The implication is that everyone around the table is part of the “team” and the parents are there to assist in the decision making process. The facilitator of this “team meeting” is a CPS worker and often times CPS has already made a decision about bringing the matter to court before the process has even begun. In some cases, the paperwork has already been drafted and is ready to be filed with the court to begin the Dependency action. Designating this a “team” meeting when the parents are walking into this trap is like leading a pig to the slaughterhouse and calling it a vacation.
Mouse Trap

Parents should immediately seek legal advice from an attorney once a child has been removed and prior to any meetings with CPS. When parents are contacted about this TDM meeting they are often told they do “not need” an attorney present or they are “not allowed” to have an attorney present. However, these meetings could be very detrimental to the parents’ rights and the case about to begin in court because statements made during the TDM meeting can be used against the parents.  We have even seen cases where CPS invites the police (who are still gathering data in efforts to charge the parents with a crime) to attend the TDM meeting.  The police officers that attend the meeting will just sit there gathering information that can be used in related criminal prosecutions.  
 
Having an attorneys’ advice before making any statement to CPS or the police is critical. An attorney can help protect the right of the parent to keep the child in their home and dispute the allegations made against them. 
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Parents’ Medical Nightmare

The Pelletier family is going through every parent’s worst nightmare. Their 15-year-old daughter, Justina, has been struggling with a rare disease that could lead to death. There is no cure for this disease, but despite the bleak prognosis, the Pelletier family has been seeing the best doctors on a regular basis in an attempt to treat their daughter.

During one of their most recent attempts to seek the best medical care available for their daughter, they were met with a series of unfortunate events. The Pelletier family had been bringing their daughter to Tufts Medical Center where she was being treated for Mitochondrial disease, which is a disease that attacks the mitochondria inside cells in the body. According to UMDF.org these organelles give the body 90% of the energy needed to “sustain life and support growth.” As the disease progresses, more and more cells begin to die and eventually entire organs cease functioning.

Justina began experiencing gastrointestinal problems, while under the care of physicians at Tufts for her disorder. The treating physician at Tufts recommended she see a gastroenterologist for the issue. Justina had previously been seen at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) by Dr. Alejandro Flores, a gastroenterologist, and her treating physician thought sending her back would be in her best interest to address the gastrointestinal issues.

Hospital in the SnowThe family was unable to take Justina in their car because the East Coast was experiencing horrible weather conditions and her wheelchair would not allow easy transportation in the snow. Justina was sent to BCH via ambulance and was forced to enter through the emergency room, despite the fact that she was there to see a specific doctor.

Once she entered the emergency room, everything changed. The doctor who admitted her refused to allow her to see the doctor to whom she had been referred and, after a brief consultation, determined she was suffering from psychosis rather than mitochondrial disease. The doctor then brought in a psychologist who diagnosed her with somatoform disorder, which causes the body to produce symptoms of a disease without identifiable physical cause. No further medical testing was done to determine if the original diagnosis of mitochondrial disease was accurate.

Instead, the doctor at BCH insisted that the parents cease medical treatments with the other hospital because he thought it was unnecessary. When they refused to do so, BCH contacted the Massachusetts Department of Family and Children (DFC), alleging the family was medically abusing their daughter.

Arm with IVSince then, DFC has taken custody of Justina and received permanent custody of the teen pending further hearings. The judge in the case has been frustrated with the parents’ lack of cooperation and has chastised them for making the case more complex. The parents violated a gag order put in place by the judge on the case and spoke with the media to get attention for the case in hopes that people would gather in support. This seemed to have the opposite effect where the judge was concerned, though the parents felt they needed to shed light on this injustice. Since then, the public has rallied in support of the parents, but the judge is less than pleased.

One can hardly blame the parents for being irate: their child was taken from their custody and refused the medical treatment she desperately needs. At this point the parents are afforded a weekly meeting with their daughter and have had to watch as she slowly deteriorates from this horrible disease. She has not been given the opportunities to attend any religious ceremonies nor has she been provided the education that other children her age are privy to. She is now two years behind her peers in school and her medical condition has only gotten worse. This case has been ongoing for over 13 months and there is still no end in sight.

One would hope that this situation could never happen, but the reality of it is sometimes Child Protective Services (the name of the analogous agency in Arizona) gets involved in cases where they are not needed. Though they must respond to these allegations, it is the hope of every parent who has a child with a rare illness that, once the report has been documented and investigated, the allegations will be dropped.

PhoneIn Tempe, as well as around the state, Child Protective Services (CPS) can get involved in allegations of child abuse in many ways. Usually, an allegation is made through the CPS hotline, but CPS can also become involved if police are investigating an issue that involves children. According to A.R.S. 13-3620, certain people are “mandatory reporters.” These reporters are mandated by state law to report any reasonable suspicion they have of a minor being abused. Every state has these laws and it is likely Massachusetts has a similar law in place. Physicians, in Arizona as well as most states, are among those who are required to report these reasonable beliefs of abuse. For example, if a parent brought a child into Phoenix Children’s Hospital and the treating physician noticed bruises on the child’s back, but was treating a broken arm, the doctor may have a reasonable belief the child is being abused and contact CPS.

When CPS receives an allegation of abuse, such as the allegation made by the doctors at BCH, they follow internal protocol to decide whether the allegation needs to be investigated further. At this point, it is important to have any information regarding a rare disease available. Making sure everything is well-documented can be a parent’s saving grace. Though it does not always stop CPS from initiating an action to remove the child from the parent, it can be very beneficial when it comes time to face a judge.

Once a child has been removed, it is often a significant legal battle to get the child returned, and this process can take a substantial amount of time. We cannot assume the facts of the case, especially in this matter; however, often once it has been shown that a child has a rare disease and was being given the best of care, the courts respond by returning the child to the family. It is ghastly to think something like this could happen in Arizona, but it is a reality that parents with children who do not have well-known diseases often face.

For more information on CPS Removals click here.

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Former NFL Player Indicted

Former NFL player Darren Sharper, was indicted for sex-related offenses that occurred in Tempe, Arizona. The former star is alleged to have used Ambien to drug women and sexually assault them while they were passed out.

Prison Stairs

Under A.R.S. § 13-1406, if convicted, Sharper would face a minimum of 5.25 years in jail. The statute provides a sentence enhancement of 3 years for persons who use flunitrazepam, gamma hydroxy butyrate or ketamine hydrochloride without the victim’s knowledge during the course of a sexual assault; however, Ambien may not fall into that class. The sentence, if he is convicted, could be further enhanced if he has been convicted of prior felonies. The minimum sentence for someone who has two prior felonies would be 14 years.

Sharper has been accused of many similar cases in other states including California and Nevada. Several jurisdictions have already filed charges and are all looking for their turn to prosecute.

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Munchausen by Proxy?

It’s a tragic story. Garnett Spears, a 5-year-old boy, was given deadly amounts of sodium through his feeding bag, allegedly by his mother.

After beginning treatment, hospital tests revealed unusually high amounts of sodium in the boy’s body, which accounted for his neurological symptoms. With this bizarre finding, the doctors at the hospital immediately notified CPS, who began an investigation into the matter.

Children at hospital

In Arizona, according to A.R.S. § 13-3620, it is mandatory for treating physicians to report any reasonable belief that a minor is a victim of physical injury or child abuse. For instance, if a Mesa mother brought her son to Cardon Children’s Medical Center with burn marks that appeared to be caused by a cigarette, they would likely contact CPS to investigate the incident.

New York has a similar law, NY SOC SERV § 413, which states that physicians are required to report if a child has been maltreated or abused and has come to them in their official capacity. The doctors in this matter saw a red flag in the unusual test results and knew they must report the incident immediately.

While the boy was in the hospital, his mother called a neighbor to dispose of his feeding bag. The neighbor, suspicious of the odd request, decided to retrieve the bag but instead of disposing of it, turned it over to investigators looking into Garnett’s death.

Mother and ChildWhen the authorities received the feeding bag from the neighbor it was tested to determine if he was being fed the high amounts of sodium through the feeding bag inserted into his abdomen. Tests revealed the bag indeed contained high levels of sodium that accounted for the dangerous levels of the chemical that killed him. Unfortunately, it was too already late for Garnett.

Through investigation, authorities found that the mother had been documenting the son’s multiple illnesses through social media. They believe Spears may suffer from Munchausen by proxy and caused her son’s illness, and ultimately death, for attention. It is likely she did not intend to cause the untimely death of her son but that was the regrettable result.

Family and friends gathered in support of Spears through her posts regarding her son’s illness and his stay at the hospital was no different. Spears denies giving her son the excess amount of sodium, but authorities are still investigating the matter and will likely charge her with the crime.

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