Session August 26, 2014.
Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Anderson County No. J28082, J28083 Brandon Fisher, Judge.
Billy P. Sams, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for the appellant, Valerie S.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; and, Jordan Scott, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
D. Michael Swiney, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which John W. McClarty and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.
D. MICHAEL SWINEY, JUDGE.
The facts of this case are tragic. Mother's two year old granddaughter died while under Mother's care. The autopsy revealed chronic sexual abuse. The death was determined to be non-accidental. At the time of her granddaughter's death, Mother had three minor children living with her: the Children, and another minor who since has turned 18. Mother, later charged with first-degree murder, was incarcerated with bond set at $1, 000, 000. Details emerged concerning abuse against the other children in Mother's care. This alleged abuse consisted of, among other things, unusual punishments and intentional deprivation of food. DCS obtained a protective custody order removing the Children from Mother's care. The Children were adjudicated dependent and neglected by court order based upon Mother's severe abuse. This May 2012 nunc pro tunc order was not appealed. In August 2012, DCS filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights to the Children on the ground of severe child abuse.
Trial was held in August 2013. LaRiea testified first. LaRiea, then in the tenth grade, had been in her current foster home since August 2012. LaRiea testified that she liked her foster mother and felt safer with her. LaRiea stated that she did not want to return to Mother's custody as she did not feel safe with her. LaRiea had undergone intensive therapy. LaRiea wanted the no contact order with Mother to remain in place. Further, LaRiea requested that the court terminate Mother's parental rights to her. On cross-examination, LaRiea testified that she was not malnourished upon her entry into custody, that she had no injuries, and had clean clothes while at Mother's home. LaRiea did not wish to be adopted.
Shameel testified next. Shameel was seeing a therapist. Shameel stated that he did not want to return to Mother. Regarding punishments he had received, Shameel testified that Mother had made him stand in the corner of a room all night. Shameel stated that he felt safe at his current placement. On cross-examination, Shameel testified that he would like to be adopted by one Joyce B. Shameel stated that when he entered custody, he required no medical attention, required no diet to gain weight, and that his clothes were clean. Shameel testified that he needed additional therapy.
Mother testified. Mother was incarcerated at the time of trial on the charge of first-degree murder. Mother testified that if she were released from jail, she could live with her sister. Mother was on Social Security before she was incarcerated. Mother's testimony soon came to an end when she began to speak in an unidentifiable language. After this behavior continued for a while, Mother was removed from the courtroom. The Juvenile Court stated: "Let the record reflect that [Mother] is continuing to speak in an unidentifiable language and is being nonresponsive to the questions."
Heather Poster ("Poster") testified. Poster, a case manager with DCS, was the case manager for the Children. Poster had been the Children's case manager for over a year at the time of trial. Poster testified that the Children were doing well in their current placements. According to Poster, the Children would not be safe with Mother. Poster stated that she did not believe Mother had proven she had completed any of her action steps. Poster stated that Mother was noncompliant with in-home services. Mother has no income. According to Poster, the Children could not receive the kind of services they need under Mother's care. Mother also never completed the mental health evaluation that DCS asked for. Regarding why there had been no visits between Mother and the Children, Poster stated that there was a no contact order in place until Mother provided a mental health assessment. Poster testified that Mother continued to maintain that there were no problems with her parenting or discipline of the Children. On cross-examination, Poster stated that she did not know of anywhere Mother could have gone to get the required mental health evaluation at DCS's expense. Poster testified that DCS had been relieved of reasonable efforts before she came on the case. Poster acknowledged that Mother denied any sexual assault had occurred in her home.
In January 2014, the Juvenile Court entered its order terminating Mother's parental rights to the Children on the ground of severe child abuse. The Juvenile Court found and held, in part:
The Anderson Court adjudicated the children dependent and neglected, and the victims of severe abuse at the hands of [Mother] . . . on May 15, 2012, after issuing an emergency protective custody order placing the children in temporary state custody on May 3, 2011. The adjudicatory Order is no longer subject to appeal and is therefore final. The children have been in foster care continuously since the Court's protective custody order.
The severe abuse to which the children were subjected was continuous physical punishment and intentional deprivation of food by the mother, and the father's knowing failure to protect the children from this severe abuse.
During the mother's testimony she began to repeatedly 'speak in tongues' and persistently failed to respond to counsels' questions. After repeated attempts by the Court to instruct the mother to cease her disruptive behavior and to answer the questions asked by counsel the Court had the mother removed from the courtroom as non-responsive to instructions. The Court finds this to be a voluntary removal on the part of the mother in that she affirmatively nodded her understanding that she would be removed from the courtroom [if] she did not cease her disruptive behavior and then continued to engage in that behavior.
Both children testified that they do not wish to return to their mother in the future. Shameel stated that he 'would be o.k. with, ' his mother's parental rights being terminated and LaRiea requested the Court to terminate her mother's parental rights. While Shameel asserted that he does wish to be adopted, LaRiea stated that she does not desire to be adopted.
Both the mother and father severely abused their children and have since made no changes to their conduct, circumstances or personal conditions that would make it safe for the children to be returned to the custody of either parent. There no longer exists any meaningful relationship between the children and either parent – the father has utterly abandoned the children in foster care and both children are adamant that they never want to return to their mother. The mother has no home and no plan to obtain stable housing. The mother's mental and/or emotional condition, as evidenced by her severe abuse of the children and her behavior in court, would absolutely pose a risk of harm to the children if they were returned to her care. Finally, the children are stable in their foster homes and a change of caretakers at this time would have a detrimental effect on them.
In this case, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §§36-1-116(g)(3) and 37-1-102(b)(21), the Court finds that there is clear and convincing evidence that both the mother and father committed severe abuse against the children as demonstrated by the final Adjudicatory Order of the Court, ...