Assigned on Briefs October 4, 2016
from the Juvenile Court for Jefferson County No. 15-00491
Dennis "Will" Roach, II, Judge
Kimberly R. Grace, Jefferson City, Tennessee, for the
appellant, Shane L.B.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; and
Brian A. Pierce, Assistant Attorney General for the appellee,
State of Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
MICHAEL SWINEY, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which W. NEAL MCBRAYER and BRANDON O. GIBSON, JJ., joined.
MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE
Child was born drug-exposed in November of 2014. Father was
incarcerated at that time. After spending approximately 45
days in the hospital, the Child was placed in a foster home.
The Child has remained in foster care continuously since that
of 2015, the State of Tennessee Department of Children's
Services ("DCS") filed a petition seeking to
terminate the parental rights of Father and Megan C.
("Mother") to the Child. Mother's parental
rights to the Child were terminated in December of 2015 and
are not at issue in this appeal. The case proceeded to trial
with regard to Father's parental rights to the Child in
February of 2016.
testified at trial that he has been incarcerated since March
25, 2014 and is serving a twelve year sentence for aggravated
robbery. Father first was incarcerated in Knox County and
then was moved to Northwest Correctional Complex. Father
received three separate convictions for aggravated robbery
and was sentenced to twelve years for each conviction with
the sentences to run concurrently. Father also was convicted
of aggravated burglary and received a six year sentence to
run concurrently with his other sentences. Father admitted
that he had prior criminal convictions including a conviction
for simple possession in March of 2012, a conviction for
possession of a firearm during commission of a felony in
April of 2012, a conviction for simple possession in April of
2012, and a conviction for aggravated burglary in November of
testified that he expects to be released from prison in six
years, somewhere between 2020 and 2021. Father testified that
upon his release he could live with his sisters, but he
instead intends to go to a halfway house "that would
have a better structure . . . ."
asked what he has done during his incarceration in an attempt
to better himself, Father stated:
As of right now, I'm in adult youth offenders, ages 18 to
25, it's a post social life skills. T-com (phonetic),
which is if you have a drug problem, they help you with that.
Parenting classes, training classes, all kinds of GED,
vocational and one program is 18 to 24 months to complete.
And I've been in there 16 months. . . . And also,
we're isolated from the different common - - we can't
have any contact with other inmates. We have our own pod. And
I've been isolated 16 months in the same pod.
testified that he has completed anger management, mental
health service, parenting classes, and his GED. Father
testified: "while I was in class, I got Student of the
Month for turning in all my work and completing all my tests
I took." Father stated that he has not failed a drug
test nor has he committed a crime while in prison. Father
also testified that he works as a chaplain's assistant
for the chaplain at the prison church. He admitted that he
makes an income that "pays all [his] court costs,
bonds." When asked if he had made an effort to pay
support for the Child from his income, Father stated:
"If I wanted to, I could. I wouldn't have an address
to do it. I wouldn't know how to go about that."
never even has seen the Child and admitted that he has no
relationship with the Child. Father admitted that being
incarcerated severely limits his ability to establish a
relationship with the Child or be a parent to the Child.
Father admitted that if he gets out at the earliest projected
date, the Child, who was less than two years old at the time
of trial, will be approximately seven years old at the time
of Father's release.
testified that he wants the Child to be placed with Melissa
W., who has custody of Father's daughter, until Father is
released from prison. Father testified that he maintains a
relationship with his daughter. He wants the Child to get to
know his sister and for the two to be a part of one
Gray, the DCS caseworker who has worked on the Child's
case since the Child was released from the hospital after his
birth, testified at trial. Ms. Gray testified that she has
visited the foster home where the Child currently resides. At
the time of trial, the Child had been in this foster home for
approximately five or six months. When asked about the
relationship between the Child and the foster family, Ms.
Gray stated: "Very good. They are good people. It's
a - - he's the only child and so he's a pretty
spoiled little boy. You know when they first got him he had
some medical issues, but he seems to be growing out of those.
And he's doing really amazing." Ms. Gray testified
that the Child's current foster home is a pre-adoptive
home. When asked if the Child seemed fond of the foster
family, Ms. Gray stated: "Oh, yeah, very much. He
won't let me hold him anymore." Ms. Gray believed
that a change in caretakers would be detrimental to the Child
and that it was in the Child's best interest for
Father's parental rights to be terminated.
current foster home where the Child resides is the second
foster home in which the Child has resided. Ms. Gray admitted
that the first foster home initially was considered to be a
pre-adoptive home, but ceased to be considered a pre-adoptive
home because "[t]he foster family reported that they are
not a pre-adoptive home." Ms. Gray stated: "Because
of [the Child's] many health issues the family had
changed its mind - -the first family. And they decided not to
be a pre-adoptive home." Ms. Gray testified that the
Child still sees the first foster family. She explained that
the first foster family and the current foster family are
related to one another. Ms. Gray stated that the Child
"still attends birthday parties with the first foster
family. He still attends family functions, family reunions,
and I think they do pool parties together. He still has a
connection with the first family."
Gray was asked about what she did to assist Father, and she
stated that she sent a letter to him and attempted to visit
him in jail in Knoxville but was unable to do so because
Father had been moved to another prison. Ms. Gray received a
letter from Father dated April 22, 2015, and she responded by
sending Father another letter. Ms. Gray also attempted to
visit Father at the Northwest Correctional Complex. The
prison, however, was on lock-down, and she was not allowed to
visit. Ms. Gray admitted that she never attempted to bring
the Child to visit Father in prison.
W. testified at trial. She stated that she knows Father
through "his kid's mother, " and that she
currently has custody of Father's daughter. Ms. W. stated
that she and Father are friends and that Father calls her
"Mom." Ms. W. stated that she has known Father for
approximately six or seven years and that she has maintained