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In re Knox C.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

November 3, 2016

IN RE: KNOX C.

          Assigned on Briefs October 4, 2016

         Appeal 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.

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which W. NEAL MCBRAYER and BRANDON O. GIBSON, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE

         Background

         The 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 time.

         In June 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.

         Father 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 2012.

         Father 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 . . . ."

         When 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.

         Father 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."

         Father 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.

         Father 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 another's lives.

         Teresa 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.

         The 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."

         Ms. 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.

         Melissa 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 ...


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