Parents accused of chaining kids inside
north Charlotte home
CHARLOTTE, NC – A mother and father have been arrested after police say they chained their children around their wrists and waists inside their north Charlotte home.
Melissa Gonzalez-Guzman and Felipe Gonzalez-Guzman have been arrested and charged with 15 counts of false imprisonment and 15 counts of felony child abuse. They are in the custody of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office.
“The phone call that came in anonymously to the Department of Social Services worked,” said Lt. Thomas Barry with CMPD.
According to a warrant obtained by NBC Charlotte, the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services and Youth and Family Services received an anonymous call on July 18 that four children were being chained to their beds and locked in their room by their mother and her boyfriend at a home in the 4800 block of Statesville Road.
The warrant also states that police seized several metal chains and that they found pictures in the mother’s phone, “depicting four children with linked chains around their wrist and waist. The Officer observed one picture of what appeared to be an autistic 3-year-old child chained to a chair.”
The warrant says two of the children had bruised wrists and ankles, consistent with being kept in chains.
“Anytime you hear of the details that are listed in the search warrant, it makes you pause,” said Lt. Barry. “The long-term impact of being treated that way is difficult,” he explained.
Mark Butler, a former owner of the Statesville Road home, rented the house to the Gonzalez-Guzman family six months ago.
“They’re beautiful little children,” he said. “I’m in the office and they will walk by and say, ‘Hi Mark,'” Butler recalled.
He says he had no reason to believe the children were anything other than well cared for.
“The mother seemed to be a good caretaker because she kept other people’s children, and I think she took care of elderly people,” Butler explained.
His reaction to the allegations that the parents chained the children up, “That’s horror to me, but that’s shocking, just shocking to me,” he said. “I’ve been in the home multiple times and I’ve never seen that.”
The children are now in the custody of family members, according to CMPD, and have been referred to Pat’s Place for additional services.
According to neighbors, the parents recently had another baby in June. There is no word on where that baby is located.
NBC Charlotte reached out to DSS to see if the Gonzalez-Guzmans had been investigated for child abuse in the past. We were told DSS does not release this information due to state law. NBC Charlotte has filed a Freedom of Information Request to obtain more information about this case and the parents.
THE 6-year-old Choctaw girl known as “Lexi,” whose custody battle became a cause célèbre earlier this year, will be staying in Utah with her family.
In a scathing 38-page decision issued on July 8, a three-judge panel of the California Second District Court of Appeals ruled against the claims of Lexi’s foster parents, Summer and Russell Page. The panel cited the couple’s “self interest,” their pattern of interference with and resistance to Lexi’s visits with her extended family, and their inability to facilitate an ongoing relationship with her siblings.
These factors constituted “substantial evidence” that there was no good cause to depart from the placement preferences of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), the judges ruled.
Last March, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services removed Lexi from the Pages’ home in Santa Clarita, California after the couple initially refused to hand her over to social workers. With their refusal, they defied a court order that Lexi be placed with family in Utah, which includes two biological sisters.
The transfer, carefully planned for months and intended to proceed smoothly, deteriorated into chaos after protesters and media descended on the house in an effort to prevent it.
The case began in 2010, when Lexi’s father went to jail for selling stolen auto parts, her mother having disappeared shortly after her birth. After being assigned to several foster homes, the girl was placed with the Pages while her father worked to complete a “reunification plan.” Authorities told the Pages numerous times that Lexi would eventually be reunified with her father or sent to live with relatives.
Nonetheless, the couple began indicating that they wished to adopt the girl. As a result, their relationship with Lexi’s father became strained. The Pages were “interfering” with his visitations and attempting to dictate the terms and length of his visits, Lexi’s father told ICTMN.
According to court documents, the increasingly despondent father—who has a criminal record and history of drug use—decided to cease reunification efforts with Lexi after 18 months of failed attempts. He asked that she be placed with relatives in Utah. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the child’s attorney and the child’s guardian ad litem supported the move.
Thus began a five-year legal battle by the Pages to retain custody of Lexi. Heading their legal team was Lori Alvino McGill, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who represented birth mother Christy Maldonado as a pro bono spokesperson during Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. The 2013 case involved a Cherokee Nation tribal member losing custody of his daughter after a legal battle that went to the Supreme Court.
McGill, who represented the Pages as a pro hac vice counsel in California, has tried unsuccessfully to overturn the ICWA in various jurisdictions across the country, including Virginia and South Carolina.
Addressing the primary issue―whether the Pages could show “good cause” to depart from ICWA’s placement preferences―Justice Sandy R. Kriegler wrote for the majority in the July 8 decision that the determination should not “devolve into a standardless, free-ranging best interests inquiry.” Kriegler noted that Lexi’s lengthy stay with her foster parents was borne solely out of ongoing litigation.
“The United States Supreme Court has cautioned that courts should not ‘reward those who obtain custody, whether lawfully or otherwise, and maintain it during any ensuing (and protracted) litigation,’” the panel concluded.
Morever, “A holding that the facts before us constituted good cause as a matter of law would circumvent the policies favoring relatives and siblings, and it would incentivize families who knowingly accept temporary foster placements to delay an Indian child’s ultimate adoptive placement in the hope that as time passes, the family will reach a ‘safe zone’ where harm to a child from disrupting his or her primary attachment is presumed as a matter of law. It is unwise and unnecessary to stretch the bounds of California law in that manner.”
In dismissing the Pages’ legal arguments, the California court took the couple to task on several points. They criticized the Pages for being unwilling and unable to provide Lexi with a continuing relationship with her Utah family; for insisting that they monitor visitations; and for demanding that individual therapy sessions meant for Lexi should include the entire Page family.
Regarding Lexi’s cultural ties, the justices also pointed out that the Pages were reluctant to engage in any of the suggested activities and had made only half-hearted attempts at incorporating Native American heritage into their lives. Summer Page, they specifically noted, had testified that a dreamcatcher made by Lexi had “ended up in the trash.”
The Pages pointed out that they had joined the Autry Museum and had painted a wall in their kitchen “Navajo Blue.” In the end, however, the panel wholly rejected the Pages’ argument that their efforts represented Lexi’s best interest.
“The Pages also do not—and in our view cannot—provide an adequate response to an issue raised most effectively by minor’s appellate counsel. Even though they appear before the court by virtue of their status as de facto parents, the Page’s efforts to show good cause are motivated by their own interests,” wrote Kriegler.
“Minor’s counsel, not the Pages, has a legal and ethical obligation to represent Alexandria’s interests. The Pages lack the right to assert Alexandria’s interests because Alexandria has her own counsel, who represents her interests and also acts as her guardian ad litem.”
After the decision, Lexi’s Utah family issued the following statement:
“We respect the unanimous decision by the court of appeal justices. All who have been appointed to seek Lexi’s best interests—her court-appointed attorneys, guardian ad litem, social worker, the Department of Children and Family Services, and the dependency court judges—have unanimously echoed that Lexi should be raised by her family.
“More than simply sharing a familial relation with us, Lexi has been a real part of our family since the moment her grandmother—our aunt—expressed her desire that we bring Lexi into our home. The determination we felt since then, when Lexi had just been placed in her first foster home, has provided vital strength for our family as we have waited for the courts to untangle the details.
“We hope the appellate court’s ruling brings closure and finality to everyone involved, and Lexi is at last allowed to live a peaceful childhood in our home.”
The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, an active party in the case from the beginning, supported the placement with the Utah relatives.
“The Choctaw Nation is pleased that the California District Court of Appeals has upheld the lower court’s decision to place Lexi with her extended family and sisters in Utah,” the tribe said in a statement. “This has been the tribe’s objective under the Indian Child Welfare Act for more than three years.
“We hope this puts an end to this needless litigation so Lexi can get on with her life.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – More than two dozens sheriffs from throughout New York joined forces on Tuesday to combat child abuse and neglect.
An estimated 65,000 children in the state are the victims of such crimes each year.
The non-profit group, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, is seeking funding in next year’s state budget for programs that send trained professionals into at-risk homes, in an attempt to stop abuse before it happens.
“We’re here to help support this effort,” Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said. “We can prevent child abuse and neglect. We’re asking for investment today from New York State.”
“Research shows that home visits prevent child mistreatment by as much as 48 percent,” said Chris Farber, Sheriffs Association president and Herkimer County sheriff. “Plus, it also prevents crime because children who are abused are more likely to commit crimes. Why would we not want to invest in this program to benefit children?”
Last year, the state budgeted $23 million for such programs. Officials are hoping to maintain this level, plus obtain a $10.5 million increase in the next budget, said Jenn O’Connor, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids state director.
Her organization supports child abuse prevention on the national level, and seeks funding for community-based programs in each state.
In New York, money in the state budget goes to programs such as Healthy Families New York that sends nurses and other trained professionals into homes to educate, train and coach expectant families and new parents.
Participants are screened to identify risk factors and stressors the family may face, such as financial difficulties, which increase the likelihood of abuse. Families who participate in the program are offered long-term in-home services until the child is in school or Head Start.
At-risk families are identified by schools and Social Services departments throughout the state.
At present, about 11,000 New York state families are served by one of four different home visiting programs.
However, O’Connor said some parts of the state are better served than others, with multiple programs to choose from, while in some places there is no home visitation program at all.
“We’d like every community to have a choice,” she said.
Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero said, “We as police officers believe in prevention. We must act and stop crime before it starts.”
Putnam County Sheriff Donald Smith was presented with the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids program’s annual Champion for Children Award.
“Our children are our future,” he said. “They’re our most precious resource. This program is so important to America’s future.”
Judge denies request to dismiss case against
social workers in Child Abuse case
I hope each and everyone will take the time to speak out, Our Laws are based on an EQUAL SYSTEM, every individual, group, or organization, should be judged equally.
CPS has shown total disregard for WE THE PEOPLE, the Laws of Our Land, Our Children, Parents, and the Family structure since the current system has been in place. Since 2001, not one (1) state in fifty (50) has passed even minimum requirements set down by federal law.
In Our initial post of this serious Dereliction Of Duty by CPS, the same unapologetic and care-less attitude is all too evident in the bold, less-than-truthful statement:
DCFS Director Philip Browning said in a statement, “I want to make it unambiguously clear that the defendants do not represent the daily work, standards or commitment of our dedicated social workers, who, like me, will not tolerate conduct that jeopardizes the well-being of children. For the vast majority of those who choose this demanding career, it is nothing short of a calling.”
LOS ANGELES, CA – A judge has rejected arguments to dismiss charges against two former Los Angeles County social workers and their supervisors, charged with child abuse and falsifying records that resulted from the death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.
Defendants Stefanie Rodriguez, 31, and Patricia Clement, 65, and supervisors Kevin Bom, 37, and Gregory Merritt, 60, were originally set to be arraigned Monday morning on one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records. However, defense attorneys for the four filed court papers asking that the charges be dismissed.
The hearing was assigned to a courtroom just before the lunch hour and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge M. L. Villar asked to have until 1:30 p.m. to review the documents and the prosecution’s filings in opposition.
Villar rejected the defense’s arguments and arraigned the four, who all pleaded not guilty, said D.A.’s Office spokeswoman Jane Robison.
The defense filings – known as demurrers – do not dispute the facts of the case, but argued there was insufficient grounds for legal action.
Villar noted that two defendants had filed papers together while the remaining defendants filed their own responses on different, independent grounds.
The four defendants were charged March 28 in connection with the May 24, 2013, death of Gabriel Fernandez, whom prosecutors allege was tortured and murdered by his mother and her boyfriend.
When he died, the boy had a fractured skull, several broken ribs and burns over his body, prosecutors said.
The boy’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, 32, and then-boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 36, are charged with murder in connection with Gabriel’s death. Prosecutors announced last year that they would seek the death penalty against the two, who are awaiting a pretrial hearing July 28 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
The case sparked a firestorm of criticism of the county Department of Children and Family Services over reports that the boy and his mother were repeatedly visited at their Palmdale home by social workers in response to abuse allegations, but the boy was never removed from the home.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, DCFS opened a file on Gabriel’s case on Oct. 31, 2012, and maintained one until the boy’s death. Prosecutors allege that Rodriguez and Clement falsified reports that should have documented signs of escalating physical abuse and the family’s lapsed participation in DCFS efforts to help maintain the family.
Prosecutors also contend that Bom and Merritt knew or should have known they were approving false reports that conflicted with evidence of Gabriel’s deteriorating physical health, allowing the boy to remain in the home until he died.
An investigation revealed that at times over an eight-month period preceding his death, Gabriel – among other instances of violent abuse – was doused with pepper spray, forced to eat his own vomit and locked in a closet with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams, authorities said.
All four defendants were fired by the county following an internal investigation into the case. Merritt, however, appealed his firing, and the Civil Service Commission ordered that he be reinstated. The matter is now being appealed in court.
If convicted, Merritt and the other three criminal defendants each face up to 10 years in prison.
Philip Browning, director of the DCFS, said in April that he could not comment specifically about the criminal case, but he defended the work done by his agency.
“I want to make it unambiguously clear that the defendants do not represent the daily work, standards or commitment of our dedicated social workers, who, like me, will not tolerate conduct that jeopardizes the well-being of children,” Browning said. “For the vast majority of those who choose this demanding career, it is nothing short of a calling.”
In a statement released after the charges were filed, District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the social workers and supervisors involved in Gabriel’s case had a legal duty to protect the child.
“By minimizing the significance of the physical, mental and emotional injuries that Gabriel suffered, these social workers allowed a vulnerable boy to remain at home and continue to be abused,” Lacey said. “We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel’s well-being. They should be held responsible for their actions.”
Darcy Calkins, who represented Clements at an April 9 hearing, told that judge that her client was once a nun. Outside court, she said she believed her client would be exonerated of the charges.
Filer told reporters outside court after that hearing, “My client’s name will be cleared.”