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In re Jayda T.

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield, Bridgeport, Juvenile Matters

October 9, 2015

In re Jayda T. [1]


Michael G. Maronich, Judge.

The petitioner, Santa A., the maternal grandmother of the minor child, Jayda T., commenced this matter by filing an application for removal of Shawn T., the father and sole guardian of Jayda, together with a petition for immediate temporary custody of Jayda. Both the application and the petition were dated and filed September 4, 2015 with the Bridgeport Probate Court. On that same day the court (Caruso, J.) entered a decree of immediate temporary custody vesting custody of Jayda in her maternal grandmother, Santa, ordered DCF to conduct an investigation pursuant to statute and ordered a hearing on the order to be held on September 14, 2015 pursuant to the provisions of General Statutes § 45a-607. Prior to the start of the hearing on that date the respondent father, Shawn, moved the court to transfer the matter to the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters. The court (Caruso, J.) granted the motion pursuant to the provisions of General Statutes § 45a-623.

The hearing on the order of immediate temporary custody commenced in this court on September 29, 2015 and was held over three consecutive days, concluding on the afternoon of October 1, 2015. At the conclusion of the hearing, this court, citing the standard set forth in General Statutes § 45a-607(d), found that there was insufficient credible evidence for this court to conclude that the respondent father, Shawn, had committed acts of omission or commission such that the minor child, Jayda, was suffering from physical illness, physical injury, or the immediate threat thereof, or was in immediate physical danger, or would be if she were returned to care and custody of her father, Shawn. This court, therefore, vacated the immediate order of temporary custody issued by the Probate Court and restored sole custody and guardianship of Jayda to her father, Shawn, subject to the terms and conditions of a schedule of weekend and overnight visitation through November 1, 2015 for the maternal grandmother, Santa. The court encouraged the parties to continue visitation to be arranged by mutual agreement past that date, but indicated that it would enter such further orders as necessary until such time as the court ruled on the pending application for removal. The court also entered orders for a psychological evaluation of Jayda at the request of Jayda's counsel together with interactional evaluations with Jayda's parents, Shawn and Ines A., and her grandmother, Santa. The court also entered additional orders for counselling, school contacts and other matters as of record appear. The court also ordered the testimony which it received during the hearing to be preserved for use in the subsequent removal hearing.

This memorandum will serve as a written articulation of the court's ruling on the order for immediate temporary custody entered on October 1, 2015. The court finds the following facts by a fair preponderance of the evidence. Jayda was born in June 2001, the second daughter of Shawn and Ines. Shawn and Ines continued to reside together for the first several years of Jayda's life. They separated for a period of time and made several unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation. Jayda continued to reside with her mother, Ines, after her parents finally separated, and for diverse periods of time with both her mother and grandmother, Santa, at Santa's home. DCF first became involved with Jayda and her family in the spring of 2013 due initially to concerns of educational neglect. At the time Jayda was a sixth grade student and had missed over 350 days of school since first grade. A neglect petition was filed on June 18, 2013. While the petition was pending Ines tested positive for cocaine and opiates and she accumulated several arrests for motor vehicle violations and possession of narcotics. She was not compliant with treatment. On March 3, 2014 Ines entered a nolo contendere plea and Jayda was adjudicated neglected. Sole custody and guardianship of Jayda was transferred to her father Shawn, with three months of protective supervision.

Both before and after the transfer of custody to her father, Jayda suffered from a number of debilitating physical ailments. She developed a pilonidal cyst on her tailbone and cysts on her ovaries, all requiring surgery. After coming into her father's custody and care, she had surgery to remove her appendix and additional cysts. Jayda also suffered from unusually heavy menstrual bleeding, requiring curettage of her uterus. In the words of her pediatrician, Dr. Maria F., M.D., " [Jayda] had a really bad year." Although some of Jayda's prior absences from school must be attributed to her medical problems, DCF contended that the large number of missed days over six years was clearly excessive. Jayda had also been diagnosed with unaddressed mental health issues. While the neglect petition was pending Jayda was provided with mental health treatment and therapy through IICAPS. She was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. This has been a long-term problem for Jayda with which she had been struggling since the third grade. After custody of Jayda was transferred to her father, Shawn, IICAPS continued for a while and Shawn believed it was helpful. IICAPS was eventually discontinued, according to Shawn, because Jayda found it was no longer necessary or helpful. Although IICAPS gave Shawn a recommendation for continued therapy for Jayda, he did not follow up with the referral because the therapy appointments conflicted with his work schedule. Shawn denies that Jayda ever asked to go back to treatment or therapy.

Since coming into her father's care, Jayda has, by all objective standards, thrived. There is no longer a truancy problem. Jayda has had good school attendance and has become an honor roll student, despite having continuing medical problems. Shawn has been attentive to her medical needs, bringing Jayda to routine doctor's appointments and additional visits as necessary. Shawn appears to have adapted well to his role as a single parent. The court received into evidence numerous photographs of Jayda and her step-sisters and step-brothers at various family gatherings with their father, Shawn, taken over the past year. Jayda appears to be happy and comfortable. Over the 2014/2015 school year there also appears to have been a good degree of cooperation between Shawn, Ines and Santa, in meeting Jayda's needs, particularly in regards to visitation. Jayda is very close to her grandmother, Santa, and has had the opportunity for liberal overnight visitation both with her mother and grandmother. When Jayda graduated from eighth grade this past June, Shawn, Ines, Santa and Jayda all celebrated together, posing for pictures as one happy family. Everyone seemed to be operating in a spirit of cooperation for Jayda's best interest.

When Jayda asked for an extended summer visit with her mother, Shawn readily agreed. Shawn was scheduled for surgery in July and the extended stay would give him the opportunity to recuperate. Once Jayda left at the end of June, Shawn discovered that she had instead gone to Santa's house. Shawn had no objection and was comfortable with his daughter in Santa's care. Over the summer Shawn kept in touch with his daughter and prepared for her return at the start of school.

On Thursday, August 27, 2015 Jayda attended first day classes as a freshman at Central High School. She returned to her father's home after school and spent the night. Everything appeared normal to Shawn and he enjoyed having Jayda back in his care. The following day on Friday, August 28th, Shawn dropped her off at school and Ines picked her up afterward for a planned weekend visit. Jayda went to Santa's for the weekend, and by agreement of Shawn and Ines, extended her stay until Monday morning, August 31st. When Shawn picked Jayda up from school she requested that he drop her off at her mother's house so she could spend some time working on the mayoral campaign of Joe Ganim. Shawn agreed and brought her to her mother's home. Later that evening Ines called Shawn to request that Jayda stay over one more night. Shawn gave his consent. The following day, September 1st, Jayda texted her father a message that she was going to the library after school. Around the same time Ines texted Shawn that Jayda was coming with her to work on the campaign. By 7:00 P.M. Shawn texted Ines, " Where's Jayda?" Ines replied, " She's canvassing." By 9:00 P.M. Shawn again texted, " Where's Jayda?" This time Ines replied, " What's wrong with her staying with us?" Shawn texted back telling Ines that if Jayda were not brought home that evening he would go to the police department in the morning. There was no mention in any of Ines' communications that Jayda was upset or did not wish to return home to Shawn.

The following morning, September 2nd, Shawn first went to Central High School only to discover that Jayda was not in school. Shawn contacted the Bridgeport Police Department and officers met him near Santa's home. When Shawn arrived with the officers at Santa's home they were met at the front door by Santa and her attorney. Ines was also present at the premises and Jayda was in her room with a crisis counselor, Madelaine M. An officer accompanying Shawn immediately called his supervisor, Sergeant S., to the scene. Santa and her attorney spoke to Sergeant S. and told him that Jayda had a strained relationship with her father, did not want to return to him and " was having a breakdown." Sergeant S. was also told that Jayda would not speak to him. Sergeant S. then spoke to Shawn who described the history of the relationship of the parties and advised him that the Juvenile Court had awarded him sole custody of Jayda a year and one-half earlier. Sergeant S. admitted that he was confused and felt in a quandary about what course of action to take. He sought direction from Madelaine M., the crisis counselor. Sergeant S. described Madelaine M. as " absolutely no help" and said she told him, " I can't make a determination [as to what you should do]."

The crisis counselor, Madelaine M., had been sent to the scene after Ines made the 211 call. She testified that when she arrived at the scene she first spoke to Santa and then met Jayda in private in an attempt to understand what was happening with Jayda and to counsel Jayda and apply coping skills to calm her down. She described Jayda as upset and crying and said Jayda's behavior began to escalate when the police arrived. At that point Jayda appeared to be hyperventilating and rocking back and forth, displaying symptoms of a panic attack. Madelaine spent about 35 to 40 minutes with Jayda but did not completely finish her assessment. She confirmed that Jayda was able to answer all of her questions " appropriately and willingly, " that Jayda denied any allegations of physical or sexual abuse by her father and that Jayda displayed no suicidal ideations. Madelaine did not know that neither Ines nor Santa had guardianship of Jayda when she arrived at the scene. She testified that when she discovered that Shawn was the guardian and was present, she approached him and advised him that Jayda needed further evaluation and she recommended hospitalization. She asked Shawn if he would agree to such services and he declined. At that point she said that " it was up to DCF, " she gave Shawn her business card in case he wanted to contact her for treatment referral for Jayda and she left the scene. She returned to her office and filed a 136 report with DCF.

Sergeant S. was present and witnessed the exchange between Madelaine M. and Shawn. He said that Madelaine M. advised Shawn, " You have custody of this child, do you want me to intervene at all?" Shawn attempted to explain that Jayda's behavior was not unusual and that she has a history of resorting to histrionics to get what she wants. Sergeant S. said that at that point Madelaine " just stuffed a paper in my hand and took off." The paper Sergeant S. referred to was a notice of need for transfer to emergency room for in-patient admission. Significantly the notice was never given to Shawn. Upon receipt of the notice Sergeant S. read its contents which advised that " Youth is in need of higher level of care. Youth needs to be evaluated ASAP." Sergeant S. immediately sought out the paramedics who had just returned from examining Jayda. Upon the advice of the paramedics that there was nothing physically wrong with Jayda and that she was merely upset and having a tantrum, Sergeant S. said that he made a judgment call and determined that Jayda was not in a life threatening or physically dangerous situation and she should be returned to her father. Sergeant S. sought out Santa and requested her help in telling Jayda that she had to go with her father. Santa agreed and in short order Jayda's emotional state de-escalated and by the time she got in her father's car to leave she appeared calm.

Jayda was quiet on the ride home with her father, but by dinner time she asked him to cook her favorite meal, fried pork chops and green beans. By evening a sense of normalcy had returned. Jayda went to school the next two days and returned home to Shawn each day. There were no emotional outbursts or any signs that Jayda was in need of any immediate medical or mental health intervention, either at home or while she was in school. On Friday, September 4th Shawn picked Jayda up from school and the two went grocery shopping. Upon returning home Shawn realized he had forgotten something and he went back to the store. When he returned Jayda was gone. He frantically called Ines and Santa but got no response. He called the police and when he and an officer reviewed a security tape at the superintendent's office at the apartment complex where he lived, they observed Jayda leave the premises and get into Ines' green Ford Bronco. Shawn went to Santa's home with the police officer. Santa greeted them at the door with a copy of the ex parte order of immediate temporary custody issued earlier that day by the Probate Court. Shawn returned home alone, comforted by the fact that, " at least she's safe."

DCF involvement initially commenced with the filing of the 136 report by Madelaine M. on September 2nd. When the subsequent order for investigation came in from the Probate Court, the matters were re-assigned to the same worker. For purposes of conducting the investigation pursuant to the order issued by the Probate Court, the DCF worker, Bernadette B., interviewed Shawn on September 9th at his residence and interviewed both Santa and Jayda (each in private) on September 10th at Santa's home. In addition, Bernadette B. also had the benefit of hearing the testimony of the parties during the hearing. Bernadette testified that Jayda told her she is comfortable with her grandmother and wants to live with her. Bernadette said that Jayda " feels warm and fuzzy and likes the attention her grandmother gives her." Jayda told Bernadette that she has no relationship with her father and " feels like he doesn't want her." She said he yells at her and uses visitation with her mother and grandmother as a way of controlling her. She complains that she is frequently left home alone and that her father abuses alcohol. She denied that her father has ever physically or sexually abused her.

The DCF case worker, Bernadette, also submitted a written report dated September 29, 2015 which the court accepted as an exhibit. In her testimony as well as in her written report she questioned whether Jayda had a " true mental health dilemma" at her grandmother's home on September 2nd. In support of her skepticism she noted that Jayda has a history making accusations and later recanting them. Notably Jayda once accused her father of berating and taunting her that she was " ugly and fat" and he " wished she were never born." She later recanted her accusations and explained that she just wanted to have an extended visit with her mother and thought the accusations against her father would accomplish that end. The history of making false accusations also, puts in doubt other statements which she gave to Bernadette. Bernadette testified that she found no evidence of alcohol abuse by Shawn and does not believe that Jayda does not have a relationship with her father or that Shawn doesn't want her. The Facebook postings, family photos and text messages that Shawn showed her all point to a good relationship between father and daughter. Bernadette does believe that Shawn has a stricter style of parenting and is not as lenient with Jayda as her mother and grandmother are, especially when it comes to school attendance. Bernadette believes that Jayda is greatly influenced by her mother and grandmother. Bernadette testified that although Jayda verbally expressed fear and apprehension about returning to her father she did not present any symptoms of anxiety. Bernadette concluded that Jayda is a " true 14 year old child, ...

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