- Law Cases
by Sharon Rondeau
(Dec. 21, 2012) — Erica Henderson, the mother of seven children who, with her husband, is attempting to regain custody of their seven children currently in foster care in Los Angeles County, told The Post & Email that there is “good news” after the latest hearing in the case on Thursday.
“Probably the best news is that once again, the [adoption] date has been set off until February. I don’t know the exact date, but it’s in February. In the meantime, that means that we will still be able to see our children, and on top of that, we had our attorneys make sure to clarify the issue of Jeffrey and I not being able to visit together. The judge said, ‘I don’t have any problems with them visiting together as long as the monitor is not a DCFS social worker,’” Mrs. Henderson told us.
Mrs. Henderson explained that Jeffrey’s Wednesday visits have been monitored by an independent agency for the past six months, and a friend of hers has stepped forward to volunteer to act as a monitor on Sundays. “By her own words, we now have clarification for the social workers. The judge never stated specifically that we couldn’t visit together; it was something that the social workers had concocted,” she said. “The problem that you have, though, is getting the judge to be clear about her orders, and sometimes, the judge is clear about her orders but they won’t even show up on the minute report.”
Mrs. Henderson reported that 16 members of the public came to court in support of her family’s reunification. There were 11 supporters present at the November 19 hearing.
Judge Marguerite Downing issued an order to “liberalize,” which means that unmonitored visitation can be reinstituted. Mrs. Henderson had unmonitored visits when her last child was born in July until he was seized from her arms on August 31 during a visit with the other children. Mrs. Henderson said that the visitation was changed to “monitored” was done without their knowledge or presence in a secret hearing. “I think the judge went out there on her own on that one, but again, I wasn’t there,” Mrs. Henderson said. “The reports that we get from the court hearings are not full transcripts, so you can never really tell from that what happened.”
The Post & Email affirmed that it has been several weeks since she has seen any of her children. “That’s correct,” Mrs. Henderson said. “I had the attorney address that today. Our case was transferred about three weeks ago to another DCFS office. That means you have a new social worker and you’re dealing with a whole new set of people. What he told me is that DCFS will no longer be monitoring my visits, that they aren’t going to be getting any money for services and that I need to provide my own. So the attorney was actually pretty upset about that, because services have not been terminated by the judge. He made sure that the judge made it clear that if I request monitored visits by the department, I will be able to get them.”
We asked, “Is it an advantage to have a monitor through DCFS?” and she responded, “I’ve had quite a difficult time with the monitor for the past six months. I’m not talking about personally; there are always pleasantries exchanged. She is very nice for the visit and says positive things to me; she says that she loves our little family and hopes that we are reunified; she doesn’t think that we should be apart and she thinks I’m a a good mom. But when it comes time for her to report to her superiors, we’ve caught her in two distinct lies on the paperwork.
The first lie was that I allowed my two boys, a four-year-old and a three-year-old, to have a bath unsupervised while she was here. Although I was not in the bathroom, my friend and roommate, Katie McCall, sat on the floor nest to the bathtub while my boys played. So that was the first lie: that I had left my children unattended in the bath. And then, recently, we’ve had this business with the police coming to the house, investigating my supposed abuse of my son, Elijah, who had had a bruise on his back.”
The Post & Email asked, “Was that the same bruise of which the foster mothers accused you of allowing to happen while he was visiting with you which Jeffrey noticed the following Wednesday?” and Mrs. Henderson responded, “Yes,. I spoke to the monitor, and she said, ‘My supervisor is calling me in for a meeting on Monday and they’re going to be talking to me about these new allegations of physical abuse or neglect for your son Elijah.’ And I said, “What are you going to say?’ and she said, “Well, I’m going to tell them that they’re never been hurt in your care…’ more wonderful, wonderful things. And I said, ‘Well, I expect you’ll tell the truth and I’m not going to worry about it any more after that. In the report, it came out that she had witnessed my son Elijah bruise himself by stabbing himself in the back with a plastic sword, which not only was a completely unfounded lie but it doesn’t even make any sense…and that she had lied to my face…she had said that ‘he wasn’t hurt in your care, we didn’t see any bruising; he didn’t get hurt and he didn’t cry.’ You would think that I would be able to have really great, positive stuff because really great, positive stuff happens, but I haven’t seen that to be the case with the DCFS social workers.”
Mrs. Henderson continued:
I think it’s a great thing that we’re going down this avenue. I see a therapist every week, and she says that in her experience with the department, when they say you can provide your own monitor, it’s a positive step, because it’s a little bit looser of a restriction. So she said she thinks it’s a positive thing. I think it’s a positive thing because my family will be able to have a much more wonderful, relaxing visit.”
“And you won’t have a social worker who says one thing to your face and another on a report.”
With a big smile…It was a rough deal.
We’re really excited about. this new direction. If you do get to write about this, we’re just really grateful to our friend for stepping up to do such an amazing thing for our family, because that’s a commitment of six hours every Sunday. Who does that? That’s wonderful! She’s not getting any money, and she has her own family and a wee one herself.
“Can she bring the baby with her?”
I don’t know how that’s going to work, so I can’t comment on that.
Would you say there’s been a change in the judge’s demeanor?
There has been…she’s more careful now, and she is not quite as excitable as she normally is. We had quite a police presence in the courtroom today and afterwards, so much so that one of the supporters who came felt the need to photograph some of it, because we were being followed around the building. You keep thinking that that can’t be – maybe I’m just a little crazy from everything I’ve been through – but it happened from the time that we came into the building all the way through the day, and we all noticed it. They were all waiting on the sides and in the wings, and then afterward they followed our party out in unmarked police cars. Nobody was followed, but it was very odd.
Also, one of them was in the courtroom when we went in.
Is that the “mystery man?”
Yes. We didn’t know who he was. There is a very small amount of room on the benches there; there is one bench and a half-bench. There were 15 people, and the judge said, “Some of these people are going to have to leave because there’s no room.” So Jeffrey said, “Well, wait a minute; who’s this man? As this guy to leave; this is a private hearing. We don’t wish this person to be here; we wish our friends and family to be here.” So everybody scooched in and sat on each others’ laps, and we fit in, but she didn’t ask the man to leave.
We were there on Monday to support one of the women who we’ve met through all of this going through her own trauma with the juvenile courts. We went to support her, and we were asked to leave the courtroom. It was a really interesting day, and it was reported that a man had come out and was taking pictures of us. I’m not sure how it’s connected to us or exactly what is going on. They also had two or three deputies when normally there is just one deputy. We all noticed it and kept our eye on it. It was an interesting quirk to the day.
“There is a man in Tennessee whose case we have covered for quite some time, and every time he walks into a courthouse, he is followed.”
Will you be seeing your children soon?
Not this coming Sunday, but the Sunday after, because my friend is going out of town for her holidays. When I got home from the hearing today, my new social worker, Mr. Milner, called, and I gave him the updates from the court and told him he would want to check the reports. So he said, ‘Yes, have Ms. XXXX contact me and we’ll set it up for that Sunday, then.’ But I’ll get to see them Wednesday, because now I can attend my husband’s visit.
So Jeffrey can be with you on Sundays and you can go with him on Wednesdays?
Do you know how your children are doing now?
I talked to them on Tuesday night for maybe 15 minutes. They’re alright. They were supposed to be in court today; the judge had ordered them out, and when I talked to them on Tuesday, they had said, ‘Yes, we’re not going to school because we’re going to go to court.’ But the kids were not there. I was disappointed at that because they have a little facility where you can see them.
Do you have any idea why there weren’t there?
I tried to get information from my attorney, and he had no idea. He said, “I don’t know…Were they supposed to be here?” and I said, “Well, yes, don’t you remember? They ordered it last time,” and he said, “Oh, I don’t know.” Again, they ordered them to be there on the next hearing date. Again, who knows?
Are you feeling a little more encouraged than you were?
I am. I don’t think I realized how tense and stressed I’d become. We had a lot of the friends come over afterwards for a meal and we all talked and watched the babies play on the floor and chatted before everyone went on their own way. After, I felt really tired and I lay down and slept for about three hours. I was feeling very weak and tired, and Jeffrey said, “It’s probably just all of the stress which has built up, and you just got a little relief today…”
So physically, yes, it’s been a big relief. Of course, spiritually, I feel hope again. I was starting to feel very hopeless and that I had done everything and didn’t know what else I could do or how much longer I could go. So a lot of that is gone; my heart feels lighter, and I’m thinking about my children being able to be with their entire family will be such a relief for them. I see it in their little eyes, especially the older ones, and my daughter, especially. She said to me, “Imma, it’s been a year and a half; when is this going to stop?” and I can’t tell her when, but I just tell her, “Soon.” For them to see this little bit of change will make them feel so much better; I just know it. I can’t wait.
Right. I wanted to tell you, too, that just yesterday somebody told me to check my messages on Facebook, in the box that says “Other,” and I opened that box and found a PM there from a reader of yours who had made a complaint to the Judicial Commission about Judge Downing.
“Yes, those letters have been posted at The Post & Email.”
So that was really good, and I wrote him back and said “Thank you,” and he said to let him know if I hear anything.
A brief conversation about the tragic incident at Sandy Hook and the loss of Judeo-Christian values in America ensued, after which Mrs. Henderson said:
Today, seeing the support we have, we really felt the Holy Spirit there. We felt that presence; I think the judge felt that presence. There’s an accountability there when it’s not just people.
“When God is the final arbiter of whether someone has done right or wrong…”
These people are our public servants, and we’re the people. We’ve got that turned around so badly.
Mrs. Henderson later commented on the Facebook support group page:
Jeffrey and I were overwhelmed. We hardly knew what to do with ourselves. We had the most successful day in this court we have ever had. It was all by the Grace of G-d and because we were surrounded by Love and the Holy Spirit. It was in the room. A force that could not be touched by the likes of mans [sic] imperfect system.