CONTESTED CUSTODY HEARING A REPLAY OF PREVIOUS ONE
by Sharon Rondeau
Michelle Robinson* told us that she was not permitted to testify, nor were the case manager and supervisor she requested to testify summoned. The final results mirrored those of the status hearing on April 14, Robinson said.
However, DCFS supervisor René Sandoval, who obtained a restraining order against Robinson after she approached him in a grocery store parking lot on April 3, testified that the encounter “scared” him. In a post-restraining-order statement provided to Robinson through her attorney last week, Sandoval included The Post & Email’s article as a source of his fear for himself and his family.
As The Post & Email reported on Tuesday morning, Robinson was not told until approximately 9:00 AM that day that a proposed visit with her daughter at the courthouse under supervision would not take place.
In March of last year, Robinson’s then-15-month-old daughter was removed from her care by DCFS upon a referral from LAPD Detective Sean Horton. In a telephone call, Horton informed the Department that the father of the child, Eric Crutchfield, had filed a complaint two months after a physical altercation between Robinson and him occurred on December 20, 2015.
Robinson said that the encounter occurred outside of Crutchfield’s home while her daughter was asleep in her car seat in her parked vehicle.
Robinson had filed a police report in the early hours of December 21, 2015 after seeking medical attention prompted by the altercation. Her report would have been filed the same night, she said, except that she first went to the county sheriff’s department, where she was told she needed to report the matter to the LAPD. The deputy who spoke with her advised her to seek medical attention first after viewing the bite mark on her arm, Robinson said. She therefore visited the Kaiser emergency room and, once treated, proceeded to the LAPD, where she submitted a report.
In a previous interview with The Post & Email, Robinson said that it appeared to her that after she spoke with Horton by phone to provide details of the incident, he took action on behalf of Eric Crutchfield by generating an incident report “after the fact” and asking Crutchfield to sign it. He then made the referral to DCFS, claiming Robinson to have violated the restraining order she had in place against Crutchfield.
On March 7, 2016, a warrant for removal of the child was issued, and on March 10, Robinson received a call from the Department requesting that she bring her child in to their offices and relinquish her to their custody. She complied with the request.
She has never been accused of abuse or neglect of her daughter.
Robinson had initially believed that she could regain full custody early on but was instead granted only supervised visitation at a neutral location. For the first six months, she was able to visit with her daughter 2-3 times a week with acquaintances approved by the Department serving as monitors. However, after they became unavailable, Robinson had to resort to consulting a list of internal DCFS monitors, none of whom she was able to clear to her own standards.
Consequently, she has not seen her child since October 31, 2016.
Robinson has been charged with “spousal abuse” for which she is facing trial this summer.
During a custody trial which resulted in a mistrial last summer, Horton vaguely referred to the existence of a video allegedly capturing the December 20 altercation but did not confirm that he had seen it. “The Department said they ‘took his word for it,'” Robinson told us. The Post & Email has seen the transcript of Horton’s testimony.
Crutchfield had neither had nor sought custody of his daughter prior to March 2016 when it was awarded to him by DCFS social workers. Since that time, Robinson has been gravely concerned about her daughter’s health, safety, and well-being given that the home in which she is living is occupied by a variety of relatives and non-relatives who reportedly keep their own schedules, do not share meals together, and may not be sensitive to the needs of a very young child.
As Robinson had a restraining order in place against Crutchfield from a domestic-violence incident in early 2015 and Crutchfield was observed by the California Highway Patrol to be following her on the highway last summer, Crutchfield was jailed for several days for violating the order. Robinson told The Post & Email that she had no idea who cared for their daughter while Crutchfield was in jail.
To Robinson’s knowledge, DCFS visited her daughter only once in the 13 months of the case, which is now closed as a result of Tuesday’s hearing. Despite the paucity of visits, social workers have reported that her daughter is thriving.
However, Robinson is aware that her daughter was recommended to receive speech therapy at a regional center but has received incomplete information as to whether or not she is attending sessions.
On April 14, a motion was introduced by County Counsel that Robinson’s right to have a say in her daughter’s education be restricted. She possesses Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, while Crutchfield did not finish tenth grade, Robinson said. On Tuesday night, Robinson related that while they were together, she attempted to help Crutchfield obtain his high school records so that he could begin working on a GED.
At the April 14 status hearing, a number of restraining orders were reviewed and approved naming Robinson as the individual to be restrained, including one with her daughter’s name. While at the time, that motion received an argument from Robinson’s attorney, Katherine Anderson, it was granted on Tuesday.
When The Post & Email asked Robinson how she could have visitation with her daughter in light of the new restraining order, she responded, “I’m restrained from any contact with her other than for visitation.”
Robinson said she found it surprising that the same restraining orders reviewed on the 14th were again the first order of business at Tuesday’s hearing. She said she asked the court, “Don’t we have to decide custody first before we can talk about restraining orders?” to which Anderson told her, “We’ll get to that.”
However, later on, Judge Frank Menetrez stated that he would make no change to the Department’s recommendation that Crutchfield receive permanent custody of the child, although he did not define whether it encompasses “full legal and physical custody,” as had been proposed prior to the 14th.
DCFS services were ordered ended, and Robinson must not only pay for “professional” monitors herself, but also receive Crutchfield’s approval of the monitor beforehand. As Crutchfield has a restraining order against her, she cannot communicate with him directly.
Robinson said that prior to the end of the hearing, she stood up with her companion and told the court that she “couldn’t take any more” and made her exit, distraught.
She was not served with the restraining orders and left the courtroom empty-handed.
Robinson is not alone in her experience with Los Angeles DCFS. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the Department by parents whose children were removed inappropriately as well as by foster parents. In The Post & Email’s previous reporting on the subject, the Henderson and Williams parents conveyed that DCFS social workers, who confiscated their children, wield enormous power over their lives and yet remain unaccountable as a result of the labyrinthine Los Angeles child-protective system.
Other parents and observers have shared similar stories in documented cases.
Also at issue is whether or not attorneys from Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, Inc. (LADL), who are paid by the county, follow a predetermined agenda in their representation of parents whose children have been removed from their custody.
Taxpayers ultimately fund child-protective agencies, the law firms assigned exclusively to represent parents, foster parents who care for children removed from their biological parents, and adoption payouts.
*Not her real name