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“THEY WANT A ‘GUILTY’ VERDICT”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jul. 7, 2020) — Last week, The Post & Email interviewed the grandmother of an infant taken from her parents this past February after the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) accused the parents of child physical abuse, an allegation the parents and grandmother deny and say stemmed from a hasty decision which failed to include information about the child’s difficult birth as well as two independent orthopedists’ opinions.
The grandmother, Bekura Shabazz, is a dual resident of both Tennessee and Virginia and Founder & President of First Alliance Consulting LLC. and the Criminal Injustice Reform Network. She serves as Internal Policy Chairwoman for the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative, the Social Justice and Health Disparities Chairwoman for the Virginia Green New Deal, Board member of the National African American Families First and Preservation Association and is the Criminal Justice Chairwoman of the Chesterfield County, VA NAACP.
During our interview, Shabazz said the placement of her granddaughter in foster care has affected five generations of her family, from her own 97-year-old grandmother to her then-two-month-old granddaughter who is now six months old.
Because her daughter is active-duty military, Shabazz believes the armed services should take an active role when one of its members is accused of child abuse or neglect. “This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to young military families in my daughter’s city,” Shabazz said.
Of the “rib fractures and left clavicle fracture” found in her granddaughter’s x-rays, Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) care team doctor, Heather Williams, said, ”Absent any identifiable underlying disease the injuries were most consistent with child physical abuse,” Shabazz reported. “Former DCS caseworker LaTasha Williams stated the fractures to be evidence of ‘domestic abuse’ according to the protective agreement that was already filled out before she had even met the parents,” Shabazz told us. The injuries were eventually explained to have resulted from the baby’s traumatic birth, Shabazz said, in which her daughter labored for almost two days and received care solely from a midwife she had never met before delivery.
As a result of DCS’s intervention, Shabazz said, she hasn’t been able to see her only grandchild since she was “wrongfully removed” by DCS without a warrant on March 23, 2020. “After six long weeks of tears, feelings of despair and anger, a Montgomery County Court Judge ordered the baby to be returned to her great-grandmother for placement but not without strict restrictions,” Shabazz said. “My daughter and the baby’s father could see the newborn for only two hours a week and they had to find another place to live. They were victims of state-induced homelessness. At least the baby was back with family.”
Shabazz said she was “terrified” while the baby was in foster care. “DCS denied the baby breast milk, visitation and medical care. They didn’t want her family to take the baby to an independent specialist so that they could clear their names, so they took her and told the foster parents not to take the baby to any doctor’s appointments, either. This was done by DCS and the Guardian Ad-Litem in the case, Paisley Anderson. It was a nightmare!”
Shabazz contacted The Post & Email after reading our series on the Tennessee father who reported allegations of abuse from his four children in their mother and stepfather’s home to DCS, which kept him uninformed as to the progress of any investigation it might have launched, along with local officials. Since her saga with the agency began earlier this year, emails demonstrate that Shabazz has become an outspoken advocate for change to a system which allows social workers to remove children from their homes on just a suspicion of abuse without conducting an investigation or informing parents of their rights.
Taking us back to the beginning of her granddaughter’s removal from her daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law’ss home, Shabazz told us:
On February 26, the baby turned two months old. She went to her doctor’s appointment for her two-month checkup and for vaccinations. The pediatrician said she looked great and was advanced for her age. The baby got her vaccines and of course developed a fever that night. So my daughter and son-in-law took her to the ER because the fever was not receding. The hospital did a septic workup and x-rays, and that was the first time they had ever heard that their child had fractures. There were 20 fractures and a left clavicle fracture. She was then transferred over to Vanderbilt for further evaluation. The multi-disciplinary team consisted only of a child-abuse expert, a radiologist and an orthopedist. They never checked with a neonatal specialist, the delivering midwife or the pediatrician or other physicians who could have provided an explanation for the fractures other than child abuse such as a pathologist or endocrinologist. What they said was that absent any underlying, identifiable disease, the injuries were consistent with child physical abuse even though Dr. Ebenezer, the orthopedist, wanted to see her back in 6-8 weeks in case it showed up as a bone disease.
When you look at the medical records and go through them thoroughly, it says that the baby’s trauma labs came back unremarkable. How can the baby be physically abused without there being any signs of internal or external damages? There were no bruises, no lesions or soft tissue damage, no broken blood vessels, no signs of breathing distress, no internal organ damage, no nothing. So I got to researching. At that point, I was in Virginia; I was willing to go with child protective services since this was my first time learning how it works. I knew my daughter wasn’t capable of doing anything like this. She had helped me raise her siblings and was very good with them, too, but I couldn’t just give my daughter a pass because she’s my daughter; I don’t do that. I had to find out what was really going on. What I discovered made me even more sick.
In researching, I found out about metabolic bone disease and infantile rickets, which spontaneously will correct itself once the Vitamin D deficiency is sufficient again. The baby did have a low Vitamin D level when she was born; why did they rule this out? There was a whole slew of things that this could have been that they did not check for; they did not consult with an endocrinologist even with the Vitamin D deficiency. So I thought, “Maybe she has this metabolic bone disease.”
I went to Tennessee and spoke with DCS about what they were doing, and I looked at their records and noticed that their investigator showed up to the scene with the investigation papers already filled out, saying that the baby was injured from domestic abuse. How can they do that without even having met either parent, and neither one of the parents has ever come in contact with the police in the military, school, their relationship, ANYWHERE…
When we asked Shabazz whether or not the pediatrician ever noticed anything prior to the two-month visit, Shabazz responded in the negative. Continuing, she said:
The worker showed up with the IPA papers saying that if the parents didn’t sign it, she would take the baby right then and there, which we now know is not true, but that’s what they do. I think a huge issue nationwide is these IPAs; they don’t let the parents know that these are voluntary and they can’t take the baby without a warrant.
So they signed it; my mom had to fly down to Tennessee and become a part of the IPA, so she was then caretaker; the baby was released from the hospital with no problems besides the already healed fractures and the parents got visitation from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily. The problem arose when I came and started to do an investigation on everything and everybody, and DCS did not like me showing up. I do this work – not DCS work, but I’m a legal activist and advocate in the state of Virginia and nationwide. I’ve been doing this for 23 years and I am good at what I do. They did not like that, and that’s when the threats and bullying started by DCS supervisor Sara Shepard and Angel Miller.
Then the threats started to come that “We can just take the baby and put her in foster care.” We wanted to get her evaluated at the Children’s National Hospital Bone Clinic in Washington, D.C. I believe they’re considered number 3 in the nation, and we wanted to get her over there for a full evaluation. DCS did not want us to take her there, so we found another hospital in the state that was willing to evaluate the baby. That wasn’t good enough, either; they wrongfully removed the baby without a reason or warrant and filed a petition to the court, intentionally misrepresenting the facts and saying that my daughter and I were going to abscond knowing we were going to the hospital to have the baby evaluated. She was placed in foster care for six weeks, and we didn’t know where she was. She could have been anywhere. I think it’s fair to say that DCS did a lot more than this to my family but we would need a television show in order for me to explain it all.
I thought it was traumatizing enough just to be involved with DCS, but when somebody takes your child and you have lawyers who don’t know DCS policy and did not know that they should have required DCS to get a warrant before they took her, it’s even worse; it’s a nightmare. They didn’t have a probable cause hearing; they didn’t have a warrant. It was a disaster. We never got our day in court because the attorneys for my daughter and son-in-law thought they were continuing the probable cause hearing to allow me to get an attorney to do the intervening petition but in fact they waived the hearing instead.
When they took the baby, she was breastfeeding, so they denied her breast milk. They denied her any family interaction because they didn’t allow the parents to visit. They started to threaten us that we would never see her again. I was trying to figure out why they didn’t want us to take her to the doctor. Then the DCS lawyer said, “Even if you do get a second opinion, we’re not going by it; we’re going off of what Vanderbilt says.” What did that mean? If you’re investigating something, you want to know what every piece is so you can get to the truth, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth when it comes to DCS. Dealing with DCS is extremely adversarial, and DCS is not supposed to be adversarial in nature. We weren’t upset that DCS got involved, because there are children out there who are really being abused. We get it; we don’t mind them doing their investigations. We were open to their coming in, getting whatever they needed, spending the night, even; we’re OK with that but we aren’t OK with lying, bullying, not following your policy and breaking the law. No, that is not OK and goes from Commissioner Jennifer Nichols, Deputy Commissioner Dimple Dudley, Executive Director Carla Aaron and their Ombudsman, Gerald Papica, who is supposed to be neutral.
DCS never did an investigation. Less than two weeks after the case opened, they filed a petition to deem the baby dependent and neglected and that her injuries were sustained from severe abuse. To this day, we have not received a substantiation-of-abuse letter from DCS. We’re in court now, but how are we in court without a substantiation of abuse? What exactly are they alleging was done and by whom and when and most importantly, how? They use a boilerplate template for every abuse case that doesn’t say how the child was abused, when, or the effects of it. I believe this is a violation of their due process and violates their rights to notice.
While the baby was in foster care, we couldn’t take her physically to be evaluated, so we took her medical records to another orthopedist in Nashville. When she looked at the x-rays, she said, “Hmmm, this doesn’t look like abuse. It looks like metabolic bone disease or birth trauma.” Then we sent the records up to a sociologist/OBGYN team in Virginia and they wrote a very thorough report about the injuries being sustained during birth; this was called mechanical birth trauma. During my daughter’s labor, the baby was turned to her side, got stuck by her shoulder, and couldn’t come out of the birth canal. They pulled and tugged on the baby but she would not become dislodged. My daughter had to have an episiotomy; however, the baby did not budge then, either; they were pulling and tugging on the baby again and the baby still wouldn’t come out. Then they did a second episiotomy; they were pulling and tugging on the baby and she finally was delivered on 12/25/2019.
The midwife said in the medical records that it was a “spontaneous” delivery; it wasn’t. My daughter had to have an epidural and two episiotomies. My daughter told Vanderbilt that she had a difficult delivery and they said, “Well, it’s not in your medical records.” And she said, “Well, I didn’t write the medical records.” The radiologist said, “I don’t think a baby would suffer this many fractures from just being born.” But they do and there is medical literature that accounts for this.
Vanderbilt noted the fractures with different ages and stages, which our orthopedist, Dr. XXXXXX at Erlanger, says is not true. Once we got the baby back, we took her to the orthopedist we had planned to see after we were told we could not go to Children’s National Hospital, and he agreed that the injuries looked as if they came from birth trauma and that it very well can happen, because when the baby is stuck in the canal, the mother is still contracting. Mothers don’t stop contracting until a few days after the birth. In this case the baby was turned to the side and stuck in the canal and her mother was still opening and closing on her. The doctor also said the injuries were not different ages and stages, but rather, that “the injuries look like they’re two months old.” Interesting, because the baby was two months old at the time. Vanderbilt’s orthopedist said the injuries were two weeks old.
We took the baby to Tennessee Orthopaedics Alliance so Dr. XXXXXX could physically examine her this time and compare the Vanderbilt records she had reviewed while the baby was in foster care. Dr. XXXXXX said the exact same thing, that she thought it was birth trauma and that the injuries were about two months old and that there were no acute fractures as Vanderbilt’s care team had noted. Both doctors said to still get her checked for metabolic bone disease to “rule it out.”
DCS didn’t want to hear this. The judge said he wasn’t going to take Vanderbilt’s opinion because they have “tunnel vision.” So DCS went and hired another doctor in Memphis, TN to say that it was child abuse. This doctor had never even seen the baby.
So here we are today: The mom’s daughter has been able to get back in the house but not the father; the father has been ordered to take anger management classes even though he’s the quiet one of the bunch. This is common when DCS and the courts want to make it look like the father is the aggressor and the mother is the one who failed to protect. They do this to families all the time to tear them apart. But I am here to tell you neither of my children are abusers. One is serving her country and the other is a veteran; they take pride in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. DCS could care less that they have two doctors saying it’s birth trauma. They want it to be abuse and they are going to stop at nothing to make it just that, even with no proof. What’s interesting to me about all of this is that DCS’s doctors are not speaking with the other doctors who have actually seen the baby and they are more concerned with taking this baby from these parents and selling her off to the highest bidder rather than finding out what’s wrong with the child or if the child was truly abused. They want a “guilty” verdict even when the parent isn’t guilty. Look at the Bryant-Bruce case, the Garcias’ case…both military and not guilty. DCS was WRONG, the child abuse specialist at Vanderbilt was WRONG and both of them are WRONG AGAIN!
They say that removing a child from its parents is not a criminal case; it’s civil. Anytime you’re taking someone’s child away, it should be criminal. This should not be taken lightly. I’d rather go to jail any day than you take my child from me. The burden of proof needed to take a child is less than what is needed to convict someone of stealing bubble gum in every court all over the nation. All they need is a “preponderance of evidence.” There are so many things wrong with this. When you’re talking about kinship placement, they would not even allow me to be considered. My daughter has two adult brothers and sisters and they refused to allow them placement as well. So my mother has been sentenced to stay in Montgomery County indefinitely until this case is concluded, when the Judge or DC could have easily allowed her to go back home to Virginia with the baby. We have a DCS in Virginia and the state has provisions for interstate DCS cases. She was the sole caregiver for my 97-yearold grandma with dementia. Judge Grimes said. “If you want to go home, I’ll just put the baby back in foster care.” Foster care should not be used to retaliate against nor as a punishment for families that have legitimate reasons to go back to their home states. The foster care system as a whole should be ashamed of itself. My family and I feel just like slaves. I found out that kinship placement is only a recommendation; it’s not a demand or requirement and it should be. DCS starts taking money in as soon as the child goes into foster care. They don’t get anything if the child is still with the family, and so of course they’re going to push for foster care — it’s a cash cow.
Tennessee DCS was under federal administration for 17 years, in fact up until February 2019. There still needs to be a lot of reform around this, and I am planning a peaceful protest outside of DCS in Nashville on July 8th to make our demands known.
Editor’s Note: In 2014, a lawsuit was filed against the federal government claiming that a nurse-midwife, who Shabazz said is the same midwife who delivered her granddaughter, caused career-damaging conditions while the couple was stationed at Ft. Campbell, KY given the husband’s military service at the time.
This story will be continued in a subsequent article.