What does it take to protect a child from a crazy parent? Seriously, when is enough enough? In Tampa, Florida, a deranged father threw his beautiful, loving, precious 5 year old daughter off a bridge, in front of an officer. Tragic? Yes. Preventable? I say yes in this case. The government had lots of warning signs and took no action. i contend it is because citizens and law enforcement officers (LEOs), are too often afraid of legal reprisals, but that is a false fear.
Here’s all that the government knew, or could have easily known, which happened in the 24 hours prior before the deranged father threw his daughter off the bridge:
There was a 911 call from an anonymous person saying he was driving around in his pajamas and appeared delusional and depressed. That note was put in a DFCS caseworker’s file for investigation later. After the funeral.
On his visit to a lawyer, he called the lawyer God. I promise you that is never the case. He didn’t need custody paperwork because it “wouldn’t matter anymore.” He claimed he was God. He asked his lawyer to read the Bible to him in Swedish. His lawyer called 911 and reported his bizarre behavior. The lawyer lamented, on the 911 phone call, that she should have kept the child.
He then went to a church were he asked to have a priest baptize his daughter, this being the first time they’d ever been in that church. He claimed he was the Pope. To a priest he said that. When interviewed by the police at the church, he admitted he was off his medications. 37 medications he said. He had a new “clarity on life.” Why that wasn’t enough, I don’t know.
Despite all of that, the government’s response was to take no action. The cops on the scene looked him in the eye and decided that he wasn’t crazy. Isn’t that just dandy? By looking him in the eye, could they tell his thoughts? His medication load? His proclivity to harm? Part of their rationale was that the child was happy, well dressed and appeared healthy. So she fell to her death healthy and pretty. Isn’t that just peachy!
He had numerous domestic violence charges, arrests and investigations in the past year. He was on probation for domestic violence at the time of the police interview.
Did any government worker know ALL of these facts at any given point in time? Probably not. And that is a shame because the government sure seems to be able to compile information quickly about things that matter to them, like taxes or criminal histories. Think about it, they’ll spend $15,000 for a license plate reader (LPR) that can scan every license plate in every direction for a 100 yards and instantly tell the officer who the driver should be, if the registration ((taxes) are current, and if the vehicle or driver is wanted for a crime. But they can’t compile information to save a child’s life. LPRs are money generating, children aren’t.
If you put those KNOWN warnings in a HAL 9000, the computer says take the child away from the lunatic. Government caseworkers were going to get around to it, and the cops on the scene substituted their own extensive legal and medical training to make their own decision and the little girl is dead.
What I want to know is what more did they need? Would a notarized statement from him that he was going to harm his child have been enough? It appears the government would have been more concerned about the notary’s certificate being valid than the substance of the affidavit.
Kelly, is this beat up on government, or beat up on cops, day? No, actually it’s not. What I hope to instill in law enforcement and DFCS workers and citizens is that they will NEVER get in trouble for protecting a child in a mental health situation. I promise. Never will they get chewed out by a judge for being too careful about the welfare of a child.
Our local DFCS caseworkers will, based on my experience, take a child from a parent who is off their medications. They will file a petition and there will be a court hearing on what to do with the child pending the parent’s compliance with mental health treatment. But before they can do that great job protecting children, they have to know about the problem. It’s up to us, the citizens, the families, law enforcement, the lawyers, the Sunday School teachers, school teachers, to give DFCS a heads up. You don’t need to be anonymous either. Stand up for the child.
Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice. He writes about the law, rock ‘n roll and politics. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at email@example.com to comment on this article or suggest articles that you’d like to see.
Originally published in the Houston Home Journal on Jan 17, 2015