February 20, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The news out of New Mexico only gets worse. First it was Leland Valdez who was beaten to death, apparently by his mother, Tabetha Van Holtz and possibly her boyfriend. Then it was Omaree Varela who was kicked to death by his mother Synthia Varela-Casaus who’s admitted to it, according to police.
Those deaths were bad enough, but they’re exacerbated by the fact that in both cases, the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department knew ahead of time the children were in grave danger, but did nothing to prevent the abuse. Still worse is the fact that CYFD appears in each case to have actively intervened to keep the children in the homes in which they were known to be in danger and in which they eventually were killed. In neither case was the father considered as a possible placement alternative for the child.
And in Omaree’s case, the police played their part in the general governmental negligence that contributed to a child’s brutalization and death. At the age of nine, Omaree made a desperate call to the 911 operator and amazingly had the foresight to leave the phone line open while he was verbally abused and threatened with physical abuse by his mother and stepfather. Eventually two police officers showed up, but, even faced with the 911 recording, did nothing to keep the little boy safe. They didn’t even file a report of the matter.
Now we have this case in which yet again, New Mexico officials are keeping a father out of his child’s life. So far, the girl hasn’t been injured physically, which is fortunate, but police seem to be doing all they can to keep her in harm’s way.
Back in 2012, far away in Massachusetts, James Stanley and Miranda Bernson were in a custody fight over their daughter who was four. Stanley was given temporary custody and Bernson was ordered to undergo mental health counselling.
Now, that information alone is enough to tell us that there’s something significantly wrong with Bernson’s parental fitness. Fathers seldom receive custody and the fact that Stanley did, plus Bernson’s being ordered to go to counselling strongly suggest the Bay State judge found something seriously amiss with her as a mother.
Sure enough, following the issuance of those temporary orders, Bernson, along with her new husband Steven Drew, abducted the little girl and fled the state. Massachusetts officials issued a warrant for Bernson’s arrest. Almost two years later, the two were found in New Mexico and Bernson was arrested.
That was a huge relief to Stanley who assumed he’d be getting his little girl back again. After all, he had a court order granting him custody of her. But the police in Albuquerque have other ideas. They first place the child in state custody, presumably with a foster family. But then, instead of returning her to Stanley, they handed her over to Drew.
That’s right, the man who aided and abetted the parental kidnapping of a child now has de facto custody of her.
“The first thing I asked was, ‘Where’s my daughter? Is she okay? When is she coming home?’ ” [Stanley] said. “I was told she was in state custody at first, then I was told later on that she was left in Steven’s custody. They left my child in the hands of the other alleged kidnapper in the process.”
Both NMSP and CYFD say they determined the girl was safe in her Albuquerque home with Drew.
But neither agency would tell KRQE News 13 if they’ve actually checked to see if the new husband has any custody rights – or checked his criminal background.
Massachusetts court orders show that Drew has no custody, but police records show he has convictions that include breaking and entering and larceny, and charges including a false bomb threat.
“This is a dangerous person,” Stanley said about Drew.
I don’t know if the girl is safe with Drew, but of course there are countless people with whom she’d be safe. She probably has grandparents, aunts and uncles, even neighbors who’d take good care of her. To put it mildly, that’s not the point. This child has a fit father with an order of custody. The State of New Mexico has no business deciding issues of custody or anything else regarding Stanley and his daughter. A Massachusetts court has continuing jurisdiction of the child custody case and the Bay State has a criminal case at least against Bernson and probably Drew as well. New Mexico in turn has no jurisdiction over Stanley, who doesn’t live there.
Finally, according to the United States Supreme Court, no state may interfere with Stanley’s parental rights because no state has found him unfit to be her dad.
But the State of New Mexico is very much interfering with his parental rights. Here’s a child who’s been deprived of her loving father for almost two years. She’s now six. Much mental health science on child kidnapping shows it to be child abuse by the abducting parent. That means this little girl needs her father more than ever. She’s been on the run with her mother and stepfather for much of her life. She likely hasn’t been in school, hasn’t been able to make friends, hasn’t seen or talked to her father, her grandparents or other members of her extended family. Now more than ever she needs the love and stability that only her father can give her.
It’s the law and it’s in her best interests to be returned to her father’s care as soon as possible. So why aren’t the New Mexico State Police doing that? Good question.
Stanley faxed his custody papers to NMSP – showing the judge’s order that he has full custody and that police were to assist in his daughter’s return.
“I’ve asked them to take action, they’ve refused to action,” he said.
The father says he’s contacted everyone from CYFD, to APD, to state police but isn’t getting any help or direction on what steps to take.
All three agencies told KRQE News 13 this is an out-of-state “child custody dispute” that isn’t their responsibility.
Stanley says he’s spent his money on fighting a long divorce and custody battle, and can’t afford another attorney to handle this situation.
He’s hoping this story will shed light on the situation – and that the state will take her out of Drew’s custody and get her back home.
For now, he’s afraid his daughter is going to vanish again.
“My hope is just getting my daughter back home, where she has the family and support and the proper counseling to get her through this,” he said.
It’s beginning to look like another one of those cases in which, when it comes to a living, breathing child, “possession is nine points of the law.” We see this in international kidnapping cases frequently; wherever the child’s been taken, there he/she stays, despite the law and common sense.
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