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Geatches v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

June 22, 2016



          Leah Lanford, Ark. Pub. Defender Comm'n, for appellant Mike Geatches

          Dusti Standridge, for appellant Amy Geatches.

          Jerald A. Sharum, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee. Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad litem for minor children.

          LARRY D. VAUGHT, Judge

         Mike and Amy Geatches appeal the Crawford County Circuit Court's orders terminating their parental rights to two minor children, C.S. and G.G.[1] Mike's appellate counsel filed a motion to withdraw and a no-merit brief pursuant to Linker-Flores v. Arkansas Department of Human Services, 359 Ark. 131, 194 S.W.3d 739 (2004) (Linker-Flores (I)), while Amy filed a merits brief challenging the circuit court's findings as to statutory grounds and best interest. We affirm the termination of Amy's parental rights. We deny Mike's counsel's motion to withdraw and order rebriefing and supplementation of the record.

         In 2014, Mike and Amy were arrested on multiple counts of fraud, prompting the removal of C.S. and G.G. from their custody. While in DHS care, the children revealed that they had been living in hotel rooms and the family's van and had not attended school. DHS filed a petition for emergency custody due to dependency-neglect, which the court granted on March 21, 2014. Five days later, the court found probable cause for the children to remain in DHS custody. In the probable-cause order, the court instructed DHS to provide notice to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), codified at 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901–1963.

         The children were adjudicated dependent-neglected on June 19, 2014. The case goal was set as reunification, and the parents were ordered to provide DHS with their current address and contact information, obtain and maintain safe and stable housing, attend and complete psychological evaluations and any resulting recommendations regarding psychological care, attend and complete parenting classes, obtain and maintain legitimate income, and resolve all pending criminal charges.

         A review hearing was held on October 2, 2014, during which the court considered recommendations of a representative of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and found that immediately returning the children to either parent would result in serious emotional or physical harm. The court maintained the case plan as reunification but found that the parents had only partially complied with previous court orders. They had obtained safe and stable housing, and Amy had obtained employment, but the court noted that it was significant that neither parent had disclosed to DHS or the court that they had outstanding criminal charges and fines in other states, had a history of child maltreatment in other states, and that Mike had a previous true finding for sexual abuse against a child in Indiana. The court developed a new case plan to address these issues. Visitation with the children was suspended due to the existence of an ongoing investigation of sexual abuse against the children by one or both of the parents.

         On December 11, 2014, the court held another review hearing, as a result of which it changed the case goal to termination of parental rights and adoption. At that hearing, the court again found that the couple had partially complied with the case plan but that Mike was now incarcerated due to new criminal charges for raping his daughter, G.G.

         On December 22, 2014, DHS filed a petition to terminate both parents' parental rights. After multiple continuations, the court held bifurcated termination hearings for each parent[2]on June 2, 2015. In the hearing for Mike, the evidence was minimal because he admitted having pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault against G.G., for which he had been sentenced to twelve years in the Arkansas Department of Correction and fined $15, 000. Mike acknowledged that C.S. had attended only one semester of kindergarten. He said that the children had been "home schooled" but that they did not follow any sort of curriculum and instead just "talked about stuff." The DHS worker testified that he recommended termination of Mike's parental rights as to both children because Mike had molested G.G., the children were adoptable, and there were no more services that DHS could offer that would be likely to remedy the causes of removal. He also noted that the children were afraid of Mike and did not want to return home. A representative of the Cherokee Nation also recommended termination and expressed the opinion that the children would suffer serious emotional and physical harm if returned to Mike's custody. The court ruled from the bench that it would issue a written order terminating Mike's parental rights.

         The court then proceeded with the termination hearing as to Amy. G.G. testified that she was eight years old and attended the first grade. She stated that she had never attended school before this year, that she did not know how to read when she started school, and that she had had to "work extra hard" to catch up. When asked what she liked about living with her foster family, she stated that "they feed me every – like, breakfast, lunch, and dinner." She testified that, when she lived with her parents, they lived in hotels, they only fed her "at the end of the day, " and "sometimes they would steal stuff." She stated that she and her brother did not go to school when they lived with her parents. They would spend their days at Wal-Mart or in the car. G.G. testified that at night Mike would take her to his bed, take her clothes off, kiss her lips, and put his fingers on her private parts. She said that she told her mom about this and that her mom didn't do anything about it. She stated that she did not want to go home and that she was angry at her father. She stated that her mother had not done anything bad to her, other than not doing anything to protect her from her father's abuse. G.G. stated that her mother only touched her private parts to "check for infections." She testified that she had older siblings that lived in another state. She stated that her older sister did not like her dad because he did "bad things to her too" and that "my mom knew about that."

         Stephen Chiovolini, Amy's therapist, testified that he had been treating Amy for approximately six months. Chiovolini testified that Amy was sexually inappropriate around the children, including admittedly having sex in the same room where the children were sleeping. He stated that Amy was making progress in her treatment but that she needed approximately another year or more before it would be safe for her to have supervised visitation with the children. He stated that there had been a setback in Amy's treatment the day before the hearing when he learned for the first time that Amy had known that her son, C.S., had been masturbating Mike. Chiovolini also stated that there were unconfirmed allegations that Amy had taught C.S. this behavior. Chiovolini stated that Amy had difficulty being honest about what had happened with the children and had a history of not disclosing information to him. He said he was pleased with her progress but declined to make a recommendation on whether the children should be returned to her. He said that "she has a lot more work to do as far as her sexual behaviors." On cross-examination by Amy's attorney, Chiovolini stated that Amy had been sexually abused as a child and had needed inpatient mental-health treatment as a result.

         Aaron Triplett, a forensic interviewer at the Cooper Anthony Mercy Advocacy Center in Hot Springs, testified that he forensically interviewed G.G. twice. He stated that G.G. disclosed sexual abuse by her father, was consistent throughout the two interviews, demonstrated sexual knowledge beyond what would normally be expected for a child her age, and appeared to be credible. He stated that G.G. never disclosed sexual abuse by her mother, and Triplett said that he did not get the impression that G.G. was afraid of her mother.

         Adam Maisen, a mental-health therapist who had been treating G.G. and C.S., stated that G.G. was working on personal-space issues and knowing right from wrong in her relationships with other people. He stated that her issues stemmed from her sexual abuse. He also testified that she was academically delayed. He testified that G.G. was doing well in her current foster situation and was adjusting well to school. Maisen testified that G.G. had no desire to ever see her father due to his abuse and that she had a lot of anger against her mother for failing to protect her. He stated that G.G. did not wish to return to ...

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