FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT
[NO. 66FJV-15-332] HONORABLE ANNIE POWELL HENDRICKS, JUDGE
Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for
appellant Kelvin Rasheed Willis.
Standridge, for appellant Jonathan Harris.
Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor children.
KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge
a combined appeal from an order terminating parental rights.
Appellant Jonathan Harris appeals from the termination of his
parental rights to his son, M.H., who was born on 12/16/2014.
Appellant Kelvin Rasheed Willis (hereinafter, Kelvin Rasheed
Willis shall be referred to as "Rasheed") appeals
from the termination of his parental rights to his daughter,
K.W., who was born on 4/8/2016. The mother of both children
is Taniah Cotton. Taniah's parental rights were also
terminated, but she has not appealed.
appeal, Jonathan challenges the sufficiency of the evidence,
arguing that there was insufficient proof of statutory
grounds and insufficient proof that termination of his
parental rights was in his child's best interest. In
Rasheed's appeal, he also challenges the sufficiency of
the evidence as to the statutory grounds found by the trial
court and the best interest of his child. In addition,
Rasheed argues that the trial court erred in proceeding on
the termination petition because he was not appointed counsel
until after the petition to terminate was filed, and also
that he was denied basic due process from the outset of the
case. We affirm the termination of both Jonathan's and
Rasheed's parental rights.
review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo.
Mitchell v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2013
Ark.App. 715, 430 S.W.3d 851. At least one statutory ground
must exist, in addition to a finding that it is in the
child's best interest to terminate parental rights; these
must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Ark. Code
Ann. § 9-27-341 (Repl. 2015); M.T. v. Ark. Dep't
of Human Servs., 58 Ark.App. 302, 952 S.W.2d 177 (1997).
Clear and convincing evidence is that degree of proof that
will produce in the factfinder a firm conviction as to the
allegation sought to be established. Anderson v.
Douglas, 310 Ark. 633, 839 S.W.2d 196 (1992). The
appellate inquiry is whether the trial court's finding
that the disputed fact was proved by clear and convincing
evidence is clearly erroneous. J.T. v. Ark. Dep't of
Human Servs., 329 Ark. 243, 947 S.W.2d 761 (1997). A
finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence
to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is
left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has
been made. Yarborough v. Ark. Dep't of Human
Servs., 96 Ark.App. 247, 240 S.W.3d 626 (2006).
case was initiated by appellee Arkansas Department of Human
Services (DHS) when it filed a petition for emergency custody
of M.H. on June 1, 2015. At the time the petition was filed
M.H.'s father, Jonathan, was incarcerated after having
been recently convicted of delivery of marijuana and
sentenced to two years in prison followed by a four- year
suspended imposition of sentence. An attached affidavit of a
family service worker stated that DHS had removed M.H. from
his mother's custody based on the mother's history
with drugs, multiple arrests for prostitution, homelessness,
and failure to accept DHS services. On the same day the
petition was filed, the trial court entered an ex parte order
for emergency custody of M.H.
respect to M.H., a probable-cause order was entered on July
2, 2015, and an adjudication order was entered on November
10, 2015. The adjudication order adjudicated M.H.
dependent-neglected and set the case goal as reunification.
review order dated November 18, 2015 (but not filed until
April 12, 2016) the trial court found that M.H.'s mother
had complied with none of the case plan, had not remained
clean and sober, and had not resolved her criminal troubles.
The review order noted that Jonathan had been released from
prison on November 4, 2015, was currently living in a halfway
house, and was to be discharged from the halfway house in
January 2016. The trial court ordered Jonathan to comply with
the conditions of his parole and to contact DHS to be
assessed for services upon his release from the halfway
the case involving Jonathan and M.H. was proceeding, the case
involving K.W. commenced. On April 11, 2016, DHS filed a
petition for emergency custody of K.W. The attached affidavit
stated that K.W.'s mother (also the mother of M.H.) had
tested positive for drugs throughout her pregnancy, that she
was positive for methadone at the time of K.W.'s birth
three days earlier, and that an emergency hold of the child
was taken at the hospital due to newborn/illegal-substance
exposure. The petition stated that the mother was married to
Rasheed Wilson and that she identified him as
K.W.'s father. The petition stated further that the
mother denied knowledge of Rasheed's whereabouts and
that, despite reasonable diligence, DHS was unable to
ascertain Rasheed's whereabouts or address. On the same
day the petition was filed, the trial court entered an ex
parte order for emergency custody of K.W. In a probable-cause
order dated April 13, 2016 (but not filed until May 12, 2016)
the trial court found that the whereabouts of Rasheed Wilson
were unknown, and also that the whereabouts of Jonathan
Harris were unknown.
25, 2016, the trial court entered an adjudication order and
permanency planning order. In that order, K.W. was found to
be dependent-neglected. The trial court stated in the order
that K.W. was just over a month old at the time of the
hearing (which was held on May 11, 2016) and remained
hospitalized receiving treatment for methadone withdrawal.
The trial court stated that K.W.'s birth certificate
reflected that Kelvin Rasheed Willis was her father, and that
a marriage license showed him to be married to K.W.'s
mother. The style of the case was modified to identify
K.W.'s father by his correct name of Kelvin Rasheed
Willis instead of Rasheed Wilson. With regard to Jonathan,
the trial court stated that he had been ordered to notify DHS
upon his release from the halfway house, that he was released
from the halfway house in January 2016, but that he did not
contact DHS until May 1, 2016. Jonathan had failed to appear
at the hearing despite having notice. The trial court found
that the children's mother had not complied with the case
plan and that her whereabouts were unknown. The trial court
relieved DHS of providing further services to the mother or
Jonathan and stated that, unless the whereabouts of Rasheed
were ascertained, DHS was unable to provide services to him.
The permanency plan for M.H. was termination and adoption,
and the permanency plan for K.W. was reunification with the
concurrent goal of termination and adoption.
filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of
Jonathan, Rasheed, and the mother, Taniah Cotton, on August
22, 2016. A review hearing was held on August 24, 2016,
wherein Rasheed appeared represented by counsel, with Rasheed
having been brought there from a local detention facility. In
the review order, filed later on October 4, 2016, the trial
court stated that Rasheed had been arrested on charges of
forgery and for violating the terms of his suspended
sentences. With regard to Jonathan, the trial court found
that he was incarcerated with an expected release date of
August 31, 2016. In the review order, the trial court noted
that it had appointed counsel for both Rasheed and Jonathan.
termination hearing was held on December 2, 2016. Jonathan
did not appear at the termination hearing but was represented
by counsel. Rasheed, who was still ...