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Allen-Grace v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

February 7, 2018



          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

          Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad litem for minor children.


         Charity Allen-Grace appeals from the Washington County Circuit Court's order adjudicating her three children-A.S. (01/22/04), A.G.1 (10/09/09), and A.G.2 (09/18/12)-dependent-neglected. On appeal, appellant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the court's finding that the children were dependent-neglected. We affirm.

         On June 17, 2017, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) exercised a 72-hour hold on appellant's three children. On June 20, 2017, DHS filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect, and an order for emergency custody was entered the same day. A probable-cause hearing was held on June 22, 2017. The trial court found that probable cause existed to issue the ex parte order and continued to exist, making it necessary for the children to remain in the custody of DHS. On July 24, 2017, the trial court entered an order placing A.G.1 and A.G.2 in the legal custody of their paternal grandparents, Joann and Albert Grace. An adjudication hearing was held on July 26, 2017.

         This case originated when the police were called to investigate a domestic disturbance on June 16, 2017, involving appellant and A.S. Springdale police officer Jacob Enos testified that A.S.'s physical appearance concerned him because she had a large swelling on her nose and under her eye. He spoke with A.S. about what happened and felt her story was credible. Officer Enos testified that during the investigation, appellant was arrested on the charge of third-degree domestic battery involving A.S. Later, he saw appellant at the jail, and although he did not speak to her, he testified that she appeared to be very intoxicated based on his observation.

         Stephanie Graham, the DHS investigator, began an investigation after receiving a call from the hotline that a priority-one referral was received for threat of harm, which included striking a child with a closed fist; striking a child age seven or older in the face or head; and cuts, bruises, or welts. The alleged victim was A.S. Graham interviewed appellant and A.S. on June 17, 2017, the day after the alleged disturbance. She noted that she did not see A.G.1 and A.G.2 during her investigation.[1] She testified that when she interviewed A.S. at a neighbor's home, A.S. had raised, red welts on the bridge of her nose and near her left eye. A.S. stated that appellant had punched her in the face and hit her with a candle. According to the affidavit in support of the petition for emergency custody, A.S. reported that appellant was intoxicated. Graham spoke to appellant at her home, and appellant denied she had done anything and had no explanation for A.S.'s injuries.

         Photographs of A.S.'s injuries, as well pictures of the home, were introduced into evidence. Graham testified that there were boxes and things scattered throughout the house. She indicated that the photo of appellant's bedroom showed a beer bottle on the nightstand, a mostly empty six-pack container and two open bottles, and cigarettes. She testified that there was broken glass, broken items, and garbage on the floor of A.S.'s bedroom. She stated that the house was very messy and unsanitary, elaborating that there was dried dog urine and feces inside the home. Graham noted that there was not much food in the home. As a result of the investigation, DHS found true against appellant for the offense of cuts, bruises, and welts; striking a child age seven or older on the face or head; and striking a child with a closed fist, with A.S. as the victim. When questioned about prior DHS involvement with the family, Graham stated the history went back to 2008. There was a true finding against Matthew Steed, [2] A.S.'s legal father, for sexual abuse naming A.S. as the victim, as well as two investigations involving appellant, one for neglect and one for abuse, both of which were unsubstantiated.

         The DHS caseworker, Haley Mehan, testified that A.G.1 and A.G.2 were in the legal custody of Joanne and Albert Grace, their paternal grandparents. She did not have any problem with their father living in the home, although he had pending methamphetamine charges, based on her observations when visiting the home. She indicated A.G.1 and A.G.2 were thriving and happy to be there. Mehan recommended that appellant's visitation continue at one hour per week. She explained that A.S. remained in the custody of DHS and was placed provisionally with her paternal grandparents, Leslie and Peter Halpern. She also indicated that A.S. was doing well and that appellant had no contact with A.S. due to the criminal charge. In addition, Mehan testified that she had spoken with Steed, who lives in Colorado, and he did not ask to be present by phone for the adjudication. She recommended that he have no face-to-face contact with A.S.

         Alan Grace[3] testified that while he was married to appellant, appellant was violent toward A.S. and that he had intervened on several occasions. He stated appellant would strike her, call her names, and verbally abuse her. He testified that appellant would get intoxicated on a regular basis and expressed concern about her prescribed anxiety medications, which included Xanax. He stated that he had concerns about A.G.1 and A.G.2 being in her home. He acknowledged having two pending drug charges for possession of methamphetamine, one in Missouri and one in Benton County, which prompted a revocation of probation for a possession-of-methamphetamine offense.

         Leslie Halpern, A.S.'s paternal grandmother, testified that A.S. was doing well in her home. Mrs. Halpern also stated that A.S. was in counseling.

         Appellant testified that she had lived in Springdale her whole life except for one year when she lived in Siloam Springs. She stated that she was a teacher and had a master's degree in special education. On June 16, 2017, appellant was still moving back to Springdale from Siloam Springs. She testified that since her divorce from Alan Grace, which she believed was in 2014, she had problems getting along with A.S. She stated that A.S. began self-harming (cutting), threatening suicide, threatening to run away, and stealing. She testified that A.S. also became violent with her and her sisters; she would throw things and break things. ...

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