FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, EIGHTH DIVISION [NO.
60JV-15-755] HONORABLE WILEY A. BRANTON, JR., JUDGE.
Ragon Owen, P.A., by: Beth Echols, for appellant.
Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
KENNETH S. HIXSON, JUDGE.
Bryant appeals after the Pulaski County Circuit Court filed
an order terminating his parental rights to Z.B. (DOB
11-13-2009). On appeal, appellant argues that the trial
court erred in terminating his parental rights because (1)
there was insufficient evidence supporting the grounds
asserted in the petition to terminate parental rights and (2)
there was insufficient evidence that termination was in the
best interest of his child. We affirm.
22, 2015, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS)
filed a petition for ex parte emergency custody and
dependency-neglect. In the affidavit attached to the
petition, DHS stated that Z.B. and his siblings were removed from
the care of their mother, Annette Hughes, and a
seventy-two-hour hold was taken due to neglect and parental
unfitness. DHS initially received a report on May 13, 2015,
that Hughes had been arrested for maintaining a drug
premises. Law enforcement executed a warrant at her home and
found methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, and prescription
pain pills, as well as firearms within reach of the children.
Z.B. was five years old at that time. After Hughes's
arrest, appellant took Z.B. into his care. Appellant told the
DHS-assigned caseworker that his plan was to keep Z.B. and to
obtain custody. Appellant denied any knowledge about Hughes
selling or using drugs. However, on May 20, 2015, the
caseworker received a call from Hughes informing her that
Hughes had been released from jail and that the children were
returned to her care. Due to safety concerns, the children
were removed at that time. The trial court granted the
petition, finding that probable cause existed for the
removal. Subsequently, the trial court filed a probable-cause
order, noting that the parties stipulated that there was
probable cause necessitating the removal.
adjudication hearing was held on July 14, 2015, and the trial
court found Z.B. dependent-neglected as a result of neglect
and parental unfitness. The trial court additionally made the
following relevant findings:
The Court makes an aggravated circumstances finding against
Mr. Bryant. The Court has concerns about his credibility and
his testimony that he did not know about the mother's
drug activity and that he had not been to her home despite
having regular visitation with his children. He should have
acted earlier to gain custody, and taken action to protect
his children. The Court finds he is not directly responsible
for the incident that caused the children to come into care.
The Court could authorize the filing of a petition to
terminate parental rights because of the aggravated
circumstances finding. The Court normally has up to one year
to work with the family, but is not required to do so because
of the findings. However, the Court is not authorizing the
filing of a termination petition today.
trial court set the goal of the case for reunification and
ordered appellant to submit to DNA testing; submit to random
drug and alcohol screens by hair shaft and urine; submit to a
psychological evaluation and follow any recommendations for
therapy and treatment; complete parenting classes, individual
counseling, and therapy; and obtain and maintain stable
housing and income.
case progressed, and several permanency-planning hearings
were held during the pendency of this case. In a
permanency-planning order filed on October 29, 2015, the
trial court found that appellant is Z.B.'s biological
father according to DNA-testing results. The trial court
continued custody with DHS and continued the goal of
reunification with the mother. In the May 12, 2016
permanency-planning order, the trial court noted that it
would continue the current placement but would consider
future placement with appellant depending on "how things
[would] go." The trial court additionally found that
[t]he available father, Ryan Bryant, inspires little
confidence in the court. He claims he knew nothing about the
drug dealing that was occurring at Ms. Hughes' home when
the children were with her. Mr. Bryant's professed
ignorance, if true, is troubling. If he was not being honest
about his awareness of Ms. Hughes' activities, then this
is even more troubling. The court believes he did know what
was going on, and specifically finds that Mr. Bryant lacks
20, 2016, the attorney ad litem filed a petition for
termination of parental rights and served the parents at the
June 21, 2016 permanency-planning hearing. In the
permanency-planning order, the trial court found that the
children were young and "so far they have only had
instability." It further found that appellant had not
participated in Z.B.'s therapy as was previously court
ordered, and it scheduled a termination hearing. However, the
trial court filed another permanency-planning order on
November 29, 2016. In that order, the trial court explained
that it had dismissed the petition for termination without
prejudice after appellant's counsel objected to a
termination hearing being set more than ninety days after the
petition had been filed. The trial court further noted that
it remained unimpressed with appellant's progress and was
not satisfied that he was minimally fit to parent. The trial
court found that "[appellant] has participated in the
ordered counseling only sparingly and though there are
differing versions as to why that has not occurred, what is
clear is that he must participate meaningfully now if he is
to even be considered." It ordered that appellant be
referred again for therapy with Z.B.
second petition for termination of parental rights was filed
on January 9, 2017, and a termination hearing was held on
February 21, 2017. The trial court terminated Hughes's
parental rights; however, the trial court granted appellant
more time to work toward reunification with Z.B.
As to Ryan Bryant, the Court declines to terminate parental
rights as to him today with regard to his biological child,
[Z.B.]. He has made an effort to comply, and of all of the
parents in this case, he is the most functional. In light of
the weeks Mr. Bryant missed visitations, the Court
acknowledges the attorney ad litem's concern with
[Z.B.'s] therapist's letter which states that Mr.
Bryant "makes a high priority of spending time with his
children." However, the Court nevertheless wants to give
Ryan Bryant an opportunity to have [Z.B.] placed with him.
The goal for [Z.B.] shall be placement with Ryan Bryant. . .
. Although [Z.B.'s] goal will be placement with Mr.
Bryant, the Court nevertheless feels it necessary to
terminate Ms. Hughes' rights as to this child because Ms.
Hughes poses a toxic influence to all of her children. . . .
The Court orders DHS to schedule a staffing on this matter by
March 17, 2017 to develop a transition plan in this regard. .
. . Additionally, DHS shall perform a full SAFE home study on
Mr. Bryant's new home, including background checks on his
girlfriend. Mr. Bryant shall also participate in counseling
with [Z.B.]. The Court anticipates placement of [Z.B.] . . .
with Mr. Bryant . . . by April 3, 2017, assuming there are no
issues with the background checks or other orders of this
court in that regard. Under no circumstances shall Annette
Hughes have any contact with any of these children.
16, 2017, the attorney ad litem filed a motion for ex parte
relief alleging that appellant had allowed Hughes contact
with Z.B. and requesting suspension of visitation between
appellant and Z.B. The trial court granted the motion and
further addressed the allegations at the May 30, 2017
permanency-planning hearing. At that hearing, appellant
testified that he encountered Hughes at a spring festival
when he had unsupervised visitation with Z.B. He stated that
the encounter was less than a minute and stated that he just
spoke and "kept on going." He further testified
that Z.B. did not even know who she was at the time. Z.B.,
who was seven years old at the time of the hearing, testified
that he saw his biological mother when he was with his
father. He further testified that both he and his father
talked with her. On cross-examination, although he could not
remember where he saw his mother the last time, Z.B.
explained that he remembered being inside and specifically
stated that he was not at a restaurant or a park.
Additionally, Brooke Pember, Z.B.'s foster mother,
testified that Z.B. had told her that he had seen Hughes at
his last visit. She further explained that Z.B. was very
upset about the encounter. Z.B. further told her that his
father had instructed him not to tell anyone about the
order resulting from that permanency-planning hearing, the
trial court found the following:
As to Ryan Bryant, he has again shown himself to be
untrustworthy. The Court has made specific findings in the
past that Mr. Bryant is not credible. The Court again today
makes a specific finding that Mr. Ryan Bryant is not a
credible individual and the Court can put very little weight
in Mr. Bryant's testimony. This is a serious, substantial
issue. The Court cannot trust what Mr. Bryant says.
To cite a specific example, Mr. Bryant was not honest about
his living arrangements. The Court referred to its notes from
February 21, 2017, and Mr. Bryant today directly contradicted
the testimony given then. This is a material
misrepresentation that involves several major issues
concerning his house and others living in the home as well as
the true nature of his relationship with those persons in the
home and where he wants to have the child [Z.B.] placed.
He previously testified that the house he was in was leased
to him, in his name, and his girlfriend was living with him
in his home. The home study of that home, accepted into
evidence today, revealed that the home was not leased to him
but rather to the woman he claimed was his girlfriend, who is
now no longer his girlfriend. Further, she said it was her
intention to have him move from the home.
It is also notable that all of this information was gathered
from her, not him; he was not forthcoming about any of these
issues. Apparently, he would have ...