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Covin v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

May 8, 2019

Dawnisha COVIN, Appellant
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES and Minor Children, Appellees

Page 531

          APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT [NO. 66FJV-11-585], HONORABLE ANNIE POWELL HENDRICKS, JUDGE.

          Leah Lanford, 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.

         OPINION

         BART F. VIRDEN, Judge

          Dawnisha Covin appeals the order of the Sebastian County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to QJ (11/09/06) and KJ (01/04/08). On appeal, Covin asserts that termination was not in the children’s best interest because the parental rights of the father, Keith Jarrett, were not also terminated. We affirm.

          We begin our analysis with a recognition that termination of parental rights is an extreme remedy and in derogation of the natural rights of the parents. Crawford v. Ark. Dep’t of Human Servs., 330 Ark. 152, 951 S.W.2d 310 (1997). We review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo. Dinkins v. Ark. Dep’t of Human Servs., 344 Ark. 207, 40 S.W.3d 286 (2001). In termination cases, the circuit court must find by clear and convincing evidence that a parent is unfit and that termination is in the best interest of the child. J.T. v. Ark. Dep’t of Human Servs., 329 Ark. 243, 947 S.W.2d 761 (1997). This normally involves a two-step analysis: (1) that the Arkansas Department of Human Services ("Department") prove one or more of the statutory grounds for termination and (2) that the termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(A) & (B) (Supp. 2017). Because Covin does not challenge the statutory grounds, we will address only the best-interest portion of the analysis.

          I. Best Interest of the Children

          Covin argues that the termination of her parental rights was not necessary or essential to protect the best interest of the

Page 532

children. We turn our attention to the best-interest evidence before the circuit court.

         On January 3, 2017, the circuit court entered a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect regarding QJ, KJ, ZC, and DC.[1] In the affidavit attached to the petition, family-service worker Steven Trout recounted the events leading up to the removal of the children from Covin’s custody. On December 30, 2016, police requested that a Department family-service worker go to Covin’s home. When Trout arrived, police officers had already removed Covin from the residence because she had become aggressive with an officer. Officers informed Trout that Covin’s roommate called police when Covin, who was a methamphetamine user and appeared to be under the influence of amphetamines, grabbed a baseball bat and began smashing furniture. When police arrived at the apartment, they could hear the children crying and Covin screaming and cursing. They heard a heavy glass object hit the front door, and Covin shouted, "I don’t want no police kicking in my fucking door." Eventually, Covin opened the door, and the officers could see broken glass all around and the children huddled together on the sofa. After a few questions from the police, Covin "seemed to completely lose any control she had at that point." She poked an officer in the chest when he tried to examine a cut on one of the children’s hands, and after taking "an aggressive posture" with an officer, she was arrested. The children were very upset and afraid to speak to family-service workers. At the detention center, Trout attempted to interview Covin, but she was confrontational and aggressive, and she refused a drug screen. Covin was charged with four counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor, resisting arrest, and second-degree assault. The Department alleged that the children’s safety was in danger due to Covin’s violent and dangerous behavior, her drug use, her refusal to be drug screened, and her arrest, which left the children without a guardian.

          On the same day the emergency petition was filed, the circuit court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody and an order finding that there was probable cause that emergency conditions that necessitated the removal of the children from Covin’s custody. Covin was ordered to stay in contact ...


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