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Thacker v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

September 18, 2019

JACKIE THACKER APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT [NO. 66FJV-2017-392] HONORABLE ANNIE POWELL HENDRICKS, JUDGE.

          Tina Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Ellen K. Howard, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, JUDGE.

         Jackie Thacker appeals the Sebastian County Circuit Court order terminating his parental rights to his daughter, B.T. (D.O.B. 6/3/11). On appeal, he argues that the circuit court erred by terminating his parental rights because there was insufficient evidence to support a statutory ground for termination. We affirm.

         On September 8, 2017, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect over B.T. The petition named Thacker as the legal father and Rachel Heydorn as the mother.[1] In the affidavit attached to the petition, DHS alleged that Heydorn had been arrested[2] and that Heydorn had informed officers that B.T. was living with the child's father, Jeremy Taylor. However, a family-service worker discovered that Thacker, not Taylor, was listed as the father on B.T.'s birth certificate. When the family-service worker interviewed Taylor, Taylor explained that Heydorn had been married to Thacker at the time of B.T.'s birth, but that he, Taylor, is B.T.'s biological father. The affidavit further stated that a family-service worker verified during Heydorn's background check that she had been married to Thacker from January 5, 2010, through February 17, 2012. DHS placed a seventy-two-hour hold on B.T. because Taylor did not have legal custody of the child. The court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody on September 8, 2017, and on September 13, the court found probable cause for the emergency custody.

         On November 6, the court adjudicated B.T. dependent-neglected based on Heydorn's parental unfitness and inadequate supervision. Thacker appeared at the hearing with counsel. The court found the allegations in the petition for emergency custody true and correct. Specifically, the court found Thacker to be the "non-custodial parent who is a legal parent" and that he did not contribute to the dependency-neglect of B.T. However, the court found that Thacker was not a fit parent because he had not attempted to visit B.T. and had admitted using marijuana. The court set the case goal as reunification, awarded Thacker visitation, and ordered him to comply with the case plan.

         On March 28 and April 25, 2018, the court held a review hearing. The court found that Thacker had completed parenting classes but had displayed concerning behavior during visitation. The court set concurrent goals of reunification and adoption, and it ordered Thacker to comply with the case plan.

         On July 25, the court held a permanency-planning hearing. Thacker appeared at the hearing with his court-appointed counsel and his attorney ad litem. The court found that Thacker was living in a one-bedroom house and had reported that he was employed but had not offered proof of employment. The court noted that he had completed parenting classes and had visited B.T. but that he had acted inappropriately during visitation and had failed to cooperate when corrected. The court found that Thacker did not have the ability to improve or learn from services. The court ordered DHS to make a referral for genetic testing for Thacker, and it changed the goal of the case to termination of parental rights.

         On August 28, DHS filed a petition to terminate Thacker's parental rights, and the court held a termination hearing on October 31. Thacker appeared in person and by his court-appointed counsel and his attorney ad litem. He testified that he is B.T.'s father and that he wanted full custody of the child. When asked whether he had requested a DNA test to establish his paternity, he responded that the law does not require a DNA test and that he did not want a test. He testified that he signed B.T.'s birth certificate and that he had written 500 letters requesting full custody of the child. Thacker further stated that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was thirteen years old and that he had continuously taken his medication during the case.

         Mindy Tuck-Duty, the family-service worker, testified that when Heydorn was arrested, B.T. was living with Taylor but that B.T. is not related to Taylor. When asked whether B.T. was born while Thacker and Heydorn were married, Tuck-Duty stated, "From my understanding, it was during, the child was born during their marriage."

         During closing statements, Thacker's ad litem stated,

I would also like to add, just for purposes of the record, that at the last hearing . . . I had specifically wanted a DNA test for my client, and I determined that that would be in his best interest, as his guardian ad litem, specifically because if he was not the father, then that would absolve him of having a possible involuntary termination on him for a child that may or may not be his. If the Court recalls, I just want to put on the record that my client, Mr. Thacker, specifically said he didn't want a DNA test, and so that was not due to Mr. Post ...

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