Espinoza family caught in tangled CPS, court web
By Diane Bukowski
August 23, 2011
DETROIT – In a shocking development Aug. 3, Family Court referee Mona Youssef ordered Cecilia Espinoza out of her home and away from her five children, while ordering the return of her six-year-old daughter Genoveva to the home. All five children are to be cared for by their father Luis Espinoza pending trial, set for September 27.
Friends of the family who have talked to the children since have said they are upset and crying for their mother, as the father struggles to see that they are fed and ready for school at Bennett Elementary in September, while working as an auto mechanic.
“Leonardo [three years old] doesn’t understand,” said Cornell Squires of We the People, which was formed to assist families victimized by Child Protective Services and other human and civil rights violations. “He thinks his mother doesn’t love him anymore and cries for her. He won’t eat and has lost weight. Genoveva wakes up at night crying for her mother. Gavino and Pedro don’t understand why their mother can’t come home.”
Some of the court documents in the case obtained by Squires bear the rubber-stamped signature of Judge Leslie Kim Smith, Chief Judge of the Third Circuit’s Family Court division.
During a hearing in the case of Ariana Godboldo-Hakim, Court supervisor Vikki Kapanowski testified that those signatures are stamped by probation officers under her supervision, who are not authorized to order the removal of children and are not attorneys. Judge Smith never sees the documents. (Click on http://voiceofdetroit.net/2011/08/03/another-shock-no-judge-authorized-ariana-godboldos-removal/ for full story.)
The Espinozas’ oldest sons, Luis III, 13, and Pedro, 12, were in court with their parents for the Aug. 3 hearing. They were asked to leave the court during the hearing, supposedly for the sake of sequestration of witnesses. However, the parents’ court-appointed attorneys Edward Hill (for father) and Rick Unger (for mother), did not call them to the stand.
Luis’ testimony in particular was crucial to the case. Genoveva was taken from the home by her grandmother Consuelo Meade on June 19, Father’s Day, after she sustained a black eye while the mother and grandmother were visiting Meade’s husband’s grave. Meade afterwards refused to let her return. She filed a CPS complaint July 8, claiming it was her mother who gave her the black eye.
“My mother wasn’t even home,” Luis III told VOD after the hearing. As his father prepared dinner that day, Genoveva had crawled under her bed, a common activity for her. When she was unable to get out because the bed is so low to the floor, Luis III lifted it off her. It was then he saw her black eye, apparently sustained in her struggle to get in and out.
Her mother told VOD that when she came home, Genoveva said she had given her the black eye, but Meade told her that wasn’t possible because they were gone.
Hill told VOD that the boys “will testify later on.” Court-appointed attorneys are paid by the state on a per-hearing basis. It was Unger who brought up the proposal for the mother to leave the home out of the blue after she testified that she had never hit or otherwise mistreated Genoveva.
“My own mother beat me all the time when I was growing up,” Cecilia Espinoza told this reporter previously, referring to Meade, who adopted her as a child in Mexico. “I swore I would never lay a hand on any of my own children. I discipline them by assigning them chores or withholding things they like for a period of time.”
During the hearing, Referee Youssef allowed Assistant State Attorney General Richard Karoub to admit into evidence five undated photos of Genoveva, allegedly taken by Meade and her niece Rebecca Gutierrez, which purported to show a black eye along with some bruises on the child’s arms and chest. Along with the photos, Karoub introduced written affidavits from Meade and Gutierrez. Neither was present during the hearing to face cross-examination.
Unger and Hill both objected to introduction of the exhibits as unauthenticated, saying there was no evidence Meade and Gutierrez could not be present to attest to the photos.
By the time Meade made her CPS complaint, there was no evidence of any injury to Genoveva. She was taken to Children’s Hospital July 13, where doctors verified that she was in good health with no marks or bruises.
CPS worker Shanitra Bowman testified that she got the photos from Meade July 12 and that Genoveva told her directly that her mother had hit her. By that time, Genoveva had been living with Meade in her luxurious condominium in Warren for three weeks.
On cross-exam, Bowman admitted that no one else from Genoveva’s family, including the other children, told her they saw her mother give her the black eye, although she interviewed them all.
“Didn’t it strike you as strange that the grandmother didn’t report this to CPS right away?” Unger asked Bowman.
“There was some concern,” Bowman responded.
“You are aware that there is stress in the relationship between the mother and grandmother,” Unger said. “When you interviewed the other children, did they offer you an explanation that was consistent with the mother’s?”
Bowman responded that their explanations were consistent with the mother’s “second” explanation. She said the boys told her that their mother was not home when the injury occurred.
Hill called Luis Espinoza to the stand to testify that he and his wife had made repeated phone calls to Meade to have their child returned. Karoub objected to his testimony, saying the state “is not arguing abandonment at this stage,” but that “it may come out at trial.”
Cecilia Espinoza testified at length as reported in VOD’s earlier interview with her (click on http://voiceofdetroit.net/2011/08/03/espinoza-family-fights-for-their-five-young-children/ for full story.)
“Genoveva tries to blame things on other people,” Ms. Espinoza said. “She’s just playing, we don’t take it seriously.”
She said she and her husband allowed Meade to take Genoveva for a couple of days, but then could not get her returned. On June 26, she said, Meade brought one son, Gavino, home from swimming and Genoveva was with them. However, she said, when Genoveva tried to whisper something in her mother’s ear, Meade grabbed her arm and took her back. When they showed up for a family picnic on Belle Isle, Ms. Espinoza said the same thing happened.
On cross exam by Karoub, she said Genoveva had no bruising anywhere when she saw her briefly on June 26. She said Genoveva told her after first claiming that she (Cecilia) had hit her, “I hit my eye when I got under the bed.” She said Genoveva “rocks back and forth” to get under the bed.
She testified the children’s paternal grandmother in Mexico cared for the four oldest including Genoveva in Mexico for three and one-half years, due to the extreme poverty she and her husband were experiencing.
She said they came back on Feb. 2, 2009, and that Genoveva was still in diapers at the time due to differing child-rearing practices. She said that Genoveva sometimes wets her pants deliberately now when she does not get her way. Ms. Espinoza said she had an appointment to take her to a doctor about the problem but prior to that, Meade had removed her.
She told Karoub, “I never struck my child. I was whipped [by Meade]. Knowing my mother, she brainwashes kids.”
Youssef asked Hill, “Is your client [the father] willing and able to care for all the children if I order the mother out of the home?”
Unger objected, “Is it the right thing to do? This would be very traumatic. There is no medical evidence to suggest abuse. The people who took the pictures are conveniently not here. You can do things to a photo to make it look different. The grandmother clearly has an agenda, she wants to keep the child. There is no history of abuse. I ask you to dismiss the case. However, my client places the well-being of her child above all else and will voluntarily leave the home if necessary.”
Youssef so ordered, but said that Ms. Espinoza can see her children with CPS supervision. However, since that time, Squires said, Ms. Espinoza’s case worker has not answered repeated calls to set up visitation, and she has not seen her children since Aug. 3.
To contact We the People, call Cornell Squires at 313-460-3175