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In re King J.

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

November 3, 2016

In re King J. In re Saint J.

         Providence County Family Court Nos. (13-1241-1), (13-1241-2) Karen Lynch Bernard Associate Justice

          For Petitioner: Karen A. Clark Department of Children Youth and Families Bruce J. Katz Court Appointed Special Advocate

          For Respondent: Angela M. Yingling Office of the Public Defender

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          Gilbert V. Indeglia, Justice

         The respondent, Jason James (respondent or James), appeals from decrees entered in the Family Court finding dependency as to his sons, King and Saint. The matter came before the Supreme Court on September 28, 2016, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised by this appeal should not be summarily decided. After hearing the arguments of counsel and reviewing the memoranda submitted on behalf of the parties, we are satisfied that cause has not been shown. Accordingly, we shall decide the matter at this time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the decrees of the Family Court.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         A

         Dependency as to King

         The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) became involved with King and the James family in September 2013, after receiving a call to its hotline alleging that respondent hit King and kicked a door, which struck King. On October 9, 2013, DCYF filed a petition with the Family Court alleging that respondent and Ms. Marilyn James neglected and abused King.[1] The petition was later amended to include allegations of dependency.[2] Beginning on January 24, 2014, respondent's trial as to King's dependency was held before a justice of the Family Court.

         The respondent testified first.[3] He stated that, following high school, he entered the United States Marine Corps. After two deployments, he was honorably discharged in 2007. He has since been involved with the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center (VA) in a program that assists veterans with reintegration after deployment. The respondent testified that he was diagnosed at the VA with major depressive disorder.

         The respondent testified that, in September 2013, a DCYF investigator, Ms. Michaela Dolan, came to his home. The respondent denied telling Dolan that he suffered from PTSD and should be medicated. Afterwards, respondent met with Christine Baron, M.D. (Dr. Baron) at Hasbro Children's Hospital. In response to Dr. Baron's inquiry about bruising on King's abdomen and rib cage, he testified that he denied seeing any bruises and suggested it could be a rash instead. The respondent also testified that Dr. Baron asked him about the extra digit on each of King's hands. In his testimony, respondent stated that King had "ten and a half fingers." When asked if he denied knowing what happened to King's other "half a finger, " respondent stated that it would be "absurd" to do so. He could not recall what he told Dr. Baron about King's missing digit and stated that he did not answer Dr. Baron's questions "because of how she scrutinized me."

         Next, a DCYF caseworker, Ms. Stacey Goncalves, testified that she became involved with this case on October 7, 2013. Goncalves said that, at the time, Marilyn stayed with her mother, Ms. Barbara Suggs. On October 11, 2013, Goncalves visited Suggs's household, where King should have been staying pursuant to a safety plan. King was there and appeared safe. On October 25, 2013, Goncalves again visited Suggs's house because she was unable to contact her or King's parents. After not finding King at Suggs's house, Goncalves went to respondent's home. She was accompanied by her supervisor, Ms. Denise Zolnierz, and Providence police officers. Goncalves testified that respondent refused to let them enter and would not let them see King to assure them that he was safe. After the fire department and additional police officers arrived, the police gained access to the residence and retrieved King. After this incident, King was placed in a foster home, and Goncalves arranged a meeting with respondent and Marilyn to discuss visitation and a case plan.

         In her testimony, Goncalves discussed the supervised visits between King, respondent, and Marilyn. The first supervised visit occurred on November 7, 2013. During this visit, Goncalves discussed a case plan with respondent and Marilyn. However, respondent did not want to follow the plan because he did not think that the allegations against him were accurate. Also during that visit, respondent told Goncalves that he removed an extra finger from King's hand with a knife. Goncalves testified that she told respondent he should have sought medical attention, to which he responded that he knew what he was doing.

         Goncalves also testified about instances of respondent's inappropriate behavior. For example, Goncalves noted a visit at which King lightly bit respondent, and respondent then bit him back. She also discussed a doctor's visit on November 26, 2013, when respondent held King upside down. After the doctor and Goncalves asked respondent to stop, he said he would stop only because it made them feel uncomfortable. At this visit, the doctor also recommended that King have his other extra finger removed. However, respondent said that he wanted to wait for King to be able to make his own decisions.[4]

         Goncalves testified about a visit when respondent made comments about "baby snatchers" taking King away, which appeared to upset King. Goncalves cautioned respondent to stop making those comments, but he persisted despite additional warnings. Goncalves ended the visit early because of respondent's behavior. At another visit, respondent repeatedly lifted King in the air by his hands and wrists. When Goncalves asked him to stop because it was dangerous, respondent told her to stop talking to him because he knew what he was doing. Also during this visit, respondent and Marilyn let King run around the visiting room in just a diaper. When Goncalves asked respondent to dress King, he asked her if she "knew the f**king ...


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