County Family Court (P14-11-1) Associate Justice Karen Lynch
Petitioner: Karen A. Clark Department of Children Youth &
Families Andrew Johnson Court Appointed Special Advocate
Respondent: Diana deGroof, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
William P. Robinson III Associate Justice
respondent mother, Briana Hebert, appeals from a decree of
the Family Court finding: (1) that Ms. Hebert failed to
provide her daughter, Adrina T., "with a minimum degree
of care, supervision, or guardianship[;]" (2) that
Adrina was "without proper parental care and
supervision[;]" (3) that Ms. Hebert "inflicted or
allowed to be inflicted upon [Adrina], physical
injury[;]" and (4) that Ms. Hebert "created or
allowed to be created a substantial risk of physical injury
to [Adrina]." This case came before the Supreme Court
for oral argument on January 25, 2017, pursuant to an order
directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues
raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After
a close review of the record and careful consideration of the
parties' arguments (both written and oral), we are
satisfied that cause has not been shown and that this appeal
may be decided at this time.
reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate the decree of
the Family Court as it pertains to Briana Hebert.
January 2, 2014, the Department of Children, Youth and
Families (DCYF) filed a petition in Family Court, alleging
that Ms. Hebert and William Tirocchi "neglected" and
"abused" their daughter, Adrina (who was born on
September 22, 2013). In that petition, DCYF specifically
alleged the following: (1) "That the parents * * *
failed to provide [Adrina] with a minimum degree of care,
supervision, or guardianship[;]" (2) "That [Adrina]
[wa]s without proper parental care and supervision[;]"
(3) "That the parents * * * inflicted or allowed to be
inflicted upon [Adrina], physical injury[;]" and (4)
"That the parents * * * created or allowed to be created
a substantial risk of physical injury to [Adrina]."
on the above-summarized petition was held before a justice of
the Family Court on various dates from June to September of
2014. We relate below the salient aspects of what transpired
at that trial.
Testimony at Trial
The Testimony of Briana Hebert
Hebert, Adrina's mother, took the stand in her own
defense. She testified that she had been in a relationship
with her boyfriend, Mr. Tirocchi, for more than seven years;
and she said that, as of the time of trial, she was employed
as a school bus driver.
Hebert proceeded to testify that, in the early afternoon of
December 31, 2013, she was at her apartment with "Mr.
Tirocchi, [her] niece, and the baby, Adrina, " whom she
described as then being "over three months [old]."
She stated that her niece left the apartment by 1:00 p.m. and
that, at approximately 4:40 p.m., she left Mr. Tirocchi in
the apartment with Adrina so that she might go to "the
liquor store and then the grocery store." (She added
that the former was a three-minute drive from her apartment,
while the latter was right across the street.) She further
testified that, between approximately 4:45 and 4:50 p.m., as
"[she] was walking in the front door" of the
grocery store, "Mr. Tirocchi had called [her] and told
[her] that the baby had fallen off the bed and she was crying
and she was most likely hurt." Ms. Hebert stated that
she "stayed on the phone with Mr. Tirocchi" and
"returned home" by car within two or three minutes.
On cross-examination, she acknowledged that, by the time she
entered her car upon leaving the grocery store, she knew that
911 had already been called concerning Adrina.
being questioned about what happened when she arrived back at
her apartment, Ms. Hebert stated: "Mr. Tirocchi was in
the bedroom with the baby, and [Adrina] was lying on the
bed crying hysterically." Ms. Hebert also added the
"I could tell that [Adrina] was in pain. She was crying
like I had never heard her cry before. And I didn't want
to touch her or anything because I didn't know if me
touching her was going to cause anymore injury to her.
"* * *
"And I could actually hear the sirens, so I knew that
the emergency services were on their way."
Hebert testified that, within approximately a minute after
she heard the sirens, the emergency services arrived and took
Adrina to the emergency room. She added that she "went
in the rescue and Mr. Tirocchi followed in [her]
vehicle" to Hasbro Children's Hospital.
to Ms. Hebert, after arriving at Hasbro Children's
Hospital, she and Mr. Tirocchi and the doctors "went
into an exam room" with Adrina, who was crying at the
time. She stated that she had "never heard [Adrina] cry
like that before, " so she "knew something was
wrong with her." She testified that the baby was X-rayed
and was given pain medication, after which the emergency room
doctor told her and Mr. Tirocchi that Adrina would be staying
overnight for observation. Ms. Hebert added that she and Mr.
Tirocchi stayed overnight with Adrina. She further testified
that, the following morning (January 1, 2014), she spoke with
Dr. Adebimpe Adewusi (see Part I.A.4,
infra) about "the history of [her] * * *
relationship with Mr. Tirocchi, about the baby, her normal
activity and routine and what had happened the day
before." Ms. Hebert stated that she explained to Dr.
Adewusi that "the baby was very active, " that she
"move[d] around a lot, " and that she once
"rolled over from back to [belly]."
Ms. Hebert's testimony that, at around 3:00 p.m. on
January 1, she spoke with Megan Dunn, a Child Protective
Investigator for DCYF. She stated that she explained to Ms.
Dunn "what had happened the day before." Ms. Hebert
testified that, at around 6:00 p.m. on that same day,
officers of the Johnson Police Department came to her
apartment and had her accompany them to the station for
questioning. She stated that she cooperated with the police
because she "felt like" there was "nothing to
her testimony on direct examination, Ms. Hebert was asked
about Mr. Tirocchi; and she said that they had "a very
good relationship" and were "really good
friends." In addition, Ms. Hebert testified that she had
previously left Adrina in the sole care of Mr. Tirocchi
"at least, between five and ten times, " for
periods ranging from two to three hours. She indicated that
she had absolutely no concerns about his care of Adrina. When
asked if she felt comfortable leaving Adrina with Mr.
Tirocchi on the day of the incident, Ms. Hebert responded in
the affirmative because she had "seen" how he
interacted with the baby for three months. She added that she
"found nothing" indicating that Mr. Tirocchi was
ever a "threat" to Adrina.
cross-examination, Ms. Hebert acknowledged that, prior to
trial, she had not previously told Dr. Adewusi or Ms. Dunn
that she had gone to a liquor store on the day of the
incident; however, she pointed out that she had told them
that she had been "going on errands, " explaining
that, "at the time [she] was called [by Mr. Tirocchi,
]" she had been at the grocery store. She further
testified that she had received a receipt from the liquor
store that contained a timestamp indicating her presence
there at around 4:45 p.m.; she added that her phone bill
would reflect that she had received a call at 4:50 p.m.
The Testimony of William Tirocchi
Tirocchi, Adrina's father, testified on his own behalf.
He testified that, as of the time of trial, he had been
employed as a school bus driver for more than two years.
Tirocchi proceeded to testify that, on December 31, 2013, at
approximately 2:00 p.m., Adrina was placed in her crib to
sleep and that, thereafter, he and Ms. Hebert "were just
lounging around the house." He stated that, at
"[a]round 4:40-ish, " Ms. Hebert left to do some
errands "while the baby was sleeping."
Mr. Tirocchi testified that, several minutes after Ms. Hebert
had left, he heard Adrina "start to fuss in the crib,
" which indicated to him that she was "waking
up." He stated that he "picked [Adrina] up, "
"placed her on the changing table, " and
"changed her diaper." ...