A Lesson In Respect for Poor Mom

Jenny (jennyo@intergate.bc.ca)
Sat, 13 Mar 1999 20:21:04 -0800 (PST)

New Times Los Angeles
The Finger
March 11 - 17, 1999
A Lesson In Respect

Was the DCFS trying to protect a nine-year-old boy -- who wound up dead in
its custody -- or punishing his in-your-face mom? 

The Finger hears that after Superior Court Judge Emily Stevens gave the Los
Angeles County Counsel's office a severe hiding behind closed doors
recently, its lawyers finally agreed to drop allegations that Debra Reid of
Glendale is an unfit mother.

Problem is...the county stooges came to this reluctant decision two years
and one dead kid too late.

It's clear to The Finger that county officials had it in for this woman from
the start -- they wanted to teach her a freakin' lesson for disrespecting
them, and the consequences were heartbreaking.

Let this digit catch you up on the sad history of this case, Reid is
summoned to court in January of 1997 after she complains to the
<B>Department of Children and Family Services that her youngest boy's father
had abused him. At the hearing, Reid gets into a shouting match with her
court-appointed attorney, Julia Almanzan</B>, and winds up having Debvin,
four years old at the time, taken away from her and put in a foster home.

Now on the radar screen of the DCFS, Reid is summoned back to court in April
and accused of medically neglecting nine-year-old Jonathan, who suffered
from asthma and diabetes. At the conclusion of that hearing, Jonathan is
also sent to a foster home, where, six weeks later, he dies from a massive
asthma attack after being administered, according to initial autopsy
results, 50 times his normal dose of asthma medication.

Despite the older boy's death in DCFS custody, it took Reid 18 months of
fighting in court to get Debvin back home, and that happened only after
Dependency Court Commissioner Terry Friedman ruled that the county never had
a shred of evidence proving Reid posed a danger to her children. Sure,
Friedman allowed, Reid was pissed off at the child welfare agency, but what
parent in her circumstances wouldn't be? Imagine, the horror of having a
living child taken from you and a dead one returned!

Not to be fucked with by an ordinary citizen, though, tenacious county
attorneys appealed Friedman's ruling, got it overturned on a procedural
issue, and the case landed before Stevens in Dependency Court on March 1.
Almost as mad as Reid by this time, the judge dragged attorneys behind
closed doors, and sources say, browbeat Deputy County Counsel Judith Bayer
into dropping the charges against Reid.

"It's quite sad that we had to wait this long and fight this hard to get the
county to do the right thing," grouses Michael Berry, one of Reid's attorneys.

Sad, but true. In the beginning, child welfare workers jumped the gun, and
then, without investigating properly, wound up sending Jonathan to his
death. Reid's in-your-face attitude (she complained relentlessly to county
Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke's office) did little to endear her to the
DCFS, which suggested that her criticism of the agency was an indication of
mental instability.

The Finger poses this to county bureaucrats: Instead of accusing Reid of
medically abusing her kids without proper investigation, why the hell didn't
you just leave Jonathan in his loving mother's care and try to get him
whatever medical attention your caseworkers concluded he needed?!

>From the get-go, caseworkers wanted Reid to undergo counseling for her
"attitude toward [the] public agency." It's ironic now that she agreed at
the March 1 hearing to undergo voluntary counseling, but this time to help
she and Debvin learn to deal with the loss of Jonathan.

The Finger hopes this whole sorry mess results in greater public scrutiny of
the secretive and defensive DCFS, at the very least. If the county District
Attorney's office weren't run by a man with the balls of a bird, an
involuntary manslaughter charge might well be brought against whoever is
determined to be responsible for the little boy's death. (When Reid asked
Chickenman Gil Garcetti's office the status of its investigation the other
day, she was told it was "none of your damned business.")

Instead, the DCFS has been allowed to get away with what was originally
ruled a homicide, but was later changed to be "of undetermined causes."

Here's the scariest part: If Reid hadn't gotten hold of documents supporting
her contention that the county was responsible for Jonathan's death, nobody
would have believed a word she said. Practically every parent deprived of
her child claims authorities have it in for her, that they have committed
malfeasance or even criminal activity. Only in Reid's case, she was able to
come up with the goods. She produced the autopsy report showing the alleged
overdose of asthma medication, and, more importantly, she showed that a DCFS
caseworker had decided in March of 1997 that she was not guilty of medically
abusing her kids. This was two months after Debvin was taken away, and a
month before Jonathan was sent to his death.

In other words, Jonathan's death could have been prevented -- if DCFS hadn't
been so intent on teaching Debra Reid a lesson in respect.