BY DEBORAH McKEON
TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER
Tears of relief and joyful smiles were a few indicators of the emotions that Diana Gonzalez and Ethan Johnson felt Tuesday morning when state District Judge Charles Van Orden ruled that their 10-month-old daughter, Melodi, must be returned to them that afternoon by Child Protective Services.
But their rejoicing was cut short briefly Tuesday afternoon when a CPS investigator allegedly defied Van Orden’s order that the couple could be with their daughter at McLane Children’s Hospital Scott & White for testing. They were holding Melodi when the investigator ordered them to surrender her and then the couple was escorted from the hospital by security officers, Brad Williamson, the couple’s attorney, said.
“Melodi had better be back in their arms no later than 4 p.m.,” Williamson said. “They are defying the judge’s ruling that the parents could be there.”
Williamson mentioned possibly calling CPS headquarters directly to file a complaint against it for not following the judge’s orders and could even file a motion for enforcement, he said.
While on the phone with the hospital to get a correct phone number for the CPS investigator, Williamson received notification that Melodi’s bone scan proved she had absolutely no broken bones.
A Telegram call to Julie Moody, spokeswoman for the Department of Family & Protective Services, was made to ask how an investigator can defy a judge’s orders and what the consequences are.
Moody checked with CPS and was told that someone from CPS called the hospital and told them the parents were allowed to attend the procedure with their daughter, she said. Moody could not speculate on what happened at the hospital, she said.
Melodi was returned to her parents before 4 p.m. and was taken home, Gonzalez said.
After the verdict
“I’m glad justice was finally served today,” Gonzalez said after the judge’s ruling was announced.
“Jesus saves!” Johnson said.
“I wish they’d done a complete investigation the first time and realized there are other causes of broken bones other than abuse,” Williamson said after hearing the verdict.
Melodi was removed from her parents’ custody five days ago by CPS, Williamson said.
The premise for CPS removing Melodi was based on the death of the couple’s other child, Micah, who died at the age of 7 months after being born 25 weeks premature. CPS investigators suspected child abuse in that case because Micah had broken ribs and other fractures.
Testimony on Tuesday by Dr. Kendall Crowns, a clinical pathologist for the Travis County Medical Examiner’s office, indicated that Micah died from pulmonary hypertension and pulmonary dysplasia caused by his premature birth. Those factors, plus the constant use of IVs and a ventilator, led to his bones not properly forming, Crowns said. Micah had metabolic bone disease from being premature, he said.
Any broken bones were caused by physiotherapy, not abuse, Crowns said.
Under cross examination by Ryan Smith, the attorney representing CPS, Crowns said that, in his opinion, doctors at Dell Children’s Hospital of Central Texas misdiagnosed Micah’s injuries.
Van Orden asked Crowns if he was aware that the current hearing was to determine if there was any reason to believe that Melodi was in any danger of being abused by her parents or if she should be returned to her parents. Crowns indicated that he was aware of the concerns.
The CPS investigator testified that a long bone exam was set up for Melodi and that her caregiver didn’t keep the appointment. Despite repeated visits to the caregiver’s home and parents’ home, no one answered the door or returned calls, the investigator said. At that point, law enforcement was called, the investigator said.
A new appointment for a long bone scan was scheduled for Tuesday, and the investigator said the test was to see if Melodi had any bone diseases.
When questioned by Williamson, the investigator admitted there was no evidence Melodi was abused. She said new allegations were brought up that were investigated. The claim was that the parents were having wild parties and were doing drugs, but drug testing proved the parents didn’t have any drugs in their systems, she said. However, that case hadn’t been closed yet because of Micah’s death.
Williamson said it was proven that Melodi was a full-term baby with no respiratory problems and no evidence of broken bones. He asked the investigator if CPS would have made a different decision about Melodi if they had heard Crowns’ testimony, and she said it would not have made a difference.
The parents took Melodi to a geneticist on their own, but the geneticist wouldn’t test Melodi until she was older, Williamson pointed out. Even after pointing that out, the investigator said she still didn’t believe the parents were responsible enough to take Melodi for testing.
After hearing the evidence, both Neale Potts and Cathy Rothas, guardians ad litem for Melodi, requested that Melodi be returned home with her parents.
In his decision, Van Orden said that Melodi is now 10 months old and there had been no concerns during that time period. He didn’t grant the CPS request to keep Melodi in foster care and he dismissed the case against the parents.
Van Orden asked Smith where the child was now, and Smith said he didn’t know.
“Well, if you whisper the question to your CPS investigator, I bet she would tell you,” Van Orden said sarcastically.
Upon hearing that Melodi was with foster parents, Van Orden advised CPS to make sure Melodi was taken for the 1 p.m. testing. After the testing was completed, she was to be immediately returned to her parents.
At that point, Van Orden turned to the parents and told them all of this could have been avoided if they had taken Melodi to her previous appointment for the bone scan.
After the results were given, Williamson said that he was the attorney for the couple when Micah died.
“We had to fight to get CPS to order tests on Micah to find out why he died. This case proves CPS was searching for evidence after the fact,” Williamson said.