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CPS insists agency’s actions ‘appropriate’ even after slapped with $127k sanction

November 26, 2018

Weeks after announcing a $127,000 sanction against Child Protective Services, a Harris County juvenile judge released a scathing order stating that the agency lied in court while wrongfully removing a Tomball couple’s children.

In a filing signed last week, Judge Mike Schneider wrote that the state agency “abused the legal process” and wasted the court’s time and taxpayer money by purposely filing pleadings that included “misstatements of fact” and “material omissions.”

Still, CPS stands behind its handling of its case against Melissa and Dillon Bright.

“Our actions in this case were appropriate,” spokeswoman Tejal Patel said in a statement. “Going forward we will review our legal options.”

The rare high-dollar sanction was the capstone on an unusual case in which an agency worker pleaded the Fifth Amendment repeatedly during a removal hearing where the judge ordered CPS to stay away from the two young children before ultimately giving them back to their parents.

“It’s pretty clear that the court in making this order was really upset with CPS,” said family attorney Dennis Slate, who handled the case along with Stephanie Proffitt.

“If CPS thinks it’s appropriate to lie to the court and to take the Fifth so they don’t have to answer questions about those lies while they’re trying to keep people’s children,” he added, “then I think CPS really needs a top-down review of what they are doing and how they are doing it.”

The legal wrangling all stems from an accident back in July, when 5-month-old Mason fell out of a lawn chair and hit his head on the driveway.

At the hospital later that day, the child abuse prevention team first told CPS that Melissa Bright’s explanation of the injury was a likely one, according to court records. But then an MRI revealed that Mason had a second, hairline fracture and bleeding in his brain.

The second fracture, the abuse team decided, would have come from a separate incident. And, there was more bleeding than there should have been. When Melissa couldn’t offer an alternate explanation for it all, the team deemed the injuries “consistent with child abuse.”

Before Mason left the hospital, a CPS supervisor decided the kids would have to go live with Dillon’s mother in Baytown, more than an hour away.

In the weeks that followed, the injuries didn’t heal as expected, and caring for a baby with serious medical needs became too much for Dillon’s mother. Armed with evidence that their baby’s excessive bleeding was possibly the result of a blood disorder and not abuse, the Brights started lobbying for a better placement — closer to home, with Melissa’s mother.

But, despite promising to address it and admitting they didn’t have grounds to take the kids, according to court records, the agency never approved the switch. So finally, on Aug. 28, Dillon told caseworker Lavar Jones that they were bringing the baby home. No one from CPS contacted the family again until three weeks later, when Jones texted Melissa on Sept. 18 to ask how the baby was. She replied, sending along happy photos and a health update.

The next day, the state — without notifying the Brights — entered a petition asking for emergency custody of the children, a filing the judge described as a “groundless pleading” that failed to mention that the kids had been safe at home for 22 days.

That evening, Jones showed up at the Brights’ home and took the children, separating them in different foster homes. While in foster care, the older child — 2-year-old Charlotte — was injured, which the judge wrote would not have happened were it not for the “illegal, fraudulent and unreasonable acts” of the agency.

Then, in early October, the court held a three-day hearing to figure out whether the state had enough cause to keep the kids. When questioned about the earlier claims he’d made during the Sept. 19 emergency hearing and about the agency’s reasons for removing the kids, Jones pleaded the Fifth — an usual move that the judge honed in on in his order last week.

“It can be inferred from the context of Mr. Jones’s other testimony,” Schneider wrote, “that he invoked his Fifth Amendment at the adversary hearing to avoid admitting to prior perjury.”

The judge also criticized the agency for “intentionally making a false statement in the caseworker’s sworn affidavit” alleging that there were no hematology problems — like the blood disorder — that could explain Mason’s injuries.

Following the Nov. 8 ruling and last week’s order, the state now has until early December to create a training program for workers and supervisors in the Houston region.

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