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In re M.T.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Muskingum

July 26, 2018


          Appeal from the Muskingum County Court of Common Pleas Court, Juvenile Division Case No. 21630038

          For Plaintiff-Appellee D. MICHAEL HADDOX Prosecuting Attorney Muskingum County, Ohio By: GERALD V. ANDERSON II Assistant Prosecuting Attorney

          For Defendant-Appellant STEVEN J. KOKENSPARGER Kokensparger Ryan Legal Group

          Hon. John W. Wise, P.J., Hon. William B. Hoffman, J., Hon. Craig R. Baldwin, J.


          HOFFMAN, J.

         {¶1} Appellant Maria Hill ("Mother) appeals the November 7, 2017 Judgment Entry entered by the Muskingum County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, which granted legal custody of her child to the child's paternal grandmother, upon motion of appellee Muskingum County Children's Services ("MCCS").


         {¶2} Mother and Kyle Thomas ("Father") are the biological parents of the child. On March 17, 2016, MCCS filed a complaint, alleging the child was dependent, neglected, and/or abused. The complaint was filed after Mother presented the child at the hospital with bruising and swelling on his face, a ligature mark around his neck, and bruising and abrasions on his buttocks, which had been received under unknown circumstances. Prior to the filing of the complaint, Mother agreed to a safety plan, placing the child in the home of Jennifer Hill, Mother's sister ("Maternal Aunt").

         {¶3} The trial court conducted an expedited hearing on March 18, 2016. After the trial court heard testimony relative to the circumstances surrounding the injuries suffered by the child, the trial court ordered the child be placed in the temporary custody of MCCS, and ordered Nevin Anderson, Mother's boyfriend, have no contact with the child. At an adjudicatory hearing on June 13, 2016, the trial court found the child to be dependent, neglected, and abused. No fault was attributed to Father as the neglect and abuse occurred while the child was in the physical and legal custody of Mother. The trial court also found the child had special needs, and was more physically and medically fragile than a typical child of the same age. The trial court ordered the child remain in the temporary custody of MCCS. The trial court conducted a dispositional hearing on July 12, 2016, and maintained the status quo. On August 31, 2016, the child was removed from Maternal Aunt's home and placed in the home of Laura Nanna, paternal grandmother ("Nanna").

         {¶4} On September 21, 2016, MCCS filed a Motion to Modify Disposition Hearing Order to an Order of Temporary Custody to Laura Nanna with Protective Supervision to MCCS. Father filed a motion for legal custody on October 7, 2016. Father passed away on November 15, 2016. Counsel for Father filed a suggestion of death as well as a motion to withdraw Father's motion for legal custody. On January 17, 2017, MCCS filed a Motion to Modify Expedited Hearing Order to Legal Custody to Laura Nanna with Protective Supervision to MCCS. On March 14, 2017, the trial court ordered Mother "to remove all firearms from the home" and "maintain the home free and clear of any/all firearms and prohibit third party visitors (including but not limited to paramour Nevin Anderson) from bringing firearms onto the property during the pendency of this case."

         {¶5} The trial court conducted a hearing on the motion for legal custody to Nanna on June 16, 2017.

         {¶6} Assessment caseworker Alley Mitchell testified she proceeded to Nationwide Children's Hospital with Det. Fred Curry on March 11, 2016, after MCCS received concerns regarding the child. Mitchell spoke with Mother, who provided a basic timeline of the child's activities prior to being presented at the hospital. Mother stated she picked up the child from her sister's home at approximately 10:00 a.m. on March 10, 2016. Around 3 p.m., Anderson drove Mother to work. Mother worked until 9:30 p.m., but did not return home until 11 p.m. Mother noted Anderson took the child to his family owned car repair shop in New Lexington. At approximately 7 p.m., Anderson and the child arrived at Mother's place of employment to pick up the child's medication. Mother advised Mitchell the child did not have any bruising at that time.

         {¶7} Mother told Mitchell she received a text message from Anderson at 8:46 pm., in which Anderson explained the child had been playing with a rope necklace, which the boy had around his neck, and because the child was pulling too hard on the necklace, Anderson took it away from him so he would not get hurt. Mother received a second text from Anderson at 9:15 p.m., advising Mother he had fed and bathed the child, and had put the child to bed. Mother returned home at 11 p.m., and checked on the child. Mother did not turn on the bedroom light to avoid waking the child. Mother woke up at 4:30 a.m., after the monitor in the child's room sounded. While she was changing the child's diaper, Mother noticed bruising on his face and buttocks. Mother "freaked out" and confronted Anderson, who denied seeing any bruises and having any knowledge of the cause of the injuries. Mother presented the child to the hospital at 8:00 a.m., on March 11, 2016.

         {¶8} During the initial investigation at the hospital, Mitchell informed Mother the child would be removed from her home, until the investigation was completed, if Anderson continued to reside with her. Mother asked Mitchell if the child could be admitted to the hospital because Anderson did not have anywhere else to stay. Mother's response concerned Mitchell as Mother seemed more worried about Anderson than the child and his safety. Mitchell further testified MCCS required Mother to complete parenting classes. Although Mother completed the classes on May 27, 2016, Mother failed to demonstrate appropriate and safe parenting during subsequent visits with the child.

         {¶9} Fred Curry, a detective with the Muskingum County Sheriffs Department, testified he responded to the hospital with Mitchell on March 11, 2016. Det. Curry observed extensive bruising on the child's face, head, and buttocks as well as a ligature mark around his neck. Det. Curry opined, based upon his experience in investigation child abuse matters, the child's bruises were consistent with abuse. Det. Curry interviewed Mother, ...

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