Monday, May 2, 2016:
This is a true story occurring now. The names have been punctuated to protect the guilty.
Injustice at Niagara County CPS
I am stunned by the extreme miscarriage of justice perpetrated by “professionals” at Niagara County’s Office of Child Protective Services (CPS) and quite possibly a detective at the Niagara Falls Police Department. I and others have been waiting patiently for the system to work, and now it has become abundantly clear it is broken. My hope is the entire department isn’t as derelict and incompetent as Ms. H, her supervisor, and CPS attorney Ms. P.
This story began on February 2, 2016 when my neighbor and friend Lynn Merz, single mother of Jayce, who has been working two jobs to provide for her 1-1/2 year old boy, called me over frantic and crying, worried something was wrong with Jayce. To be even mildly upset is uncharacteristic for Lynn, as she is one of the most even-tempered, resourceful and well-grounded people I know. Her exceptional parenting shows in Jayce, as she is very attentive to his needs. Lynn’s baby-proofed apartment is spotless, Jayce is always clean, she only allows him to eat healthy foods, and she has taken on a second job to provide a safer, more reliable vehicle for her son. Jayce seems to me a rather exceptional child, unusually perceptive, has an easy demeanor, is very dexterous and he rarely cries, even when he appears to hurt himself.
Earlier that night, Lynn showed me a picture on her phone of Jayce sitting quietly on her lap, a rare moment that warmed her heart because he moves around a lot and doesn’t sit still for long. (Later on, CPS will accuse Lynn of chronicling this picture to protect herself from eventual intervention by CPS.) When I arrived she said he had appeared to be turning a little blue as she attempted to change his diaper. He was crying a little, and I felt his arm which was swollen. I recommended we take him to the hospital and he sat quietly on my lap until we were ready to go. The staff at St. Mary’s Hospital determined he had Nursemaid’s Elbow, a separation of bones or ligaments, usually caused by picking up a child by the arm, or swinging them by their arms before they are properly developed. They unsuccessfully attempted to set it twice then recommended Lynn take Jayce to Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, where they took an X-ray and determined he had four healing fractures in the same arm. Enter CPS, who immediately removed Jayce from Lynn’s care and proceeded to conduct an investigation that has been anything but thorough.
CPS immediately and to this day have presumed guilt upon Lynn, and appear to be deliberately avoiding facts, selectively reporting, misrepresenting testimony and refusing to do criminal background checks on some of the parties involved. I believe CPS is causing irreparable harm to Jayce, his loving, caring family and to the credibility of CPS as an organization dedicated to the protection of children and the preservation of healthy families.
Of foremost concern is that though they performed a basic court system check, CPS never ordered a criminal background investigation on the husband of the daycare provider who, as it turns out, has had an Order of Protection against him for threatening to kill a young woman and her child. This Order of Protection was expanded to include the caregiver herself, as she took it upon herself to harass the mother and child after her husband was prohibited from continuing his threats of violence. This young woman also witnessed the husband forcefully picking up Jayce by his arm a number of times, and when she protested him placing his foot on Jayce’s chest, he said “I don’t care about this kid.”
April 5, 2016 CPS was made aware of this witness and Order of Protection but made no move to speak to her. CPS and attorney Ms. P. were reminded again to speak to this witness on April 20th, and to date, no effort has been made to contact her.
CPS never bothered to interview me as one of the caregivers and the only other witness to the events that occurred following the injury, and when I asked the caseworker Ms. H why she hadn’t, she said her supervisor said it was unnecessary. As a result, CPS is essentially only relying on the testimony of Lynn whom they have already presumed guilt upon, and the caregivers who have had Orders of Protection against them for threats of violence, who they are not presuming any guilt upon, to determine what occurred just prior to discovery of the injury. Though the husband passed a lie-detector test, none was administered to the caregiver, and I’m told she was ruled out because she is considered too small to have caused the injury – as though a 125 pound woman could not cause injury to a 21 pound child.
Though CPS never interviewed me, a detective from the Niagara Falls Police Department did. I was asked if I ever heard any yelling or commotion coming from my neighbors’ house and I said just once, when the father of Jayce, a deadbeat dad for over a year was there. An argument ensued, and he left when Lynn told him to leave because she didn’t want any arguing around Jayce. Somehow, this never made it into the report. I was also asked if Lynn could have caused this injury. I said in no possible scenario did she deliberately cause injury to Jayce. If it was learned that she caused the injury, it could only have been an accident, perhaps as she was swinging him around while dancing with him a few nights prior, a classic example of why Nursemaid’s Elbow occurs. I also suggested if she caused injury while pulling Jayce a little hard away from an electrical outlet for example, there must certainly be classes that can assist parents in being more gentle with their children. The only thing that made it into the report was that I said “Lynn could be more gentle with her child.” I believe Lynn’s mother was also misrepresented either deliberately or by gross error. She indicated that Jayce’s father has violent tendencies, and the report has her on record as saying her own daughter has violent tendencies instead. Now we have learned from a pediatric orthopedic surgeon that these fractures are fairly common among toddlers.
Lynn is NOT an angry person. She is a gentle giant with a strong heart who has refused every beer I’ve ever offered her. She drinks ginger ale. In the midst of all of this, I have never once heard her speak derogatorily about the people who are subjecting her to this witch trial. I have never heard her raise her voice. And despite all her sadness and the injustice, she still somehow manages to make me laugh. Yet she is required to undergo 16 Anger Management sessions, 16 sessions of Domestic Violence classes, Forensic Mental Evaluations, Alcohol and Substance Abuse Evaluation and Treatment if necessary and Parenting Evaluations done by a parenting worker that accompanies the Department of Social Services visitations.
On top of all of this, she was prescribed anti-depressants after one of her evaluations determined she suffers from depression. Stealing your child and accusing you of abuse instead of doing a proper investigation to find who is actually responsible will do that to a person. She does not have clinical depression, but, though she’s never even taken aspirin, she is now required to take anti-depressants, to demonstrate that she is complying. The medication has affected her so adversely, she has overslept and missed CPS-mandated doctor’s appointments, which she still has to pay for. Out of pocket.
CPS required Lynn to to undergo a Forensic Mental Evaluation, yet would not provide her a list of CPS-approved physicians, and instead, set a date for her to see a single doctor at a date months in the future. As a result, she sought a doctor on her own to expedite the process, in hopes of getting Jayce back sooner. She paid him $150 for an initial visit and gave his name to CPS for approval. They sat on it for two weeks giving her no response, until she went ahead and paid him $1000 to perform the evaluation and provide it to the court. Only then in court did CPS attorney Ms. P argue that this doctor was not a CPS-approved physician, whose report would not be accepted. Even the judge questioned the propriety of reports provided only by CPS-approved and retained physicians, and suggested “something could be worked out” to allow the report to be used.
Lynn has done everything in her capacity to comply with outrageous requirements at great personal expense. Her hospital bill alone is $32,000, and the cost of every bone density test, forensic medical evaluation and class she’s required to take she bears alone. The cost that she has incurred as a result of this false accusation to date is over $10,000. Though Jayce has good insurance through Lynn’s employer, CPS required him to go on Medicaid. Now Medicaid is requiring her to pay back all expenses incurred. Another reward for allowing the system to completely inadequately look out for the best interests of her child is a letter she has received indicating she will be placed on the State Child Abuse Registry.
Jayce has now been placed with his father, who not only has anger issues and violent tendencies, I have also witnessed firsthand his pathological lying. Lynn once defended herself in a domestic abuse situation, yet she is the one being held responsible as the aggressor, since CPS never bothered to obtain her side of the story. They are relying solely on the word of Jayce’s father, whose presence in the home she no longer tolerated after the incident. Suffice it to say, in combination with this, Jayce’s poor diet now, the father’s chronic habit of being late or missing court mandated appointments with family which has amounted to a refusal to allow other family members to see him, it is not a good environment for Jayce.
Lynn said early on she didn’t know how this injury occurred, and apparently this is considered enough evidence to convict by an unelected administrative body that evidently operates independently of law enforcement. The law requires evidence to convict. There is clearly no presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Now they are giving Lynn the option of admitting she caused the injury, which comes with another whole host of requirements at great personal cost, or let it go to trial. Yet early on, she said it was possible she caused the injury accidently. There is no consistency.
At a recent court date, I remarked to CPS attorney Ms. P that it is “a rare thing to witness such dereliction.” She was so infuriated she demanded the father’s attorney withhold visitation rights from the grandmother. Despite the multitude of appearances without me there, she apparently mistook me for the grandmother. Even if it had been the grandmother who said this to her, why is it acceptable to demand visitation rights be withheld, because an attorney doesn’t like something said to her? How is it these people are able to wield such power? Who grants them this authority? Why are they allowed to ignore facts and refuse to perform the basic requirements of a proper investigation?
As it stands, it is very likely Lynn Merz will not be permitted to spend Mother’s Day with her son, nor spend his second birthday with him in June. The only reasonable solution in this case is for Jayce to be returned to his mother immediately, for Niagara County CPS to cease and desist, pay for all of Lynn Merz’s expenses including damages for pain and suffering, and for the incompetent people involved to lose their jobs. At a minimum, they need a lengthy unpaid suspension wherein they should undergo some serious retraining.
Julianne M. Thompson
VP, Minimax Concrete Corp.
Veteran, USMC, 4th MarDiv
BPS in Architecture, SUNYAB
Chief Facilitator, TEA New York