Was first published Feb. 5th 2018
My family has had an open dependency and neglect case (case # 16JV11) in Park County, CO under Judge Stephen A. Groome since 9/11/16. Essentially our case was opened due to concerns about my husband’s arrest record using preponderance of evidence after I was pulled over in Fairplay, CO and was not aware my license was suspended. I had my son who was 1 at the time with me, our daughter was in school and I was arrested. I was told at the time Colorado law stated officers had to arrest anyone driving with a suspended license. My husband was in jail at the time. We had just moved to Bailey, CO 4 days before and I did not know anyone in the area to call.
I gave my parents information in Cheyenne, Wy (3 1/2 hours away) and they were called by DHS supervisor, Kim Castellano, within a half an hour. They immediately offered to drive down to get the kids. Ms. Castellano said she would call my parents back with the arrangements and instead my family never heard from her again and have provided the call logs from then as evidence of this. My children were placed in a foster home for a week before being returned home despite me being released on my own recognizance the next morning.
The more than a year that has followed have been an absolute horror. From completely made up concerns, catastrophized concerns, purgery (intentionally omitting professional’s recommendations and other evidence from court reports to gain judgement in the department's favor), violation of HIPA, signing contracts under duress if we want to keep (or at this point even see our children), Judge Groome's persistent and evident bias (consistent failure to perform judicial duties in violation of Canon 3 at least) and much more.
Examples of this are as follows,
* From the start there has never been a timeline of set goals to be completed by an end date. This has always been an open-ended series of outrageous stipulations and expectations placed on, not only us, but our family and friends. The Department has consistently refused to put in writing the promises they make if we complete their "plan". The safety plan has been the same since the beginning and we have consistently been punished even if we follow It. Concerns about that were voiced early on by one of my therapy providers, Alex Miller. It is almost as if we have been involved in an experiment to see how far you can push a family before they break. Over the course of this case the emotional, financial, and relational deterioration of our family is evident to an extent that it has never been before. When we ask to get any agreement in writing on 2/31/2018, as we have done repeatedly from the start, Ms. Duncan printed off the treatment plan from November 2016. That was obviously not what we asked for.
* Caseworker Julie Duncan and GAL Anne Parmely both calling my individual therapist and treatment provider (Lydia Simmons) at Arapahoe house to ask her to change her recommendations to reflect their narrative as well as the results of my drug and alcohol assessment. When she out right refused to do so they omitted her recommendations and my assessment from the court report. Lydia Simmons has provided a letter reflecting her thoughts and recommendations.
*GAL Anne Parmely has never contacted my husband, Vincent Baxter, and has only visited with the children 5 times this entire process (only 3 in the home). She has only attempted to contact the professionals involved once in the almost year and a half this case has been going on. That was when she attempted to manipulate the case through my provider, Lydia, as mentioned above. Yet Judge Groome grants her anything she asks despite her lack of involvement.
*Keeping My husband out of the home for 10 months. I feel this was an intentional attempt to isolate and victimize myself and my children as I am a homemaker and had no transportation in a new place where I knew no one. My children and I were isolated and, if I wished to keep my children and have my husband return, I had no choice but to agree to do everything I was told to do by the department even though I knew much of it was untrue. I feel as though we were nothing more than easy targets. My husband was essentially homeless during this trying to keep his family and new home afloat.
*The department's attorney, Angela Whitford, attending and being allowed to speak to and recommend the outcome of my husband's domestic violence case despite a prior protection order being granted that does not allow the cases to cross in any way.
* The department filing Felony Attempt to influence a Public servant (by means of financial threat) charges against my husband when he became angry with caseworker, Kody Buck, after she spoke in detail about our case with his Probation officer without a release to do so and he told her he was going to file a complaint and get her fired. Admittedly not the best choice of words on his part. This case was also heard and lost in front of Judge Groome.
*Refusing to allow my husband's therapy and recovery treatment provider, Terry Rogers, to speak in court (his recommendations were omitted from the court reports as well). Also threatening Terry's career by means of legal action for speaking up in support of our family despite him being a long standing therapy and recovery provider as well as a local pastor and upstanding member of the community.
*When My husband and myself pushed for an evidentiary hearing regarding the Soberlink alcohol monitoring device Judge Groome stated angrily, "Do you want a little thing like this to stop your kids from coming home?" Our home is in the mountains in an area with virtually no cellular network connection. The device sends breathalyzer test results through the Verizon network and can not be connected to WiFi. Over a period of 9 months the device failed to send several compliant tests which I documented with picture, video, and pictures of another monitoring device I purchased specifically to demonstrate compliance when Soberlink failed to send test results. This evidence was not a “little thing” as the Soberlink failure to function properly was being used to cast me in a negative light and keep our family separated. This behavior from Judge Groome is standard any time anyone says anything that does not parrot the wishes and opinions of the department and GAL. Especially when my Husband or Myself attempt to speak in defense of ourselves and our children. The soberlink ended up suspended for over a week during Feburary 2018 because the department had not made payment on it since September 2017.
* We have only been allowed to be together for three months in the home during this entire process. Even then we were forced to agree to tell all of our friends in the neighborhood about the case and they were required to supervise us in our home, each with a different hourly schedule, with no more than an hour in between the presence of one of our community members except for when the family was sleeping or attending church. This was immensely intrusive and stressful for all involved. During two months when I was not in the home there were no visits to the children by caseworker or GAL which shows there is no concern with us on an individual basis.
* Our children were taken from the home 12/15/2017 and placed in foster care after my husband had a brief relapse in which he followed the safety plan, and ensured the children were safe with their sitter who has been approved by DHS. Contacted all necessary parties including myself, his treatment provider Terry Rogers, His domestic violence therapist, his probation officer, and his support network of friends. Except the department for obvious reasons. Because of exactly what they did which is swiftly removing the children without discussion or investigation and not placing them with family in such an event.
* Kim Castellano, DHS supervisor, contacted my Mother and Father about placing the children with them 12/15/2017 at which time my Mother agreed to be available for anything required for the children. My Mother began to question Ms. Castellano about why the children were being removed, at this point Ms. Castellano became agitated and defensive. My Mother next spoke to caseworker Julie Duncan and expressed her shock and disappointment in Ms. Castellano’s unprofessional behavior. My mother asked Ms. Duncan about options for assistance with daycare and medical for the children. When my Mother asked this Ms. Duncan changed her tune and expressed that if they had to help with financial assistance they would just place the children in a foster home.
* The morning of 12/15/2017 there was a hearing about removing the children. My husband was not allowed to speak in court and I was not notified there even was a hearing. I did not hear from caseworker, Julie Duncan, until 6:30 p.m. after the children had been removed.
* On 12/21/2017 we had a hearing to request the children be placed with my family in Ft. Collins temporarily. The department had made up concerns about my family not allowing me to see the children etc. These concerns were addressed by all parties including my family, who was in attendance. Once addressed the department flat out stated they would not place our children with family simply because they wanted to ensure my husband and I were submitting to their demands first. The judge allowed this saying the same thing he says every single hearing, "I trust the department to do what needs to be done."
* My husband and I have not been allowed visits, have only received 2 phone calls Christmas eve, Christmas day, and have not been contacted in any way regarding what the department wants in order to get our children home. We did not hear back from anyone at the department at all regarding anything from 12/21/2017 to 1/3/2018. Julie Duncan called on 1/3/2018 and said we should expect a call from a third-party facility who would arrange visits. As of 1/6/2018 we have not heard from anyone and have no contact information to make contact regarding visits. My family were unable to visit Christmas Eve due to family arriving from out of town that evening and notified Ms. Duncan. Ms. Duncan told them she would notify the Foster Family and failed to do so which resulted in our children and foster parents waiting for an hour for my parents to come. This devastated our Daughter age 10. My Parents completed a visit 12/31/2017 and have since stated it is evident that the children are not happy and our daughter especially seems afraid to express how she feels. This is to the extent where my Husband telling our daughter, who was in tears and wanted to go home, we love her and this is only temporary is being used as evidence that we are bad parents! Because that wasn't protecting her. I feel that letting her know we love her and are trying is what any loving parent would do. I sounds more to me like it is only a problem because it won't make it easy for the department to further alienate her from those who love her the most. We are terrified for our impressionable 2 year old!
*From the start family, friends, professionals, and neighbors have written letters of testimony about us being good loving parents and that we have made the children our priority at all times. There have never been any concerns or allegations of physical or mental abuse.
* No one in the department is qualified to diagnose or treat substance or mental disorders. To ignore the diagnosis and recommendations of professionals in place because they do not reflect the department’s narrative is unacceptable and perfectly frames the extent of the manipulation this office and it’s representatives have become accustom to exercising. We have spoken to two different attorneys out of Denver who refuse to work in Park county specifically because of Judge Groome and the department.
* Update as of 1/25/2018 we have had two visits at a third party facility in Colorado Springs (2 hours drive each way) for 1 ½ hours per visit separately. We are not allowed to visit together even though it is supervised, there is no court order stating it must be separate, and we are both compliant with our substance monitoring. Our third party Facilitator sees no issues with us but is concerned about the children's physical reactions when the Foster Mom walks in to pick them up. Brittany Schroder, Department Supervisor, has completed her report and two home visits at my family's home, who have no record, a large home, and are bonded with the children, and has still not placed the children with family or given any indication she will be doing so any time soon. We still have not had a TDM or been told what the department wants in order to get the children home.
* Our Family had a TDM meeting 1/31/2018, which I recorded, where a specific issue arose about caseworker Julie Duncan going through our daughter’s cell phone without permission or a warrant. We were originally told by Ms. Duncan Anita could have it. When she told us Anita could not have it at the foster home because the Foster parents were not ok with it we asked her to return it. It was returned 1/3/2018 and we were not told that she had gone through it until 1/17/20178. We are not sure how long she had it for. Prior to removal from the home Anita did not have her cell phone as she was grounded from it. I did. My husband and I had a text argument in which he texted her phone because I had it. Before he sent it to the Foster home with her I went through screen shotted the conversation, sent it to my phone, and erased the texts and pictures of it. I missed one screen shot in her outgoing texts. Regardless, Anita had never seen any of them and this does not change the fact that Ms. Duncan did not have permission, exigent circumstances, or a court order to turn on and go through our property which is in my name. When my husband attempted to confront her about this she flat out stated, “I don't need a warrant.” The Facilitator then went after my husband in a very threatening display of gaslighting and told him that his behavior, in bringing this up and being upset, is why the department won’t let the children come home. During this neither Anne Parmely or the department's attorney, Angela Whitford spoke a word which, to me, spoke volumes. As I said, It is all recorded I have attached a clip from that to this and can attach any other documents you would like.
* I have still not heard from my court appointed attorney, Grant Lewis, since 10/2017 despite 7 emails and numerous attempts to contact by phone. This is not surprise since he has only called me twice since appointed, has only attended 2 TDMs, and has put zero effort in to any form of defense to the point where he also did not submit evidence and letters I provided him with and does not speak in court beyond one or two sentences that express utter indifference if not borderline prosecution.
To conclude our desperate plea for help, I am in no way saying my husband and I are perfect. We are working on ourselves and our marriage and in the past there has been Domestic Violence and substance use. We are very good parents, we have always protected them and removed them from the situation when necessary and our children are perfect examples of it. We do not deserve this, our family has been devastated and outright abused. Issues we did have that we could have used some direction and assistance with were catastrophized and exacerbated. I do have evidence to back every word I have said. Our family has been separated in one way or another from the start while the department claims concerns without basis or direct threat of danger and meaninglessly repeats “Best interest of the children”. Everything done from day one has been in effort to separate not reunify. I can be a mother without a husband, he can be a father without a wife, or we can be married without our beloved children. We desperately love our children. Please help us!
Brittany and Vincent Baxter