Less than a month after police took her four children into protective custody, a mother took a weeklong vacation with the man accused of abusing those children and choking her, Sedgwick County District Judge Patrick Walters learned Monday.
Walters cited the vacation when he ruled the state had proved the woman’s children, ages 11, 10, 7 and 5, were in need of care. He made the finding at an adjudication hearing, which is similar to a trial in this type of case.
“On March 1, you left the state with a man who had choked you on February 9?” Assistant District Attorney Tricia Knoll asked the mother. “This is while this case was pending and you were trying to get your kids back?”
The mother answered yes, saying her going on an already-planned vacation with the man and his mother should not matter. She said she wasn’t worried about traveling with the man, because “he wouldn’t do anything with his mother there.”
The children’s mother also said in court Monday that she allowed her boyfriend, whom she began living with shortly after they first dated, to discipline her children because he was “the man of the house.” She has said she no longer lives with him.
The Eagle is following this and other child-in-need-of-care cases through the court system to examine how the system works and to show the public the extent of child abuse and neglect in the community. It is not identifying the children or their parents to protect their privacy.
Reports of child abuse and neglect have risen by 25 percent in Sedgwick County in five years, to 12,366 in the fiscal year that ended in June 2013.
Social workers testified Monday that there was a history of physical abuse and domestic violence in the woman’s home.
The mother’s lawyer, Judy Fowler, put three of the children on the stand. They testified in Walters’ courtroom while Fowler asked questions via camera from another location.
The mother was not allowed to be in the same room while the children answered questions. So Fowler, the mother and the children’s maternal grandmother watched and listened to the testimony from the Juvenile Detention Facility via camera. Walters allowed The Eagle to watch by camera as well.
Fowler asked each child whether he or she understood what telling the truth meant.
“You have to say the answer that’s true and not a lie,” the 11-year-old said.
Fowler asked him whether his mother’s boyfriend at the time ever spanked him. He answered yes, with a brown belt. He also said that the man – a gang member, according to testimony Monday – had grabbed and pushed his mother. He said he saw them smoke marijuana every day.
Asked whether the boyfriend had spanked him, the 10-year-old said, “Yeah, a lot,” usually on the “head or butt. He just did it wherever he could.”
The boyfriend also abused his mother, he said.
The mother shook her head several times as her children testified, motions they could see via TV. The children’s guardian ad litem – a lawyer representing their interests – asked Walters to admonish her for doing so.
“It’s inappropriate in court,” he said.
The woman’s 7-year-old daughter said the boyfriend had spanked her “on the butt” with a belt. She said she didn’t know whether he had beaten her mother because she doesn’t always pay attention.
After the girl’s testimony, the mother told her lawyer not to question her youngest child, the 5-year-old.
Knoll did not ask the children any questions.
The mother said the man “very rarely” spanked the children. She said she and the man had had conflicts and he had choked her, but she denied there were domestic violence problems in the home.
She said she did not show up in Wichita Municipal Court for two domestic violence cases in which she was the alleged victim “out of spite.”
If “you guys want to lie on me and take my children, I’m not going to help you out, plain and simple,” she said.
Knoll contended that the state had “more than met its burden of proof. There’s domestic violence. There’s physical abuse. The mother is in denial.”
The mother also tested positive for marijuana on Monday, according to court testimony, as she had earlier.
Walters told the mother she was not making changes in her life to convince him the children were safe with her.
He noted that social workers and her own children testified about allegations of abuse in the home.
“You’re the only one who’s testified that they’re not true,” he said.
Walters scheduled a hearing for Aug. 1 to determine where the children will live. The three youngest children are living temporarily with their maternal grandmother. The 11-year-old is living in a foster home.