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In re G.K.G.A.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

June 1, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF G.K.G.A., A CHILD

         On Appeal from the 314th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2013-02795J

          Panel consists of Justices Higley, Bland, and Brown.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Jane Bland Justice

         R.A., father, appeals the termination of his parental rights to G.K.G.A., challenging the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's predicate finding that he constructively abandoned the child. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         The child was born in El Paso in December 2006. Sometime before the fall of 2012, her family relocated to Harris County. The child came into the Department's custody in May 2013, after it had received reports of three separate incidents of violence in her family.

         The first occurred in October 2012. While driving, her father punched her mother in the face several times and threatened to beat her again at home. When the father stopped the car in the apartment complex's parking lot, the mother tried to run away from the father, but he tackled her to the ground. As a result of this altercation, the father was criminally charged with assault against a family member. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the father pleaded guilty to the charge and received two years of deferred adjudication community supervision.

         The other two incidents occurred in January and May 2013, respectively, and involved the child's half-brother, who was 12 years old at that time. In the January incident, the half-brother complained about pain during the school day and was taken to the nurse's office. The nurse examined the half-brother and found bruising on his face and back. He disclosed to school officials that his stepfather, who is the father in this appeal, had "lashed out" at him for having taken an electronic reading device to school.

         In the May incident, the half-brother was found carrying a large pocket knife to school. When school officials discovered that he was carrying a knife, the half-brother told them that his mother told him to take the knife to school and "hide it." The school officials contacted the mother and told her about the situation. She was overheard cursing at the half-brother, telling him to "shut the hell up, " and not to say another word. When the school officials asked the mother to explain, she responded that half-brother was "a liar." In the mother's absence, the school officials further discussed the incident with the half-brother. He expressed that his "home life was bad" and said he did not care what happened to him anymore. He also informed them that a similar incident occurred when the family was living in El Paso and he was almost taken from his family.

         Within a few days of the May incident, the Department petitioned for protection for the child in this case and her two half-siblings. The trial court ordered the Department to serve as managing conservator for the children. The three children were placed in the care of the half-siblings' paternal aunt and her husband in El Paso. The trial court prohibited the father from having contact with the children. The no-contact order remained in place from May 2013 until July 2014.

         The father was not served and did not appear at the initial hearing. The Department eventually located him in the county jail, where he was detained on a charge of interfering with a public servant. That charge was later dismissed. The Department served the father with the petition on June 18th.

         By August 2014, the mother's parental rights had been terminated. Because the father's detention had prevented him from undertaking the services ordered by the trial court, the Department and the father entered into a mediated settlement agreement that gave him additional time to work on them. The father signed the MSA on August 13.

         The MSA provided that the father would have visitation and access to the child "as arranged by DFPS and previously ordered." This language references the trial court's July 2014 temporary order that lifted the no-contact order. The case supervisor testified that the Department had made visitation arrangements at the mediation that the father would contact the Department whenever he was going to El Paso and they would "set it up . . . with the [case]worker there."

         The evidence is disputed concerning the father's involvement with the child from July 2014 until the case was tried in October 2016. The caseworker supervisor testified that. to her knowledge, the father made no effort to arrange any visits with the child after the no-contact order was lifted. The aunt likewise testified that the father never contacted her for assistance in setting up a ...


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