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In re C.A.E.Z-T.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

July 18, 2017


          On Appeal from the 314th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2015-06874J

          Panel consists of Justices Higley, Bland, and Brown.


          Jane Bland Justice

         This is an appeal from the trial court's order terminating the parental rights of a mother and father to their two children. On appeal, the mother contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the termination. The father contends that he was harmed by the trial court's late-filed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The father further contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the termination, and that insufficient evidence supports the trial court's grant of sole managing conservatorship to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). We affirm.


         The older child, a boy, was born in March 2013. Shortly before his delivery, the mother reported to the nurse that "she has been hit in the face by her partner 3 times during this pregnancy, most recently 8 days ago." The physician's note states: "On discussion with the patient, she reports abuse at home. Her husband hits her every few months. She reports two months ago he slapped her across the face."

         In June 2013, neighbors called to report domestic violence. The father was charged in July 2013 with assault on a family member, a third-degree felony. The indictment charged that the father had injured the mother by choking her-"by impeding the normal breathing and circulation of the blood of the [mother] by applying pressure to the [mother's] throat." In a plea bargain, the State reduced the charge to a Class A misdemeanor. Pursuant to the plea bargain, the father was sentenced to 120 days' confinement in the county jail.

         In May 2014, the mother told others in a group psychotherapy session at her church that she had almost killed herself and her then one-year-old son with rat poison. She stated that she had put the rat poison in a bottle for her son and in a cup for herself. She broke off the attempt when her son knocked over the bottle. The mother was admitted to a psychiatric facility for inpatient treatment.

         According to medical records introduced at the trial, the mother presented to the emergency center with "[homicidal ideation] towards her 1 [year old] son and [suicidal ideation] due to 'loss of control' and 'rage' for the last 4 months." The physician's notes state: "Patient states that her son's father used to be abusive towards her and she has repressed hatred towards him, this is the only reason she can find to why she is attempting to hurt her son." The physician further states: "Patient reports attempting to poison the baby and herself and about 2 weeks ago she banged his head against the bathtub. Patient has regret about these actions and thoughts and understands that she needs help. . . . She continues to report thoughts about hurting herself and her baby, she does not want to act on these thoughts but does not know if she will be able to stop herself."

         With respect to the father, the mother reported to her health-care providers: "Her son's father is out of jail after being arrested for abusing her, they are back together, patient denies current episodes of violence." The physician's assessment included: "Patient continues to report [suicidal ideation]/[homicidal ideation] and is at high risk of acting on these thoughts." The notes indicate that the mother also reported that she had "a suicide attempt 4 years ago when she cut her wrist that needed 5 stitches." The mother reported that her own mother and an uncle had committed suicide, her mother by poisoning herself with rat poison and her uncle by hanging himself.

         The hospital social worker who interviewed the mother at the time of her psychiatric hospitalization noted: "Pt stated, '. . . my child's life was in danger because it's been the second time since I have tried to kill my baby. I wanted to kill him because I resent his father.'" When police brought the mother to the emergency center, the intake notes state: "[Mother] tried to poison her son with rat poison and 'break his forehead.' After she tried to 'break his forehead, ' she tried to ingest poison."

         After they brought the mother to the emergency center, the police filed a DFPS referral. DFPS placed the child in foster care with a caregiver who knows the parents from their church.

         After inpatient treatment, the mother was released for outpatient care. In July 2014, the mother was seen for a follow up at the Ben Taub Neuro Psychiatric Center. She reported that she was pregnant. The mother denied feeling depressed or any suicidal or homicidal ideation. She stated that "she has an anger management problem." The physician concluded that she was not in imminent danger of harming herself or others and could be managed as an outpatient, but that "[t]his may change depending on the vicissitudes of the condition, compliance with treatment recommendations, and psychosocial stressors."

         The mother was seen again later in July, and stated that "her goal is to get a letter for CPS to get her baby back." She denied any suicidal ideation and stated that the inpatient psychiatric treatment had been "very helpful." She returned for a psychiatric follow up. She stated that her depression had resolved after the hospitalization and that her son's father was supportive, with no current domestic violence. Her goal was to get custody of her son back.

         The older child was returned to the mother and father's care in October 2014. The foster caregiver continued to remain in their lives, sometimes taking the older child for the weekends.

         The mother gave birth to a daughter in February 2015. Then, in September 2015, DFPS received a referral of neglectful supervision from the foster caregiver. The father had reportedly stated to the caregiver that "he witnessed mother put rat poison in milk in [daughter's] bottle because [the mother] is having problems with him." The referral stated that father did not remove the daughter from the mother's care or seek medical attention. During the evening that this took place, the parents had left their older son at the foster caregiver's house.

         DFPS interviewed the foster caregiver in October 2015 relating to the second referral. Consistent with her later testimony at trial, the caregiver stated that the father called, concerned because the mother had attempted to poison their daughter. The father told the foster caregiver that he had left the apartment to go to work; he did not intervene to remove their daughter from the mother.

         DFPS temporarily placed both of the children with the father's sister and her husband (who is the mother's brother) for about three months. Custody of both children was then transferred to the foster caregiver. By the time of the trial, the caregiver and her spouse had been foster caregivers for both children for eleven months, as well as the son alone for six months after the first incident.

         The caregiver, a DFPS caseworker, an HPD investigator, the mother, and the father were called as witnesses at the bench trial. In addition, DFPS offered the mother's psychiatric records into evidence and reports from a court-ordered psychiatric examination of the ...

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