Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
IN THE INTEREST OF S.M.T. AND L.C., MINOR CHILDREN
appeal from the 343rd District Court of Live Oak County,
Justices Rodriguez, Contreras, and Benavides
appeal concerns the termination of parental rights to minor
children S.M.T. and L.C. Appellants are G.C., the biological
father of L.C., and B.S., the biological mother of both
children. Both appellants contend that the evidence was
factually and legally insufficient to support termination.
G.C. additionally argues that he "was not represented
effectively by counsel." We affirm.
was born to mother B.S. and father D.T. on June 9, 2010. L.C.
was born to mother B.S. and father G.C. on August 21, 2014.
The Department of Family and Protective Services (the
Department) filed a petition seeking termination of both
appellants' parental rights on June 17,
2015. Trial took place before a Live Oak County
jury over five days in December 2016, during which B.S. was
represented by counsel and G.C. appeared pro se.
investigator Mary Rojas testified that she was assigned to
the case in May of 2015 following a report of physical abuse.
According to Rojas, S.M.T. had been absent from her
pre-kindergarten class for three days and had returned with
"some scabbing on her face, her cheek and her
neck." School officials reported that S.M.T. told them
she had a "secret" which she could not tell. Rojas
testified that, during an interview, S.M.T. "disclosed
that [G.C.] had been throwing furniture" and
"started talking about how [G.C.] wanted to go outside
and shoot himself with the gun." S.M.T. also told Rojas
that G.C. "smacked her mouth" and twisted her leg;
that G.C. also smacked L.C.'s mouth; and that G.C. would
pull B.S. by the ears. S.M.T. also reported that ice was
"put on her private" because of
"bruising." According to Rojas, school officials
advised B.S. of her daughter's injuries but B.S.
"wasn't concerned about" the injuries and
instead "focused on herself."
Green interviewed S.M.T. at the Children's Advocacy
Center in Corpus Christi. Green testified that S.M.T.
reported that the "secret" she had was that G.C.
had slapped her. S.M.T. did not mention sexual abuse in the
interview. On cross-examination, Green agreed that S.M.T.
stated that "something like three different people at
school touch[ed] her, " but Green did not follow up on
those reports because she understood that S.M.T. was
"identifying other children." A video recording of
the interview was entered into evidence. On the recording,
S.M.T. said that when she gets in trouble and her mother is
at work, G.C. spanks her with his paddle and his belt and
twists her leg. S.M.T. further stated that B.S. and G.C. work
at the same place. When Green asked S.M.T. what happened to
her face, S.M.T. replied: "I can't tell anybody my
secret." She stated that B.S. told her to keep the
secret, and the secret was that G.C. "hit my face really
hard" and that he "used to [hurt me] every
took S.M.T. to Driscoll Children's Hospital, where she
was found to have "various bruising" and where she
made an outcry of sexual abuse. Hospital records entered into
evidence show the following patient history:
Patient states, "My daddy, [G.C.], twisted it. My leg
(patient indicates right leg by pointing) because I
didn't like it. I didn't want him to twist my leg. He
hits me with his belt because I'm not being-have [sic].
My mom said it's a secret, not to tell anyone. My dad
hurt my face and twisted my leg."
Patient also states, "My daddy, [G.C.], put his finger
here in my private (patient indicates female sexual organ by
pointing) under my clothes, inside and here (patient
indicates anus by pointing) with his finger, inside."
to Rojas, B.S. denied any abuse by G.C. B.S. claimed that
G.C. "would never hurt" S.M.T. and that S.M.T. was
lying. When asked about S.M.T.'s bruising, B.S. said that
S.M.T. "had a disease" that "make[s] her
bruise easily"; however, the Department did not find
that any such diagnosis had ever been made. The Department
then instituted a safety plan requiring B.S. to not allow
G.C. to have contact with either child. The safety plan was
signed by both parents and provided that B.S.'s friend,
Justina Early, would monitor B.S. and report any contact
between G.C. and the children to the Department.
testified that the Department soon received reports that B.S.
was having contact with G.C. In particular, a neighbor of
B.S. reported that he heard adult voices yelling from
B.S.'s house and saw G.C.'s vehicle parked there.
Believing that the safety plan had been violated, Rojas
visited B.S. at her workplace and observed that G.C. was
there with B.S. At a later meeting at B.S.'s house, B.S.
and Early "became defensive" when they were told
that G.C. could not have visitation with S.M.T. According to
Rojas, B.S. and Early "were saying that [G.C.] could be
around [S.M.T.] if they wanted him around" and B.S.
refused several requests by Rojas to place the children with
another person, such as S.M.T.'s biological father D.T.
B.S. told Rojas that G.C. had been more of a father to S.M.T.
than D.T. and that she would rather see S.M.T. placed in
foster care than with D.T. However, Rojas observed D.T. visit
S.M.T. in June of 2015 and, according to Rojas, the visit
"went great" and "they seemed to be pretty
bonded." Rojas stated that she never had any concerns
about D.T.'s relationship with S.M.T. Rojas later
explained that B.S. did not want D.T. to have custody of
S.M.T. because D.T.'s "grandfather used to beat
her" and because D.T. used drugs.
no alternative placement could be agreed upon, the Department
took custody of the children in June 2015. According to
Rojas, Early resisted surrendering custody and initially
refused to open the doors to the car that she and the
children were in. Eventually, Early complied but she
"was very verbally aggressive" and "ended up
getting arrested due to the way she was acting." S.M.T.
was placed with D.T., and L.C. was placed with G.C.'s
full adversary hearing on July 1, 2015, Rojas testified that
she believed B.S. endangered the children because she
"did not believe her daughter's outcries." On
cross-examination, Rojas clarified that B.S.'s neighbors
never actually saw G.C. at B.S.'s house following
institution of the safety plan. She concluded that the safety
plan had been violated because the neighbor heard adult
voices yelling at B.S.'s house and saw G.C.'s vehicle
service plan requiring, among other things, that appellants
undergo counseling and assessments, was adopted as an order
of the court. Alejandra Pinon, who replaced Rojas as the
Department caseworker, testified that neither appellant
complied with the service plan. Pinon explained that,
although G.C. and B.S. completed the services required of
them, they did not cooperate with the Department because they
were not honest as to their relationship with each other.
Pinon stated that B.S. had not demonstrated a willingness to
protect her children because she continued her relationship
with G.C. According to Pinon, both appellants were told
repeatedly that, if they continued their relationship with
each other, "that would be a problem towards
reunification" with the children. Nevertheless, in
October of 2015, Pinon's assistant discovered that B.S.
had maintained internet social media accounts using both her
name and G.C.'s name.
Sublett, S.M.T.'s counselor, testified as follows about a
therapy session she had with S.M.T. in September of 2015:
We play with toys, with sandboxes those kind of things. And I
just let them play.
I never ask any leading questions. I did not ask her about
family. I did not ask her about mom. I did not ask her about
[G.C.]. And in the medium of play, she began to talk. And I
put what I have in my notes in quotes so it is from her and
not my words.
She began to say, "[G.C.] touched me." And this is
in the middle of play. And so I asked her, "So, what
kind of touch?" And she pointed to her genital area and
her anal area. She said-and I asked her, "Was this touch
inside or outside?" She said, "It was inside."
She said, "I was on the bed and he touched me. And it
happened lots of times."
another session in November 2015, D.T. reported to Sublett
that S.M.T. had asked him to "take a picture of her
while she was in the shower." Sublett asked S.M.T. about
this, and S.M.T. reported that "[G.C.] took pictures of
me in the shower while mom was at work" and "[h]e
looked at my privates."
next therapy session took place in December 2015. B.S.
brought S.M.T. to the session, and Sublett testified:
As [S.M.T.] came in, she was quieter than she had been.
Really reluctant to engage. She did sit down and looked away
from me and began to play and use the sand and the toys.
And very quickly she said, regarding [G.C.], "No, he
didn't. He didn't touch. It was another girl when I
was in kindergarten. She touched my private. She took me to
the restroom and pulled my pants down."
D.T. tested positive for cocaine, and S.M.T. was removed from
his custody and placed with a foster family.
Davis, a detective with the Three Rivers Police Department,
testified that he was assigned in May 2015 to investigate
S.M.T.'s allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Davis
stated that, after he learned that S.M.T. accused G.C. of
taking pictures of her in the shower, he obtained a warrant
to search G.C.'s residence, which he and other officers
executed on February 10, 2016. A bodycam video recording of
the execution of the warrant was entered into evidence. In
the video, police can be seen searching the residence and
seizing various electronic devices. They eventually
discovered B.S., who had been hiding under a blanket near a
bed. B.S. can be heard saying, "I'm not supposed to
testified that L.C. sustained a spiral fracture in his arm
when he was eight months old. According to G.C., he was
watching the children while B.S. was at work, and he had
placed L.C. in a "bouncer" on a table. S.M.T. was
"running around playing" and bumped into the table,
causing L.C. to fall. G.C. stated that he "was in the
kitchen washing dishes" at the time but went immediately
to the living room and "grabbed [L.C] . . . the first
way I could think, by the arm."
testified that he loved S.M.T. and treated her as if she were
his own daughter. He conceded that he disciplined her about
five times by spanking her with a belt "on her
bottom" with her pants up. He denied ever slapping
S.M.T. on the face or twisting her leg.
stated that D.T. started to have visitation with S.M.T. in
April of 2015. G.C. testified that B.S. was happy for D.T. to
have visitation. He was "confused" when B.S. told
him, in May of 2015, that S.M.T. had made an outcry of abuse
against him. G.C. acknowledged that he signed the safety plan
and moved out of B.S.'s house. He denied having any
contact with the children after signing the safety plan. He
also stated that he and B.S. discontinued their relationship,
and that he was seen at B.S.'s workplace because he also
worked there. According to G.C., he and B.S. resumed their
relationship sometime between December 2015 and February
2016. The following colloquy then occurred:
Q. [Department's counsel] And are you aware-were you
aware then that if you-guys continued a relationship, that
was going to be an obstacle for the children being with you
A. [G.C.] Yes.
Q. And y'all still decided to get back together?
Q. Okay. Why did y'all decide to get back together when
you knew what it was going to cost you?
[G.C.]: I am sorry. I am going to have to stop. I don't
feel comfortable anymore. . . . (Jury left the courtroom.)
THE COURT: [G.C.], are you invoking your 5th Amendment
THE COURT: You are seeking to have all of your interview