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In re A.M.L.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

December 21, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF A.M.L. AND L.M.R., MINOR CHILDREN

         On appeal from the 24th District Court of Jackson County, Texas.

          Before Justices Rodriguez, Benavides, and Longoria

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NELDA V. RODRIGUEZ Justice

         By one issue, appellant "Mother" (a pseudonym) appeals the termination of her parental rights to her children A.M.L. and L.M.R.[1] We affirm.

         I. Background

         In September 2015, Mother placed a 911 call to report that she may have injured L.M.R. At trial, Mother testified that she suffers from mental disabilities and has severe panic attacks which cause her to lose control of herself. She attested that she dropped L.M.R. on a cardboard box when she began to experience an attack. Mother reported that she then removed L.M.R. from the box and placed her in a playpen, but Mother was afraid that she may have dropped L.M.R. on hard, plastic toys, causing injury to L.M.R.

         The trial court heard different testimony from Deputy Brian Martin of the Calhoun County Sheriff's Department, who responded to the 911 call. Martin testified that when he arrived at the location of the dispatch, he observed several children moving anxiously in the front yard of a poorly maintained house, one of whom was cradling a baby. Martin explained Mother was standing nearby, and she told officers at the scene that she lifted L.M.R. into the air and then threw her onto a cardboard box in the front yard, and she then threw her into a play pen in a similar manner. According to Martin, Mother told officers that she called 911 because she was afraid that she was going to hurt L.M.R. if she were not arrested. Martin testified, without objection, that the children demonstrated Mother's handling of L.M.R. as a "whipping" motion. An ambulance took L.M.R. to a hospital, and the Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) later removed her and A.M.L. from Mother's care. Mother was arrested and later pleaded guilty to the offense of injury to a child, for which she was sentenced to ten years' confinement, probated for ten years of community supervision. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 22.04(a) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.).

         In October of 2015, the Department filed a petition seeking to terminate Mother's parental rights. The trial court instead entered an order which, among other things, provided that the Department establish a family service plan outlining the various steps Mother needed to take in order to regain custody of her children.

         On January 13, 2017 the Department filed an amended petition to terminate Mother's parental rights, as well as the parental rights of the respective fathers of A.M.L. and L.M.R., who do not participate in this appeal. The Department alleged that Mother had not fulfilled the family services plan, which is a ground for termination under Texas Family Code section 161.001(b)(1)(O). See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(O) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.). The Department further alleged that Mother committed multiple infractions under other subsections of 161.001(b)(1)-in particular, (C), (D), (E), (K), (L), (N), and (P)-and that termination was in the children's best interest. See generally id. § 161.001(b)(1)-(2).

         Following a bench trial, [2] the trial court found there to be clear and convincing evidence that Mother committed five infractions under section 161.001(b)(1), in that she:

[1.] knowingly placed or knowingly allowed the children to remain in conditions or surroundings which endanger the physical or emotional well-being of the children, pursuant to § 161.001(b)(1)(D), Texas Family Code;
[2.] engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the children with persons who engaged in conduct which endangers the physical or emotional well-being of the children, pursuant to § 161.001(b)(1)(E), Texas Family Code;
[3.] executed before or after the suit is filed an unrevoked or irrevocable affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights as provided by Chapter 161, Texas Family Code, pursuant to § 161.001(b)(1)(K), Texas Family Code;
[4.] [has] been convicted or has been placed on community supervision, including deferred adjudication community supervision, for being criminally responsible for the death or serious injury of a child under [Penal Code ยง 22.04, ...

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