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In re C.E.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

June 21, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF C.E.C., A MINOR CHILD

          On Appeal from the 255th Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DF-08-10464

          Before Justices Lang, Brown, and Whitehill

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DOUGLAS S. LANG JUSTICE

         Appellant ("Father") appeals the trial court's order terminating his parental rights respecting his daughter, C.E.C. Following a bench trial, the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that (1) Father committed three statutory predicate acts supporting termination and (2) termination of Father's parental rights was in C.E.C.'s best interest. Additionally, the trial court appointed C.E.C.'s paternal grandmother ("Grandmother") and her husband, Randy, (collectively, "petitioners") as "sole managing conservators" of C.E.C. and ordered two permanent injunctions against Father respecting access to C.E.C.

         In three issues on appeal, Father contends (1) the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support a finding that termination of his parental rights is in the best interest of C.E.C. and (2) the trial court abused its discretion by appointing petitioners as sole managing conservators and ordering the permanent injunctions against Father. We decide Father's three issues against him. The trial court's judgment is affirmed.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL CONTEXT

         C.E.C. was born in 2006. On May 26, 2016, an "Original Petition to Terminate Parent- Child Relationship of [Father]" was filed by Grandmother, who at that time was temporary sole managing conservator of C.E.C.[1] The live petition at the time of trial requested involuntary termination of Father's parental rights based on six of the acts and omissions enumerated in family code section 161.001(b)(1) and the best interest of C.E.C. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)-(2) (West Supp. 2017).[2] Also, petitioners sought adoption of C.E.C.

         At trial, Father appeared by telephone and through his appointed counsel. Father testified in part (1) in January 2010, he "pleaded guilty to attempted receipt of child pornography"; (2) since that time, he has been in federal prison for that offense; (3) he is serving a 210-month sentence and expects to be released in 2024; (4) although his mother, i.e., Grandmother, claims he sent her a letter from prison admitting to sexual conduct with minors, he did not write or sign any such letter; (5) he has never physically, sexually, or emotionally abused C.E.C.; and (6) he believes he is "a good father." Father stated he was asking (1) that his parental rights not be terminated; (2) that he be allowed "future contact" with C.E.C.; and (3) that C.E.C. not be placed in the care of Grandmother because Grandmother "is a danger to her" and placement with Grandmother is not in C.E.C.'s best interest. Further, (1) a copy of Father's 2010 plea agreement was entered into evidence and (2) Father testified his plea was voluntary and he "gave complete and truthful information" in that plea agreement.

         Additionally, Father testified on cross-examination (1) at the time of his arrest, he was living in Grandmother's home; (2) multiple computers found in that home contained a total of more than 1, 200 images and videos of child pornography; (3) those computers were owned by Grandmother; and (4) he recently attempted to contact C.E.C., but Grandmother has not allowed C.E.C. to visit or speak with him since receiving the letter described above.

         Grandmother testified she is a licensed provider of "in home child care" and has been "in that industry" for more than twenty years. She stated she sought to terminate Father's parental rights to C.E.C. after Father sent her a handwritten letter from prison in 2016 "saying not only did he look at children," but also "sexually assaulted [C.E.C.]" when she was three and one-half years old. Grandmother testified Father stated in that letter that he (1) is a "violent sexual predator"; (2)"if given the opportunity, may likely attempt to sexually abuse a minor female in the future"; and (3) believes his parental rights respecting C.E.C. should be terminated. A copy of the letter described by Grandmother was admitted into evidence over Father's objection.

         Further, Grandmother testified she believes termination of Father's parental rights would be in C.E.C's best interest. Specifically, Grandmother stated (1) it is her belief that C.E.C. believes Father "sexually abused her"; (2) C.E.C. has been in therapy respecting that matter; (3)Grandmother is concerned Father will try to harm C.E.C. mentally and physically if he has access to her; and (4) termination would "give [C.E.C.] some closure" and "let[] [her] know that she's in a safe place, and that her biological father . . . can never hurt her or bother her until she's ready to talk to him." Also, Grandmother testified (1) C.E.C. is currently "thriving" in her care and knows Grandmother and Randy "want to adopt her so she won't have to go back to live with her mother or see her father"; (2) "[t]here's no reason" to allow Father "access to" C.E.C.; and (3) as a "self-admitted violent sexual predator," Father cannot "provide any kind of emotional support for [C.E.C.]."

         On cross-examination, Grandmother testified Father "has not been able to provide financial support to his child" while he has been in prison, but has attempted to contact Grandmother to "provide emotional support for the child." She stated that since receiving the letter described above, she has not "been in contact with Father regarding the wellbeing of the child" or allowed Father to speak with C.E.C. Further, Grandmother stated she is certain Father wrote and signed that letter because "I know his handwriting" and Father told her in a telephone call from prison that he wrote the letter. Additionally, Grandmother stated (1) she testified at Father's "detention hearing" in 2010 that she was responsible for the production of two "nude imagines [sic]" of C.E.C. found in her home; (2) her child care business was "at one point" "placed under investigation by the department of protective services" and was "forcibly shut down" by them in January 2010, but is currently operating legally; (3) she was "accused of harming a child" approximately a year and a half ago, but "the case was closed"; (4) she has never physically abused any of her children and has never "been verbally, or physically, or emotionally abusive towards C.E.C."; (5) in July 2016, police were called to her home regarding a reported "assault" of her nephew by Randy, but it was "a big misunderstanding" and no one was arrested or cited; (6) prior to receiving the letter described above, she took C.E.C. to visit Father in prison twelve or thirteen times; (7) those visits went "okay" and one of the visits was "nice, "; (8) sometimes C.E.C. was "withdrawn" and "kind of sad" after the visits, and (9) prior to Grandmother's receipt of the letter described above, C.E.C. was "in therapy" because of "sexual misconduct with an uncle" on "the stepfather's side" that occurred while she was living with her mother.

         Tony Godwin testified he is a detective with the Garland Police Department. He stated he serves on a task force that assisted federal agents with the child pornography investigation that resulted in Father's arrest and incarceration. The images found in that investigation involved children "at the same age range" as those "that were in his presence in the day care that his mother ran." Godwin testified that, given the offense for which Father was convicted, he feels strongly that Father should not be around children because "the past tells me that his pattern of behavior has been horrific for a long time" and "the recidivism rate for something like this is very high." Also, Godwin testified he believes termination of Father's parental rights would be in C.E.C.'s best interest.

         Alyssa Green testified she taught C.E.C. in fourth grade two years ago and has "kept in touch" with Grandmother since that time. Green stated (1) Grandmother has played a supportive role in C.E.C.'s life, (2) C.E.C. "has consistently improved while she's been in [Grandmother's] care" and is "nurtured" and "thriving" in the care of Grandmother, (3) she does not "have any concerns" respecting Grandmother, and (4) she believes "it would be harmful" for C.E.C. to be removed from Grandmother.

         Patricia Keyhoe testified she was C.E.C.'s fifth grade teacher. She testified Grandmother has been "very involved" in C.E.C.'s life and C.E.C. is "thriving" in Grandmother's care. Keyhoe stated she believes it would be in C.E.C.'s best interest to remain in Grandmother's care and it would be detrimental to C.E.C. to remove her from Grandmother. On cross-examination, Keyhoe testified she has never met Father and C.E.C. has not talked to her about him.

         Randy testified he and Grandmother were married in January 2016. He has never met Father. He stated that during a previous marriage, he and his then-wife were foster parents for several teenagers. During that time, "at least three" allegations against him were investigated by "Child Protective Services," but "nothing occurred from them." He is not aware of any other instances in which CPS has been called regarding him. Also, he stated (1) he knows of only one instance involving a report of domestic violence at Grandmother's home, which occurred when C.E.C.'s mother "showed up and got violent there," and (2) he has never witnessed Grandmother being verbally, physically, or sexually abusive in any way.

         Randy testified Father has not supported C.E.C. financially for at least two years prior to the filing of the petition in this case. He stated Father's contact with C.E.C. during her visits to prison was supervised by a friend of the family on two occasions and was otherwise supervised by Grandmother. Further, Randy stated he has "concerns" that C.E.C. will be "manipulated" emotionally and "possibly hurt physically" if "exposed to her biological father."

         Jarrod Opel testified he is an investigator with Child Protective Services. He investigated allegations made in 2015 respecting C.E.C.'s mother. At that time, Father was in prison and those allegations did not involve him. Opel stated he met with C.E.C. and she "was doing very well" in Grandmother's care. Further, Opel stated (1) he visited Grandmother's home and found it "appropriate" for C.E.C.; (2) Grandmother is "very vested in making sure [C.E.C.] is thriving, "; (3) he has no concerns ...


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