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In re S.Z.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

June 27, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF S.Z.

          From the 438th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016PA02482 Honorable Charles E. Montemayor, Associate Judge Presiding.

          Sitting: Karen Angelini, Justice, Marialyn Barnard, Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Karen Angelini, Justice.

         Raymond Z. appeals the trial court's order terminating his parental rights to his daughter, fifteen-year-old S.Z.[1] After a bench trial, the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Raymond Z. had (1) knowingly placed or knowingly allowed his child to remain in conditions or surroundings that endangered her physical or emotional well-being, see Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(D) (West Supp. 2017); (2) engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the child with persons who engaged in conduct which endangers the physical or emotional well-being of the child, see id. § 161.001(b)(1)(E); (3) failed to comply with the provisions of a court order that specifically established the actions necessary for Raymond Z. to obtain the return of his child who had been in the permanent or temporary managing conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services for not less than nine months as a result of the child's removal from the parent under Chapter 262 for the abuse or neglect of the child, see id. § 161.001(b)(1)(O); and (4) used a controlled substance, as defined by Chapter 481 of the Health and Safety Code, in a manner that endangered the health or safety of the child, and (a) failed to complete a court-ordered substance abuse treatment program; or (b) after completion of a court-ordered substance abuse treatment program continued to abuse a controlled substance, see Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(P) (West Supp. 2017). The trial court also found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Raymond Z.'s parental rights was in the child's best interest. See id. § 161.001(b)(2). On appeal, Raymond Z. argues the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the above findings by the trial court.

         The Trial

         At trial, the trial court heard testimony from three Department caseworkers, S.Z.'s counselor, Raymond Z's counselors, and Raymond Z.

         Ariana Jones, a Department caseworker, testified that she worked with the family from September to November 2016. She had received a referral based on allegations that Victoria M., Raymond Z.'s wife and stepmother to S.Z., had abused narcotics and methadone during her pregnancy with S.Z.'s half-brother. According to Jones, Victoria M. admitted to having used methadone during her pregnancy. After speaking to the family members, Jones offered services to them, including individual counseling for Raymond Z. and outpatient drug treatment for Victoria M. When Raymond Z. and Victoria M. did not comply, Jones decided to remove S.Z. from the home on November 3, 2016.[2]

         According to Jones, S.Z. told her that there was physical abuse in the home, describing times when Victoria M. would assault her, lock her in her bedroom at night, and accuse her of cutting Victoria M.'s hair in the middle of the night and putting roaches in Victoria M.'s shampoo. S.Z. also reported that Victoria M. and Raymond Z. took her with them to a drug dealer's house. According to Jones, S.Z. seemed upset and disturbed by the situation, and reported feeling unsafe at home. S.Z. also reported that she had witnessed domestic violence between Victoria M. and Raymond Z., including instances during which her younger brothers were also present. Jones testified that both Victoria M. and Raymond Z. had admitted to domestic violence. According to Jones, S.Z. had become "extremely parentified"-that is, when Victoria M. and Raymond Z. engaged in domestic violence, S.Z. was the one protecting her younger brothers. Jones believed it was in S.Z.'s best interest to be removed from her home.

         Jones testified that with regard to the services offered, Raymond Z. and Victoria M. were minimally compliant. Raymond Z. began counseling but then asked Jones to refer him to a different counselor because he was having issues paying for the counseling. According to Jones, Raymond Z. admitted he knew about issues between S.Z. and Victoria M. and about S.Z. possibly cutting Victoria M.'s hair in the middle of the night, putting roaches in Victoria M.'s shampoo, or doing other things to upset Victoria M. Jones testified that at one point, Raymond Z. said he wanted family members to take S.Z. because she was interfering with his relationship with Victoria M. According to Jones, Raymond Z. admitted he knew about Victoria M.'s drug use and knew the money he gave her went to purchase drugs, which she used while taking care of the children.

         Alyssa Cordova, a Department legal worker assigned to Raymond Z., became involved in the case in November 2016 and prepared a service plan for him. Although Raymond Z. completed his services, Cordova did not feel as though he had met his goals associated with the service plan. Part of Raymond Z.'s plan required him to meet the goal of demonstrating he would be protective of S.Z. and that he understood his role in the case. According to Cordova, S.Z. still does not feel like she can trust Raymond Z. Although Raymond Z. visits with S.Z., he continues his same behaviors and continues to blame S.Z. Cordova testified that during the visits, he has shown his priorities are not on S.Z. Raymond Z. has made false promises to S.Z., and he has shown her that he still sees her as a parent during the visits-S.Z. is still the one taking care of the three younger children. However, Cordova admitted that recent visits between Raymond Z. and S.Z. had been appropriate. According to Cordova, Raymond Z. is upset with S.Z. because the goal in this case is termination of his parental rights. Cordova testified Raymond Z. is not currently in a relationship with Victoria M.

         Cordova testified she does not believe Raymond Z. will adequately protect S.Z. in the future if she is returned to him. According to Cordova, S.Z. has talked about the physical abuse that occurred with Victoria M., which her father knew about but did not protect her from. According to Cordova, S.Z. has been consistent about not wanting to go back with her father. S.Z. has consistently said she does not trust him, she does not believe him, and she does not feel like he would protect her. Cordova testified that S.Z. believes that in the past, Raymond Z. has put her in a position of allowing her to be abused by someone else. Cordova testified this behavior by Raymond Z. has been harmful to S.Z.'s emotional and physical well-being.

         Cordova also testified that during the pendency of the case, Raymond Z. tested positive for cocaine twice. Since April 2017, however, all drug tests have been negative. Also, during the pendency of the case, Raymond Z. has had three different girlfriends. Cordova testified that Raymond Z. has completed everything on his service plan. He has housing and is employed. But, according to Cordova, he has not met his goals, partly because S.Z. does not trust him.

         Cordova testified that S.Z currently lives in a foster home, which has been a good placement for her but has no potential for permanency. According to Cordova, S.Z. is doing really well in school, and since the time she has been in the Department's care, she has made positive improvements. S.Z.'s attitude has changed, and she is no longer quick-tempered. She is working on managing her anger through therapy. Cordova testified it is in S.Z.'s best interest to be free for adoption in a stable home that is willing to allow her to maintain visitation with her siblings.

         Shirelle Gibbs is the caseworker assigned to the companion termination case involving Raymond Z.'s three sons who are S.Z.'s half-brothers. Gibbs testified that in June 2017, Raymond Z. told her that he and Victoria M. had agreed that they would work their service plans, get their children back, and go back to being in a relationship. Gibbs admitted, however, that at the time of trial, she was not aware of Raymond Z. and Victoria M. being in a relationship. According to Gibbs, the fact that Raymond Z. and Victoria M. could return to a relationship concerns the Department because of the domestic violence and drug issues. Gibbs described the ...


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