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In re R.H.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

October 3, 2019


          On Appeal from the 303rd Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DF-13-04823-V

          Before Justices Schenck, Osborne, and Reichek Opinion by Justice Reichek



         In this appeal, Father challenges the termination of his parental rights with respect to his biological son, R.H. Bringing three issues, Father contends the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support (1) the ground for termination, (2) the finding that termination was in R.H.'s best interest, and (3) the appointment of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the "Department") as R.H.'s sole managing conservator. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Factual Background

         R.H. was born on December 15, 2005. At that time, Father and Mother were not living together, but Father was aware that R.H. had been born and knew that R.H. was his son. Father testified he saw R.H. a few times between 2005 and 2009.

         In 2009, Father was convicted of the offense of capital murder and sentenced to death row. In 2013, the Texas Attorney General filed suit to establish Father's parentage of R.H. A blood test confirmed that Father was R.H.'s biological parent. The trial court signed a default order that established the parent-child relationship between R.H. and Father, appointed Mother as R.H.'s managing conservator, and appointed Father as possessory conservator.

         In November 2017, Dallas County Child Protective Services ("CPS") received a referral alleging physical abuse of R.H. Reports by the office of Court Appointed Special Advocates ("CASA") show that R.H. had cursed at his teacher and Mother was notified. When Mother arrived at the school, she was irate and hit R.H. in the face. Mother threatened R.H. stating "when you return home you better hope you make it out alive." Mother left R.H. at school stating he could no longer live in her home, but she returned later to retrieve him. When CPS interviewed R.H. the next day, he had marks and bruises on his back and bottom and scabs from previous whippings with an extension cord. R.H. told CPS he did not feel safe at home and his step-father slapped him and punched him in the face.

         In December, the Department filed a motion to modify the prior order on the parent-child relationship and an original petition for the protection of R.H., conservatorship, and termination of both Mother's and Father's parental rights. Over the course of the next year, R.H. was placed in foster homes and a psychiatric hospital. He continued to struggle with his behaviors and, at one point, was hospitalized for putting a cord around his neck. Hospital records indicated that R.H. was allergic to a variety of foods and that he would intentionally eat these foods requiring the use of an EpiPen on multiple occasions. Although he was originally placed in a regular school while in foster care, he was transferred to an alternative school due to his behavior. R.H. was diagnosed with a depressive disorder "characterized by a combination of sever[e] and recurrent temper outbursts (verbal or physical) that are grossly disproportionate to the situation."

         In October 2018, the trial court signed an order based on a mediated settlement agreement that returned R.H. to live with Mother on a monitored basis. The order stated that R.H., Mother, and R.H.'s step-father were required to participate in family counseling and R.H. would continue individual counseling. R.H. was not allowed to reside in a room with any other minor children and Mother's younger son was to have a lock placed on his bedroom door. According to Wesley Hibbits, R.H.'s case worker, Mother installed a security system with cameras in every room and alarms on all the doors. R.H. was made to sleep in the living room.

         Within about a month after the monitored return began, Mother brought R.H. back to CPS stating she feared for her life and her younger son's life and she could no longer handle R.H.'s behaviors. She said there were incidents at school every day that caused her to leave work and she was afraid she was going to lose her job. Mother requested R.H. be placed back in foster care and signed a voluntary affidavit relinquishing her parental rights. R.H. was placed in a residential treatment facility.

         On May 1, 2019, the trial court conducted a bench trial on the Department's petition to terminate Mother's and Father's parental rights and to be appointed sole managing conservator of R.H. Mother did not appear at the hearing, but the court acknowledged Mother had signed a voluntary relinquishment of her parental rights. Hibbits testified that Father had been incarcerated since 2009 and there was no relationship or bond between Father and R.H.[1]

         As to placement of R.H., Hibbits stated that R.H.'s maternal grandmother had a criminal history including a murder charge. Although Hibbits did not know if the Department had considered R.H.'s paternal grandmother as a placement for R.H., he stated that R.H. had accused the paternal grandmother's husband of sexually abusing him. R.H. had exhibited sexualized behavior against another foster child that led the Department to believe the abuse had occurred and reports stated R.H. was receiving therapy to address his sexual abuse issues as both a victim and offender.

         Reports from the residential treatment program showed that R.H. had a rough beginning, but was demonstrating improved behaviors. A CASA representative visited R.H. in February and said he appeared to be in good spirits and adjusting to his placement. R.H. told the representative that he "feels protected" at the facility. R.H. was receiving special education services for his behavior issues and he told the CASA representative he typically earned good grades in his classes. Hibbits stated R.H. had bonded with some of his caregivers and he respected them and treated them well. Both Hibbits and the CASA supervisor assigned to R.H. testified R.H. was doing well in his current ...

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