Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo
IN THE INTEREST OF F.R. AKA F.R. AKA F.R., A.L.R., I.R.L. AKA I.R.L., CHILDREN
Appeal from the 287th District Court Bailey County, Texas
Trial Court No. 9740, Honorable Carry Baker, Presiding
QUINN, C.J., and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.
mother of the children the subject of this appeal and a
Guatemalan national, appeals an order terminating her
parental rights to F.R., A.L.R., and I.R.L. The Texas
Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department)
was named managing conservator in the same termination order.
Through five issues, M.L. contends that 1) the trial court
lacked jurisdiction over the parties, 2) the evidence was
legally and factually insufficient to support termination
grounds (D), (E), and (O) and that termination was in the
best interest of the children, and 3) the trial court abused
its discretion in appointing the Department as managing
conservator of the children. We affirm.
final hearing began with testimony from M.L.'s
immigration attorney. Its substance follows. A deportation
order has been entered for M.L., from which she has filed an
appeal. She presently is being held in a detention center.
Her attorney believed they had grounds for reversal and if
that were to happen then she would have another hearing and
could possibly be released on bond. Her hearing could be
anywhere between two to three years to determine whether she
would receive asylum in the U.S. If M.L. is not successful
with her appeal, she could be deported back to Guatemala soon
the children the subject of this proceeding, F.R. is a female
who was born in Guatemala and at the time of the hearing was
5 years old. A.L.R. and I.R.L. are both males and were born
in the United States, ages three and one, respectively, at
the time of the hearing. The Department had attempted to
contact their fathers who were believed to be living in
Guatemala. That effort included contacting the Guatemalan
Consulate in Houston, Texas.
Leonardo Aviles, of the Muleshoe Police Department, also
testified. The substance of his testimony follows. Shortly
after 10:00 a.m. on June 23, 2017, he received a call from
one of M.L.'s neighbors who reported that the three
children were home alone. When he arrived at M.L.'s home,
he found the neighbor with two children outside the house.
The oldest child appeared to be about age three and the
younger about one or two. Inside the house, he found an
infant appearing to be about age three or four months old.
The children looked as if they had not showered. Their
diapers needed changing, and the infant was crying. The
neighbor told him he found the children outside about 9:30
a.m., which meant they had been home alone from 6:00 a.m.
until 9:30. The officer also said that: 1) I.R.L.'s legs
and foot appeared to be in "bad condition" due to
lack of bathing and skin care; 2) the children were
transported to the police station; 3) M.L. picked them up
five hours later; 4) "[M.L.'s] house was
dirty," needed to be cleaned and had trash everywhere;
and 5) "the kitchen look[ed] like it [had not] been
cleaned for a while, greasy. . . . [with] dead roaches or
different type of insects, spiders."
of the home depicted an overturned bucket near the stove.
M.L. conceded that the bucket's placement would have
allowed F.R. or A.L.R. to reach the stove. Another photograph
showed an unprotected electrical outlet on the wall near the
floor beside the kitchen table.
next witness was the children's caseworker Elvia Buelna
who testified that 1) a report had been received on June 23,
2017, about three young children being left home alone and
unattended; 2) she discovered the home "in filthy and
unsanitary conditions"; 3) the children were dirty and
seemed hungry; 3) M.L. was, at the time of hearing, in
"an immigration detention center" and unable to
care for her children; 4) M.L. lacked a stable home for the
children; 5) M.L. lacked stable employment; 6) M.L. had not
addressed the issues of why her children came into care; 7)
after the children were removed, M.L. was given unsupervised
visitation over weekends with the plan to reunite them; and
8) at the end of the first visit, the children and their
clothes were unclean and the children were hungry.
caseworker also related the events of the second unsupervised
visit. I.R.L. had contracted pink eye before arriving. M.L.
was given eye drops to use to combat the pink eye and was
shown how to use them. Thereafter, the caseworker made an
unannounced visit to the home while the children were there
and discovered that A.L.R. and I.R.L. had fevers while I.R.L.
also was "just limp, no life in him, his eyes were shut
with gunk, the eye gunk that comes out, and his cheeks were
bright, bright red." When questioned about the
children's condition, M.L. "just kind of shrugged
her shoulders." The caseworker then transported the
children to the emergency room, where "the doctor stated
that [I.R.L.] had a grave case of pink eye" and
"[b]oth of the boys had high temperatures" ranging
from 102.5 to 103.9.
events and M.L.'s inability to meet her children's
basic needs led the Department to keep the children in its
care. M.L. "immediately became upset and made threats
towards" the caseworker when told of this decision. The
threats included cursing her "to God" and cursing
the caseworker's children. M.L. also threatened to return
the children back to Guatemala if they were returned to her.
M.L. then refused to release the children to the caseworker
and shoved the latter when effort was made to approach the
children. Both F.R. and I.R.L. were in her arms when she
shoved the worker. M.L.'s brother also stood near M.L.
holding a knife, at the time. That resulted in the caseworker
becoming scared, leaving without the children and contacting
the police. The police subsequently arrested M.L. and charged
her with the offense of terroristic threat, to which charge
she pled guilty.
evidence revealed that, at the time of the hearing, the
children were "in a legal risk home in the Dallas
area," doing very well, all together, and happy. The
home was safe and clean and large with ample space for the
children inside and out. Each child had their own bed. The
placement or foster parent expressed interest in adopting the
children and in addressing F.R.'s immigration issues.
Remaining in the foster home was the best opportunity for the
children, according to the caseworker. And, though other
foster children were in the home, all the children developed
an instant bond and adapted.
testified as well. She 1) denied leaving the children alone
but in the care of others who either left or failed to
appear; 2) explained that she could not take the two children
running high fevers to the hospital because of a lack of
transportation; 3) denied threatening the caseworker (despite
pleading guilty to the charge of terroristic ...