IN THE INTEREST OF A.R.E. AND Z.K.E., CHILDREN
Appeal from the 315th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 2017-02174J
consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Wise and Hassan.
Thompson Frost Chief Justice
accelerated appeal a mother seeks reversal of the trial
court's final decree terminating her parental rights to
two young children. She challenges the legal and factual
sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's
findings on two predicate termination grounds and its finding
that termination of her parental rights is in the best
interest of the children. We affirm.
Factual and Procedural Background
("Mother") is the natural parent of A.R.E.
("Adam") and Z.E. ("Zach"), the two young
children at the center of this termination
suit. A.R.E. ("Father") is the natural
parent of Zach. The trial court terminated both Mother's
and Father's parental rights to Zach and Mother's
parental rights to Adam. Father has not appealed. Adam's
natural father relinquished his rights by an irrevocable
affidavit of relinquishment and has not appealed.
Pretrial Removal Affidavit
April 2017, the Department of Family and Protective Services
("the Department") received a referral stating that
law enforcement had been called to Mother's and
Father's apartment because Father allegedly had fired a
gun at another individual. When law enforcement officers
arrived, they could see one-year-old Adam peeking out of the
blinds of the apartment. Upon entering the home, law
enforcement officers saw Father and two others smoking
marijuana. Mother was in the kitchen with one-month-old Zach.
The officers saw cocaine, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia,
including glass pipes, rolling paper, and scrapers used for
heroine, on the kitchen counter. They found a gun in a trash
can easily accessible by one-year-old Adam. Police
immediately arrested Father for aggravated assault with a
deadly weapon, possession of cocaine, and unlawful possession
of a firearm. Law enforcement officers allowed Mother to
leave with the two children because she denied using drugs
and claimed to be trapped in the relationship with Father.
Father's father retrieved Mother and the children and
took them to stay at his home.
Department investigator met with Mother the next day. Mother
insisted that she did not use drugs but she could not give
the investigator an explanation for staying in the home with
Father where drugs were being used and sold. Mother confirmed
that she was aware that these activities were occuring in the
home. Mother told the investigator that she was on probation
for possession of a controlled substance and recently had
passed a drug test. Mother said she was willing to take a
hair follicle and urine test. The investigator found both
children to be in good health and well-bonded with Mother.
explained to the investigator that she was afraid to leave
Father because of the history of domestic abuse between the
two of them. Yet, Mother said that after the latest incident,
she was finally "done" with Father. Mother said
that she did not abuse drugs or alcohol and that the
possession charge stemmed from her "taking the
charge" for Father's uncle ("Uncle").
Mother provided a list of contacts who potentially could care
for the children. All of Mother's contacts either
declined to care for the children or were unsuitable because
of a criminal record. When the investigator determined an
emergency placement would be necessary, Mother cooperated in
surrendering the children to the Department.
Department earlier had investigated the family and
"ruled out" the complaints. One of the prior
reports contained allegations that Uncle and Mother had
gotten into an argument and Uncle almost struck Mother and
Adam with a metal flagpole. Another prior report contained
allegations that drugs were being sold out of the home and
that Father had used Mother's urine to falsify
Father's results on a drug test. According to that
report, Mother, Father, and Uncle would get into physical
fights and during one of these fights, Father threw something
and almost hit baby Adam.
from Mother's "guilty" plea to the possession
charge, evidence showed no criminal history. Father has a
lengthy criminal history, which includes multiple charges of
assault causing bodily injury against a family member, theft,
and burglary. At the time of the investigation, three felony
charges were pending against Father from the gunshot incident
that resulted in the Department's investigation.
County Sherriff's Office
Jimmy Satterfield of the Harris County Sherriff's Office
testified that in April 2017, he was called out on a
"weapon disturbance call." The caller reported that
Father fired a gun at her after she attempted to get a refund
on marijuana she had purchased from him. When Satterfield
arrived at the residence, he noticed the odor of marijuana
and saw, in plain view, a bag of marijuana and a bag filled
with a white powdery substance that later tested positive for
cocaine. Satterfield testified that Mother told him a firearm
was located in the garbage can near Father. According to
Satterfield, the scene presented a dangerous situation for
the children due to their access to the gun and the drugs in
plain view in the home.
confirmed that he had been convicted of attempted possession
of a firearm by a felon and possession of cocaine as a result
of the April 2017 incident. Yet, Father denied that he had
ever fired a firearm. He testified that he did not know who
brought the cocaine into his home. During Father's
testimony, the trial court admitted into evidence
Father's 2013 conviction of criminal trespass and
Father's 2017 conviction of assault against Mother. The
assault conviction stemmed from an incident in September
2016. According to the indictment in that case, Father struck
Mother in the face while they were arguing. At that time,
Mother was pregnant with Zach and Adam was seven months old.
Father entered a plea of "guilty" to that offense.
At the time of trial, Father was facing another family
assault charge in Fort Bend County. He testified he did not
know the origin of this charge and would not confirm that the
complainant was Mother.
testified that he was not living with Mother at the time of
trial and had not lived with her, nor seen her, since the
middle of the prior year, or eight months before trial.
Father explained that he and Mother were evicted from their
apartment in August 2018, and have not lived together since
that time. Father said he had never been to the apartment
where Mother was living at the time of trial. According to
Father, he did not know whether Mother still had custody of
the two younger children born to the couple after this
investigation began. Father claimed that he and Mother had no
contact. He confirmed that Fort Bend County opened a second
investigation as to the two younger children as a result of
an alleged domestic violence dispute occurring in August
2018, but Father testified that the alleged incident never
occurred and that he was not present at the couple's
residence when it was alleged to have occurred.
further testified that the last time he saw Adam and Zach was
three months before trial, during a supervised visitation.
Father said that the boys seemed to have "attitude
problems" and were "acting out."
denied using drugs and testified that she had been
"clean" for six years. The Department introduced
evidence showing Mother tested positive for cocaine and
marijuana in May 2017. Mother testified that she had only
ever used marijuana and had never used cocaine.
confirmed that the domestic dispute with Father occurred in
August 2018. She explained that she and Father had gotten
into an argument about a trip to Galveston beach. Mother said
Father pushed her against a wall, then pushed her down, and
kicked her in the stomach. Mother said she and Father were
evicted from their apartment shortly after that incident. The
Fort Bend County investigation regarding the couple's two
younger children stemmed from the Galveston incident. Mother
explained that she still has custody of her two younger
children despite the Fort Bend investigation.
acknowledged the 2016 domestic dispute in which Father struck
her. Following the abuse, Mother continued living with Father
and the couple went on to have three more children.
confirmed that Father had hit or pushed her several times,
both before and after the couple had children. Mother
explained that she knew Father was a violent man before they
began having children together. Mother denied that Father
ever fired a gun during the 2017 incident and denied that she
told Officer Satterfield that the gun was in the trash can.
testified that she and Father separated in August 2018.
According to Mother, she never sees Father, other than when
he "sometimes comes to the door" to drop off
diapers. Mother testified that she believed Father's
parental rights should be terminated ...