California custody battle sparks overseas outrage (This is One Way for California CPS to make money)

By JASON DEAREN, Associated Press Jason Dearen, Associated Press – 2 hrs 48 mins ago
SAN FRANCISCO – When a Serbian man in California gave his work computer to an office technician last July, it prompted a chain of events that have stripped him and his wife of their kids and sparked fury in his home country at the state’s child protective services system.

Among about 5,000 personal digital photographs on the Modesto resident’s hard drive, the technician noticed a few dozen pictures of the man’s two naked children. He reported the pictures to the sheriff’s office.

The father, a financial analyst and 20-year resident of the U.S. who attended college at Auburn University, and his wife were arrested briefly in July on suspicion of child molestation and pornography and released after prosecutors viewed the photos. The San Joaquin County district attorney’s office said it had no plan to file any charges unless new evidence came to light.

But the children, ages 8 and 5, who are dual Serbian-U.S. citizens, were placed into protective custody, then foster care, where they remain six months later.

The family members are not named in this story because The Associated Press does not directly or indirectly identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

The case attracted the attention of the Serbian government and of local and federal law enforcement agencies here which so far have found no basis for criminal charges. But the state’s child protection system, with the consent of a judge, deemed that the children remain at risk and has kept them from their parents.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento reviewed the photographs after being contacted by Serbia’s Consul General, and sent a letter in December to the state Department of Social Services, saying it had determined the offending photos were taken by the son, not the parents.

“Both the San Joaquin district attorney’s office and this office declined prosecution of the parents, concluding that the photographs were actually taken by one of the children,” U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner wrote in the letter obtained by the AP.

Yet San Joaquin County’s Child Protective Services agency has refused the couple’s requests to return their children, saying there is now evidence that the little girl was molested by the father.

CPS produced a videotaped interview with the 5-year-old girl to make a case that the father had inappropriately touched her, said an attorney for the father, Robert Powell. He said the questions were ambiguous and that the father’s conduct amounted to routine contact between a parent and young child, such as drying her off with a bath towel.

Janine Molgaard, an attorney for San Joaquin County’s Child Protective Services, said she could not discuss the case but said the agency has a duty to make its own decisions.

“Whenever a case is referred by law enforcement to us, it’s our duty to make an independent determination if the children are at risk,” Molgaard said. “If continued care by a caretaker endangers them, if we believe it does, then we file a petition to the court.”

In this case, the court has sided so far with CPS, keeping the children in foster care.

The affair has triggered outrage in Serbia, with officials there saying they would try get the children back to the parents as soon as possible — even if it takes intervention through the highest diplomatic channels.

“There are indications of major human rights violations by the Child Protective Service, which is acting on its own,” Serbian justice ministry official Slobodan Homen told the AP.

Serbia is now providing funds for the father’s attorney, and its Consul General in Chicago, Desko Nikitovic, is advocating on behalf of the couple. He said so far it has been an uphill battle with an agency and local judge with power to do what they want with the children.

“You feel totally powerless, like a mouse in front of an elephant,” Nikitovic said.

The couple declined to be interviewed for this article, citing fear of compromising the ongoing legal process. But they have denied the allegations, saying the ordeal has torn a previously happy family apart.

They acknowledge certain of the photographs may “look and feel” inappropriate to some people, but all were taken by the couple’s son while playing with the camera.

“The parents do not dispute that they (also) took photographs of their children without their clothes on,” said a statement from Powell, a San Jose-based attorney who specializes in child custody cases involving CPS. “However, not a single one of those photos was of a pornographic nature in any way.

“They were commonly seen photos taken by parents of their children, such as in the bathtub and lounging on the couch.”

He said the father routinely dumped all of his digital photographs into his work computer, had purchased an external hard drive and had given the machine to his office technician to make the transfer, triggering the custody battle.

Powell said the children have not only been separated from their parents, but from each other and have been denied access to the family’s Serbian Orthodox Christian priest, unless the priest speaks to the children in English.

The U.S. Attorney referred the clergy matter to the FBI, and a spokesman said it is “trying to determine if there’s been a federal violation.”

Nikitovic said the children could not attend Orthodox Christmas services with them in Sacramento on Jan. 6-7, but that the court is now considering allowing the children to attend a Greek Orthodox church in the area.

Meanwhile, the couple continue fighting for their children, and said through their attorney that the children have asked the mother during visits if they are abandoning them.

“They remain in utter disbelief, that although the only pictures that social workers felt were inappropriate are so clearly, and confirmed to be, the result of child’s play,” Powell said.


Associated Press Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this story from Belgrade, Serbia.

About yvonnemason

Background:  The eldest of five children, Yvonne was born May 17, 1951 in Atlanta, Georgia. Raised in East Point, Georgia, she moved to Jackson County, Ga. until 2006 then moved to Port St. Lucie, Florida where she currently makes her home.  Licensed bounty hunter for the state of Georgia. Education:  After a 34 year absence, returned to college in 2004. Graduated with honors in Criminal Justice with an Associate’s degree from Lanier Technical College in 2006. Awards:  Nominated for the prestigious GOAL award in 2005 which encompasses all of the technical colleges. This award is based not only on excellence in academics but also leadership, positive attitude and the willingness to excel in one’s major. Affiliations:  Beta Sigma Phi Sorority  Member of The Florida Writer’s Association – Group Leader for St Lucie County The Dream:  Since learning to write at the age of five, Yvonne has wanted to be an author. She wrote her first novel Stan’s Story beginning in 1974 and completed it in 2006. Publication seemed impossible as rejections grew to 10 years. Determined, she continued adding to the story until her dream came true in 2006. The Inspiration:  Yvonne’s brother Stan has been her inspiration and hero in every facet of her life. He was stricken with Encephalitis at the tender age of nine months. He has defied every roadblock placed in his way and has been the driving force in every one of her accomplishments. He is the one who taught her never to give up The Author: Yvonne is currently the author of several novels, including:  Stan’s Story- the true story of her brother’s accomplishments, it has been compared to the style of Capote, and is currently being rewritten with new information for re-release.  Tangled Minds - a riveting story about a young girl’s bad decision and how it taints everyone’s life around her yet still manages to show that hope is always possible. This novel has been compared to the writing of Steinbeck and is currently being written as a screenplay. This novel will be re-released by Kerlak Publishing in 2009  Brilliant Insanity – released by Kerlak Publishing October 2008  Silent Scream – Released by October 2008- Slated to be made into a movie Yvonne’s Philosophy in Life - “Pay it Forward”: “In this life we all have been helped by others to attain our dreams and goals. We cannot pay it back but what we can do is ‘pay it forward’. It is a simple
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