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In Re Gomez





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. PETER F. COSTA, Judge, presiding.


In an adjudicatory hearing held on June 19, 1975, on petitions for adjudication of wardship, the Circuit Court of Cook County, Juvenile Division, entered a finding of neglect for each of the minor children involved in this proceeding, Iris Gomez, Angel Gomez and Ricky Gomez, and adjudged each of the three minor children to be wards of the court. At the dispositional hearing on September 12, 1975, they were placed under the guardianship of Richard S. Laymon, Guardianship Administrator of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. The parents of these children, Lydia and Modesto Gomez, appeal those decisions, raising two issues for review: whether certain evidence concerning prior drug abuse by the children's mother was properly admitted, and whether the State proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the home environment was injurious to the Gomez children.

On March 21, 1975, the Department of Children and Family Services filed a petition for adjudication of wardship on behalf of Iris Gomez, alleging that her home environment was injurious to her welfare, in contravention of section 2-4(1)(b) of the Juvenile Court Act. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 37, par. 702-4(1)(b).) Similar petitions were filed on behalf of Iris' brothers, Angel and Ricky, on May 27, 1975. At the time these petitions were filed Iris was almost 9, Angel was almost 10 and Ricky was 16.

At the adjudicatory hearing the State's first witnesses were Susan Klempner and Joseph Motolenich, teachers in the bilingual program at the Von Humboldt School in Chicago, where Iris was a student. The testimony of both Klempner and Motolenich was substantially the same. In December 1974 Iris was transferred into the bilingual program from another classroom because she was having discipline problems. Iris adjusted very well to the new classroom and from the time that she first entered the bilingual program until the middle of February 1975 she presented no extraordinary problems of discipline. Between December 1974 and mid-February 1975, on one or two occasions, Iris came to school with bruises on her face. These bruises were not prominent, and Klempner stated that she thought the discoloration was caused by dirt. At the time, Iris asserted that the bruises were the result of fights she was having outside of school.

Toward the end of February the bruises began appearing more frequently; approximately twice a week Iris had fresh bruises or gashes on her face. About the same time Iris' discipline problems reappeared. Then, on March 13, 1975, Iris arrived at school with her face heavily bruised and "puffy." Iris stated to Klempner that these injuries were the result of her having run into a refrigerator. On the following Monday, March 17, 1975, Iris again came to school with fresh bruises on her face and arms. On both occasions the teachers referred Iris to the principal's office.

The State's next witness was James R. Short, the principal of the Von Humboldt School. Short claimed that on March 13, 1975, Iris was brought to his office with various bruises on her cheeks and forehead and with a bite mark in the middle of her forehead. After going through a series of stories, Iris finally stated that her brother Angel had bitten her on the forehead and had hit her on the top of the head with a hammer. After further questioning both Iris and Angel, who was also a student of the Von Humboldt School, the principal determined that the bruises on Iris' cheeks were caused by their mother. Short then had the mother come to school to verify the story. According to Short, the mother related the same general story as that given by the children, that some of the bruises were the result of a fight between Angel and Iris and that the other bruises were caused when she punished Iris for misbehaving.

The principal further testified that Iris returned to his office on March 17, 1975, with fresh bruises on her back and legs. At this time he had someone call the mother to request that she again come to school and to inform her that the school was going to "report" these incidents. Mrs. Gomez did not come to the school this time.

Jorge Riba, a social worker and investigator with the Department of Family and Children Services, next testified for the State. He was responsible for the investigation of Iris' bruises pursuant to the school's reporting of the March incidents. Riba testified that he first visited Iris at school on March 18, 1975, and at that time the girl appeared to be a "disaster area." She had marks covering her body — on her legs, face and back and she was very dirty. He later met with Mrs. Gomez at her home, at which time Mrs. Gomez admitted striking her daughter for disciplinary reasons. As to the injuries which Iris had recently suffered, Mrs. Gomez stated that some of them were the result of Iris' having been jumped by gangs, some by her brother Angel, when he hit her on top of the head with a hammer, and some by her own hand when she was disciplining Iris because the girl had stolen $40 from the mother's purse.

The State's next witness was Evelyn Lyman, a social worker at a settlement house called the Erie Neighborhood House. According to her testimony, in June of 1974, Mr. Gomez came to request her assistance because his wife had taken some pills. Upon arriving at the house, she found Mrs. Gomez lying in bed. By shaking her, Lyman was able to make Mrs. Gomez conscious enough to indicate that she had taken some pills but after that Lyman could not arouse her at all.

Lyman also testified that during the summer of 1974 the Gomez children participated in the visitation program conducted by the Erie Neighborhood House. Under this program the children were placed with families in Indiana for a summer vacation. The children returned from Indiana on the day before Labor Day and Lyman accompanied them to their home. When they arrived, Mrs. Gomez was leaning against the door jam, barely able to stand up. Two days later, Mr. Gomez came to Lyman to request her assistance in having the children removed because his wife was taking too much medicine and was unable to care for the children. At that time, she again visited the home and found Mrs. Gomez in bed, acting as if she had taken an overdose of medicine. While Lyman talked to Mrs. Gomez about what she was going to do to better herself and to take care of the children, Mr. Gomez had Ricky relate, in front of his mother, that he had seen her take pills the previous day. Prior to leaving the home on this occasion, Lyman gave Ricky several dimes and told him to call her in case she was needed.

Almost immediately upon arriving back at the settlement house, Ricky called Lyman, claiming that his mother was chasing him around the house with a knife. She immediately returned to the Gomez residence. According to Mrs. Gomez, Ricky had been misbehaving so she told him to get up against the wall so that she could beat him. Ricky stated that his mother had been taking her medicine and that he would not stand against the wall so that he could be beaten because he did not feel that he had done anything wrong.

Lyman also testified that she saw Iris during the last part of February or the first part of March 1975 at the settlement house. At that time, Iris had a black and blue mark on her left cheek which appeared to have been made by a strap.

The State's final witness was Ricky Gomez. Ricky testified that after his mother started to take her medicine, his mother and father would leave the house in the morning and would not return home until the next morning. While his parents were out all night, he would have to cook for his brother and sister and was responsible for all of the household chores. He stated that the medicine which she was taking was valium which his parents would secure by traveling around to various local physicains.

Ricky further testified that his parents would sometimes beat him and the other children for no reason, when they got mad or when they would "drink" the valium pills. He stated that these beatings were done with belts, sticks and wires, and that one time his mother had stabbed him with a fork. In addition, one one occasion his father had ...

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