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In Re Brooks





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR N. HAMILTON, Judge, presiding.


Errol Brooks, a/k/a Errol Bariffe and Yvette Brooks, a/k/a Yvette Bariffe, were found to be neglected minors and were adjudged wards of the court. At a dispositional hearing on May 26, 1976, Richard S. Laymon, Guardianship Administrator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, was appointed guardian of the two minor children with the right to place. An appeal is brought from the adjudications of wardship and subsequent placement orders by respondents, Joan Bariffe, mother of the two minors, and Fitz Bariffe, father of Yvette and stepfather of Errol.

The following issues are presented for review: (1) whether the findings of neglect and the adjudications of wardship are contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence; (2) whether the trial court erred in hearing Errol's testimony in chambers in the presence of counsel but outside the presence of respondents, Errol's parents; (3) whether the trial court erroneously admitted hearsay testimony; (4) whether the trial court erred in excluding testimony regarding Errol's reputation for truth and veracity; and (5) whether the trial court erred in admitting certain photographs into evidence.

We affirm.

Petitions for adjudications of wardship were filed on May 23, 1975, alleging that Errol Brooks, a/k/a Errol Bariffe (hereinafter Errol), and Yvette Brooks, a/k/a Yvette Bariffe (hereinafter Yvette), were neglected under section 2-4 of the Juvenile Court Act because their environment was injurious to their welfare. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 37, par. 702-4.) The minors were placed in the temporary custody of Richard S. Laymon, Guardianship Administrator of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (hereinafter DCFS), and the petitions were set for hearing. On August 7, 1975, the temporary custody was vacated, and Errol and Yvette were returned to respondents under the supervision of DCFS. Respondents agreed to receive counseling and supportive services. Errol and Yvette were again placed in the temporary custody of Richard Laymon on September 9, 1975, and supplemental petitions for adjudications of wardship were filed.

The following testimony was adduced at the adjudicatory hearing on the petitions: Respondents, Joan Bariffe and Fitz Bariffe, were married in February 1968 and had a child, Yvette, in June 1974. In December 1974 Mrs. Bariffe's two other children Errol, age 13, and Michelle Brooks (hereinafter Michelle), age 10, came from Jamaica to live with respondents in Skokie, Illinois.

On January 9, 1975, the Bariffe house was destroyed by fire. Evelyn Christiansen, a neighbor of respondents, testified that the children were home alone when the house caught fire, that she called the fire department and then spoke with Errol to make sure that everyone was out of the house, and that at this time the children looked normal and healthy. Respondents and their children resided at a motel in Skokie for several months after the fire.

On February 10, 1975, Skokie Police Officer David Hussey was called to Dabbs Pharmacy where he found Errol crying and complaining that his mother beat him. Officer Hussey took Errol to the police station and turned him over to Officer Zerfass. Officer Zerfass testified that he asked Mrs. Bariffe to come to the station, which she did, and she told him that she did not hit Errol on February 10 but she struck him the day before for not doing his chores. Officer Zerfass released Errol to Mrs. Bariffe.

James Leslie, a friend of respondents, testified that on two occasions in early February 1975, while visiting respondents at the motel, he saw Mrs. Bariffe slap Michelle and Errol in the face. Leslie stated that Mr. Bariffe told him Mrs. Bariffe was taking advantage of the children and had hit Errol in the face with a shoe and then told Errol to tell his teachers the swelling was due to a tooth extraction.

Errol and Michelle went to the Skiles School in Skokie. On February 20, 1975, Michelle went to the office of Cele McGonagle, a registered nurse employed at Skiles School. Ms. McGonagle testified that she observed a large bruise under Michelle's left eye and temple area. Errol reported to the nurse's office on February 27, 1975, when Mary Boggis, also a registered nurse employed at Skiles School, was working. Ms. Boggis noticed a blood blister on Errol's finger. On February 28, 1975, Ms. Boggis saw Errol, took his temperature which was determined to be 101°, and had Errol rest on a cot. Yolande Robbins, a teacher at Skiles School, testified that in early March 1975 on the day for parent conferences she spoke to respondents, and Mrs. Bariffe told her not to indulge Errol because he was a capable student, but he was lazy. Mrs. Bariffe told Ms. Robbins that she believed in corporal punishment. On March 17, 1975, Ms. McGonagle saw Errol and observed a scrape on his elbow and a swelling below his left eye. She examined Errol on March 19, 1975, and observed a large bump on his head.

Ms. McGonagle testified that on March 26, 1975, she examined Michelle but observed nothing unusual; however, she contacted the school social worker, Valee Reed, and had Michelle rest on a cot all afternoon. Ms. Reed testified that on March 26 after talking to the school nurse, she contacted DCFS and requested that they investigate suspicions of neglect and abuse of Errol and Michelle. Ms. Reed stated that on the same day she saw Michelle and noticed bruises and scars on her back and wrist.

Ms. McGonagle examined Michelle on March 27, 1975, and observed a bruise the size of a 50-cent piece on Michelle's left cheek and a slight cut on her chin. Ms. Reed spoke with the school nurses and Michelle, and as a result she contacted the Skokie police and arranged a meeting with respondents, the police, the school nurses and a representative from DCFS. Skokie Police Officer Rappe, who responded to Ms. Reed's call, testified that he went to Skiles School and spoke with the principal, a school nurse and Ms. Reed. He met Errol and Michelle and noticed a bruise on Michelle's left cheek and a swelling on her upper lip. Officer Rappe then went to the motel where respondents were residing and had a conversation with respondents in which Mr. Bariffe stated he never did strike the children. Mrs. Bariffe stated that she did strike her children because she believed in stern punishment, but that she did not intend to hurt or bruise them. Mrs. Bariffe told Officer Rappe that she was aware of scars on Errol and Michelle, but these were attributed to their growing up in Jamaica where they would run in the fields and thick grass. Officer Rappe stated that Mrs. Bariffe showed him a belt which she used on the children, stating that she used whichever end came to her hand, and that he kept the belt with Mrs. Bariffe's consent. The belt was admitted into evidence.

Officer Rappe then went with respondents to Skiles School. At the meeting on March 27, 1975, with school officials, Officer Rappe and a representative from DCFS, Ms. Reed informed respondents of the school's concern about repeated absences and possible abuse of Errol and Michelle. Ms. Reed testified that Mrs. Bariffe was shocked at the accusation and stated that the children had to be disciplined. Officer Rappe told respondents that unless they agreed to submit to a social investigation he would take Errol and Michelle into his custody. Mrs. Bariffe agreed to allow a representative of Child and Family Advocates to visit her home every three days.

During the first week of April 1975, Barbara Phillips, a neighbor of respondents, began serving as a baby-sitter for Yvette five days a week. Mrs. Phillips testified that Yvette's physical appearance was good and that she never noticed any bruises on Yvette. She stated that Yvette seemed very attached to respondents. Ms. Robbins, the teacher, testified that in late March and early April 1975 she noticed that Errol had bruises and scratches on his face and a puffiness around his eyes. Ms. Robbins stated that she spoke to the school social worker. On April 8, 1975, Ms. McGonagle saw Michelle and observed a bruise around Michelle's left eye. Ms. McGonagle then spoke with the school social worker. Ms. Robbins noticed fresh bruises and scratches on Errol's face in mid-April and contacted the social worker.

On May 21, 1975, Skokie Police Officer Hussey was called to the Bariffe residence where he was met by Mr. Bariffe and a family friend. Officer Hussey observed Michelle lying on a cot with no signs of life, so he laid Michelle on the floor and administered cardio-pulmonary resuscitation until fire department paramedics arrived and transported Michelle to Skokie Valley Hospital. At the hospital, Mr. Bariffe told Officer Hussey that Michelle had fallen in the bathtub and struck her head. Officer Hussey testified that he observed Michelle's body at the hospital and noticed numerous bruises, welts and scars. Officer Anton, an evidence technician with the Skokie Police Department, testified that he took photographs of the bedroom and bathroom in the Bariffe residence and of the body of Michelle in the emergency room of the hospital on May 21, 1975. Officer Anton identified the photographs and they were admitted into evidence over objection by respondents.

Dr. Konacki, a coroner's pathologist for Cook County, testified that on May 22, 1975, he examined and performed an autopsy on the body of Michelle and observed hemorrhages under both eyelids, a scar on the left eye, small abrasions on the lips, neck and chest, bruises on the chest, arms, forearms and knees, and multiple bruises and scars on the hips and thighs. The autopsy revealed recent and older hemorrhage of the skull, a swollen skull, a swollen and flattened brain, congested lungs, and hemorrhages around the kidneys. Dr. Konacki stated that the main cause of death was cranial injuries, and that the cause of the abrasions and bruises was trauma or external pressure. He then identified several photographs as portraying various parts of Michelle's anatomy and internal organs. These photographs were admitted into evidence over objection by respondents.

On May 23, 1975, Errol and Yvette were placed in the temporary custody of Richard S. Laymon, DCFS guardianship administrator, and petitions for adjudications of wardship of both minors were filed. On August 20, 1975, Errol and Yvette were returned to respondents under supervision of DCFS. Mrs. Phillips, respondents' neighbor, testified that in mid-August she observed Errol with a swollen jaw, and Errol told her, with his mother present, that the swelling was caused by a tooth.

On September 9, 1975, Skokie Police Officer Frederick Murray was called to the home of Theresa Fishback, who lived two blocks from the Bariffe residence. Mrs. Fishback testified that at 7:50 a.m. on September 9, 1975, a young boy came to her home and asked her to call the police because his mother had beaten him with a cricket bat. She stated that the boy's face was bloody and swollen, and that she had her daughter call the police. When Officer Murray arrived, she heard the boy tell the officer that his name was Errol Brooks. Officer Murray testified that Errol had a swollen jaw and bruises under his right eye, back, chest and arms. Officer Murray called an ambulance and then went to Skokie Valley Hospital with Errol.

Juvenile Officer William Zerfass testified that he observed Errol at the hospital on September 9, 1975, and noticed a swelling on the left side of his face and arm and bruises on his back and shoulder. Officer Zerfass spoke with Mrs. Bariffe, telling her that Errol alleged she had beaten him with a cricket bat. Mrs. Bariffe stated that Errol's face was swollen due to an abscessed tooth, but that she had hit Errol with a curtain rod to discipline him. Officer Zerfass arrested Mrs. Bariffe.

Errol testified in the court's chambers that on September 9, 1975, at 6 a.m. his mother hit him with a cricket bat because he ate some Jamaican fruit, and that he ran out of the house. Errol also stated that his mother hit him the previous day for eating some fruit, and that five or six days earlier she hit him in the head with a shoe.

Jack Sternfeld, a physician licensed to practice in the State of Illinois and associated with Skokie Valley Hospital, testified that on September 9, 1975, he was working in the emergency room of the hospital, and he performed a physical examination of Errol. Dr. Sternfeld observed a swelling and discoloration of Errol's left cheek down to the left lip, a split of the inside cheek, a series of welts on the neck and right shoulder and a swelling of the left arm. Dr. Sternfeld stated that he questioned Errol concerning his medical history, and Errol stated ...

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