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04/19/89 In Re Michael Weber

April 19, 1989

IN RE MICHAEL WEBER, A MINOR (THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF


APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIFTH DISTRICT

Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee, v.

Donna Tarrant (Weber), Respondent-Appellant)

537 N.E.2d 428, 181 Ill. App. 3d 702, 130 Ill. Dec. 361 1989.IL.550

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Christian County; the Hon. Dennis M. Huber, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE CHAPMAN delivered the opinion of the court. LEWIS and RARICK, JJ., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE CHAPMAN

On June 10, 1986, a petition for adjudication of wardship was filed in the circuit court of Christian County in which the petitioner sought to have Michael Weber, a child approximately two years of age, declared an abused minor pursuant to the Juvenile Court Act. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 37, par. 702-4(2).) The petition alleged that Michael was abused because his mother "allowed (or caused) to be inflicted upon the minor physical injury in that the parent allowed (or caused) the minor to be struck repeatedly and that this beating caused several bruises." The petition also requested a "shelter care" hearing. That hearing was held the following day and Michael was placed in "shelter care" with the Department of Children and Family Services. At the adjudicatory hearing, held on December 15, 1986, the State moved to amend the pleadings by adding an additional count, which the trial court allowed over the objection of defense counsel. At that time, the State filed an amended petition for adjudication of wardship which included a second count:

"Count II. Pursuant to ch. 38, sec. 702 -- 4(2)(b), the minor is abused in that the minor is under 18 years of age and whose environment is injurious to his welfare in that the minor repeatedly received unexplained bruises."

A number of witnesses testified at the hearing, including Dorothy Coultas, Michael's grandmother. Mrs. Coultas had obtained weekend visitation rights with Michael when Michael's parents were divorced. Mrs. Coultas and her husband also have custody of Joshua Lynch, Michael's half-brother.

Mrs. Coultas testified that in early May 1986 she discovered bruises on Michael. He had bruises on the side and top of his head, black bruises on his arms and buttocks, and red marks on the back of his legs. Mrs. Coultas called Donna Tarrant (Weber), Michael's mother, and asked her about the bruises, but Donna was unresponsive.

A week later Mrs. Coultas again found bruises on Michael and photographed them. Still more bruises were found the following week, including 30 to 40 small bruises under Michael's diaper. After again photographing the bruises, Mrs. Coultas contacted Randy Pettus, the Taylorville juvenile officer, and the Department of Children and Family Services, and then took Michael to a doctor for an examination.

Dr. Quat Ngo, a physician specializing in family practice, testified that on June 7, 1986, he examined Michael Weber and found bruises extending from the lower neck down to the buttocks. Dr. Ngo described these bruises as thin, parallel lines that could have been caused by something like a small stick. The doctor stated that there were approximately 20 such lines across the child's back and more on the back of the child's legs. Dr. Ngo further testified that it was unlikely that the bruises were caused by the child falling, someone spanking the child, or by another child four to five years of age, such as Michael's half-brother Joshua, using a stick, since a four to five-year-old probably lacks the strength to cause those kinds of bruises.

Michael's mother, Donna Jean Tarrant (Weber), testified that Michael had a bruise over his eye which he received when he fell off a toy motorcycle, and that she had also noticed three bruises on the back of his leg, but that she did not know the origin of these bruises. She stated that other than these bruises, Michael had no additional bruises either before or after he visited with Mr. and Mrs. Coultas. Mrs. Tarrant denied that she or her husband, Gary Tarrant, had ever beaten Michael, though Gary had spanked Michael on the rump once. Mrs. Tarrant further stated that even though she bathed Michael daily, she did not see the bruises described by Dr. Ngo or the bruises shown in the photographs taken by Mrs. Coultas and the bruises must have been caused while Michael was at Mrs. Coultas' house.

At the close of all the evidence and after hearing the arguments of counsel, the court found that the child was abused under count II of the amended petition alleging injurious environment. The court was unable to determine, however, who was responsible for abusing the child. The court stated that while there was insufficient evidence to find that the mother, Donna Tarrant, caused the bruises, if she "were properly supervising the situation these bruises could not exist without her knowing that." The ultimate responsibility, stated the court, "goes with the custodian of the child and that is the mother."

On February 24, 1987, a Dispositional hearing was held to determine custody of the minor child, Michael Weber. After hearing all the evidence and arguments of the counsel, the court denied custody to Donna Tarrant and placed Michael with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. In announcing its decision, the court stated:

"The statute requires where a minor is found by the court to be neglected or abused under section 2 -- 4, which I did, 'custody shall not be restored to any parents found to be' -- I stopped short of that. And yet I think from the evidence we know that somewhere some neglect happened. It places a burden on the party requesting custody to prove fitness. No one stepped forward and indicated how Michael Weber received the injuries that he received. And of course that bothers the court.

There's obviously a priority here that surpasses the interests of Michael. So the court certainly under the circumstances is not going to return the child to the parents at this time. I'm not persuaded that the mother is ready to assume -- I honestly feel she believes she's ready. I think in her own mind she feels she is ready and I don't question that. But there's a real question in the court's mind that she is ready.

It's the stated purpose of the Department of Children and Family Services to eventually work the child back into the home with the ...


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