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In re Mi.S.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

October 13, 2016

In re Mi.S., PS. and Ma.S., Minors
v.
Bahaa S., Respondent-Appellant. The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois. Circuit Nos. 12-JA-0157, 12-JA-0158, and 12-JA-0159 Honorable Paula Gormora, Judge presiding.

          JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lytton and Schmidt concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          CARTER, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The respondent father, Bahaa S., appeals from an order of the trial court, finding him to be an unfit parent and terminating his parental rights as to his minor children, Mi.S., P.S. and Ma.S. On appeal, the father argues that the trial court erred in finding him unfit on the basis of "extreme cruelty" under section 1D(e) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1D(e) (West 2012)) where he did not commit an act of physical cruelty to the minors. We affirm the trial court's finding of unfitness.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 The respondent father was criminally charged with the December 19, 2012, murder of his wife, who was the mother of their four minor children. The youngest three minors are the subject of this appeal from the trial court's order terminating the father's parental rights.

         ¶ 4 On December 19, 2012, the father was taken into police custody and the minors were taken into protective custody by the State. The State filed a juvenile petition requesting that the minors be made wards of the court, alleging the minors were neglected in that their environment was injurious to their welfare (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2012)) and were dependent in that they were without a parent, guardian or legal custodian (705 ILCS 405/2-4(1)(a) (West 2012)).

         ¶ 5 On December 27, 2012, following a temporary shelter care hearing, the trial court found there was probable cause to believe the minors were neglected in that "domestic violence between the mother and father led to mother's death [and] the four year old [minor] was home at the time." The trial court found there was probable cause to believe the minors were dependent in that the minors, who were under the age of 18, were without parents due to their father being charged with the murder of their mother. The trial court found that there was an immediate and urgent necessity for protection of the minors and for them to be placed in shelter care. The trial court ordered that the minors be placed in the temporary custody of the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS). DCFS was granted the authority to place the minors. Visitation between the father and the minors was ordered to be at the discretion of DCFS.

         ¶ 6 On February 4, 2013, the oldest minor, 14-year-old K.S. (who is not one of the three minors that are the subject of this appeal) requested visitation with the father, who was incarcerated. On February 11, 2013, the trial court granted K.S.'s motion for visitation as to K.S. only. K.S. also indicated to the trial court that he wished to show the father a certificate that he earned from school and wished to write the father letters. K.S. asked the trial court to transfer his placement and his siblings' placement from his aunt and uncle's home to the home of family friends. The trial court was informed that the family friends had moved to Indiana but agreed to foster parent the minors. The family's church agreed to purchase a home for the potential foster family to relocate back to Illinois so that they could foster parent the minors. The trial court asked K.S. to be patient with the judicial system and his current placement while the family friends were being relocated to Illinois.

         ¶ 7 According to reports by Lutheran Child and Family Services (LCFS), Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and the minors' counselors, all four of the minors were placed in the home of family friends on July 6, 2013. On July 11, 2013, an incident occurred involving K.S. and the 14-year-old daughter of the family friends that included police involvement, and K.S. was hospitalized and began receiving psychiatric services. After his discharge from the hospital on July 30, 2013, K.S. was placed in a traditional foster home and received treatment for post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression.

         ¶ 8 The three youngest minors-Mi.S., P.S. and Ma.S.-remained in the home of family friends. The therapists of the youngest three minors recommended that no visitation should be approved between them and their father or between them and their older brother, K.S.

         ¶ 9 On August 26, 2013, an adjudication hearing took place after a few continuances so that an Arabic interpreter could be arranged for the father. At the adjudication hearing, the parties stipulated that the minors' mother was deceased and their father was incarcerated. The trial court found that the minors were dependant and ordered that DCFS remain temporary guardian and custodian of the minors pending the final disposition of the case.

         ¶ 10 On November 22, 2013, a dispositional hearing took place, at which the State requested the minors be made wards of the court. The State presented two exhibits: the dispositional report and the service plan. Defendant's attorney agreed that the minors should be made wards of the court and requested that the father be found dispositionally unable to care for the minors due to his incarceration rather than dispositionally unfit. Defense counsel argued that no evidence of the father's unfitness had been presented other than the incarceration itself. The trial court found the father to be dispositionally unfit and found that it was in the best interest of the minors for them to be made wards of the court. The trial court placed the minors in the custody and guardianship of DCFS. The factual basis for the dispositional unfitness finding was that the father was incarcerated pending criminal charges of the murder of the minors' mother and the dispositional report and service plan indicated a history of domestic violence in the home between the father and the minors' mother, with the minors witnessing several incidents and with reports of the father hitting, choking and biting the minors' mother. The father objected, indicating that the reports of domestic violence were not true, and the trial court noted his objection.

         ¶ 11 On January 22, 2015, the State filed a petition to terminate the father's parental rights as to all four of the minors, and later amended the petition by striking K.S. from the amended motion. In the petition, the State alleged that the minors' mother was deceased and the father was an unfit parent in that (a) he failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility to the minors' welfare ...


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