by Health Impact News/MedicalKidnap.com Staff
Last weekend, the New Year rang in with smiles and tears of joy for an Oregon couple accused of child neglect over a legal medical marijuana harvest and a mother’s mental health. Kitrina Nelson and Cody Stanphill-Kiser of Vale, Oregon, were blessed with a holiday miracle. Kitrina’s daughter, Kaylynn, was returned home by Oregon Child Protective Services, the day before the Holiday weekend.
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Court Appointed Attorney Fired
On December 28th, 2017, Kitrina Nelson stood alone in the Malheur County Courthouse, a week after firing her court appointed public defender, Cole Sahleen.
Like hundreds of other families who have told their stories to Health Impact News, Kitrina found that the court appointed attorney wanted her to play along while he made a pretense of advocating for her.
Kitrina was unhappy with the inadequate representation she had been receiving from him. He had told her there was no chance of fighting “because the judge views things a certain way,” and he suggested she figure out an agreement with Child Protective Services to get her 1-year-old daughter Kaylynn home again.
Kitrina filed paperwork to discharge Mr. Sahleen, and proceeded pro se, which means “to represent oneself” in legal terms.
Supporters from around the state crowded the courtroom to witness the Juvenile Dependency hearing, where a judge would determine whether the State of Oregon had any evidence to keep little Kaylynn in foster care and away from her mother. As he took the bench, Judge Lung Hung commented on the significance of the audience showing interest in the court proceedings.
Exaggerated Allegations by Child Protective Services
From the stand, and under oath, Shannon Casad from the Oregon Department of Human Services and the Malheur County District Attorney attempted to paint a outrageous scenario of a drug addicted, mentally ill, and out-of-control mother who was allegedly plagued by hallucinations, depression, anger, and suicidal thoughts. Shannon Casad testified that Kitrina was incapable of caring for herself, her child, or her home because she lacked the required protective capacity necessary to keep a child safe.
Russ Belville, a supporter and journalist for High Times, attended the hearing and commented:
It was embarrassing to listen to Casad on the stand read from an obviously-cut-and-pasted laundry list of every possible symptom she [Kitrina] might suffer from her various diagnoses, when few of those were listed as symptoms she’d actually suffered.
Instead of acknowledging the 19 year old medical marijuana law, as well as the 3 year old recreational law in Oregon, Shannon Casad accused Kitrina of being addicted to the marijuana she was using as her medicine to treat her chronic pain and mental health, stating that in order for the medication to be effective, Kitrina would need to be “high all day.”
Primarily focused on the legal medical marijuana harvest, grown by Kitrina’s boyfriend Cody, the State kept circling back to the harvest mess. Alleging a home filled with garbage, drugs, chemicals, weapons, and animal feces, Shannon Casad’s testimony invoked visions of destitution and filth – every aspect of the home a danger and risk to the newly walking child.
Educated Citizen Fights Back
But Kitrina was prepared. For months, Kitrina had been absorbing any and all information she could regarding juvenile dependency, Oregon laws, and her parental rights.
After Kaylynn was taken on October 24th, 2017, Kitrina had essentially become a law student overnight.
She had spent hours on her own case, working til dawn numerous nights to complete her own paperwork – including a 17 page declaration of fact to the court, refuting every allegation in the State’s dependency petition, citing Constitutional law and invoking her right to be a parent and her right to due process of the law.
The continued deprivation of my daughter, without substantial evidence that shows a risk of harm, is a deprivation of my most basic and constitutionally protected rights that I possess as her parent.
Because Kitrina had never agreed to the demands of the social workers, refusing to submit to chemical dependency, mental health, and protective capacity assessments in order to get her daughter home before the hearing, the State really had nothing to use in court.
Kitrina had never agreed to any of the allegations, and she refused to admit she had ever neglected her daughter, leaving the State pretty much empty-handed as they attempted to prove their case.
Shannon Casad was left grasping at straws as she described Kitrina as a mentally unfit mother.
Unable to provide any actual instance of abuse when asked, Casad then turned her focus to the condition of the house during the legal medical marijuana harvest.
In one statement she described little Kaylynn as “wobbly,” a baby who was only able to walk from point to point without crawling around and putting everything into her mouth. In the next statement, she contradicted herself. After Kitrina pointed out the items were mostly out of reach of a small child, the social worker stated the 1 year old would be able to “stack items” in order to climb and retrieve a bong from the top of the refrigerator.
Casad kept reverting to hearsay allegations, such as “the toxicologist I spoke to said that bong water was very harmful to children.” She used hearsay in almost every response to the D.A., so much that Judge Hung had to interrupt her testimony “in order to protect the record” to tell her to stop repeating the hearsay.
Family advocate and founder of Moms for Marijuana International, Serra Frank, explains:
While children can be removed from their homes without any actual evidence of abuse or neglect, just on the mere words of a social worker, in order to “err on the side of the child,” the rules of civil procedure are entirely different once the matter goes to trial. The rules of evidence apply in the adjudication of the case, and in Juvenile Dependency hearings, this means hearsay is no longer allowed, because it perverts the court record.
Kitrina successfully refuted every allegation, pointing out there were not any instances where her mental health or her medical use of marijuana had ever put her daughter at risk. She submitted evidence that showed her home was not in a state of constant filth and chaotic mess as the social worker had assumed by the condition of the home during harvest.
Kitrina’s mother provided testimony that she had been caring for Kaylynn for most of the harvest, and it was because she had been in a car accident and needed back surgery that she needed to bring Kaylynn home early.
Russ Belville points out:
Harvest is a messy, chaotic time, and she had tried to keep Kaylynn out of it; failing that, she had supervised Kaylynn quite closely. In photos from before and after harvest, Kitrina established that the home had been kept quite clean and safe.
The State attempted to reiterate its hearsay concerns by bringing two other witnesses to the stand – another social worker, Luiza Reyes Martinez, and Malheur County Deputy, Asa Palagi, both of whom had been with Shannon Casad at the home during the investigation.
Judge Lung Hung was very obviously inpatient with the State’s attempt at redundancy, and kept the testimony very short.
Even so, Kaylynn’s court appointed attorney Gary Kiyuna, on rebuttal, directed the arguments back to the hearsay concerns of mental health and marijuana.
In a failed attempt to point out that Kitrina’s mental health diagnosis was not considered a qualifying condition in the State of Oregon’s medical marijuana program, Gary Kiyuna called as a witness a doctor who had formerly administered medical marijuana recommendations in Eastern Oregon.
The doctor’s testimony really only helped Kitrina’s case, as he stated to the court that numerous patients had been taking advantage of the state’s new recreational laws and found benefit from medical marijuana for mental health, including reduction of other psychotropic medications, despite the mental health conditions (other than PTSD) not being listed as qualifying conditions by the state medical marijuana program.
Judge’s Ruling Brings Applause
Regardless of her limited knowledge of the law and court proceedings, and with a little guidance from the judge, Kitrina successfully represented herself and cross examined her own case. After more than 3 hours of testimony and evidence, Judge Hung retired for a 20 minute recess as he made his decision.
When he returned to the courtroom, his rulings were met with applause and cheers of joy from Kitrina and Kaylynn’s family and supporters.
As reported by Russ Belville through his High Times article :
“On point (a) that the mother is suffering from a substance abuse issue, the state has failed to prove its case,” the judge ruled.
“On point (b) about the mother’s mental health conditions, the state has failed to prove its case.”
“On point (c) regarding the condition of the home, the state has proved its case,” the judge continued. “However, the defendant has shown that isn’t always the condition of the home. So, CPS, you’re not going to like what I have to say, but you’re going to go over to that home tomorrow at 2 p.m., and if that home is in a sanitary and safe condition, you will return that child immediately to her mother,” the judge ruled.
The judge also informed Kitrina that if the house was clean, and Kaylynn was returned, he would dismiss the case immediately, just as she had requested in her paperwork.
The D.A. was told that once Kaylynn was returned the next day, Judge Hung expected a motion for dismissal on his desk by end of the business day.
Response from Supporters
Russ Belville documented the exuberance of emotion from the family upon hearing the ruling:
The sight of an average American family collapsing in each other’s arms weeping tears of joy for the return of their one-year-old daughter/cousin/granddaughter after 10 weeks of state captivity was the greatest holiday miracle I’ve ever experienced.
Serra Frank reports:
Once again, I personally witnessed that an educated parent is the most powerful person in a courtroom!! Mama Bear roared and CPS ran around in circles! Justice and logic won the day, reaffirming my belief in this system that is designed to protect its citizens, and not a corrupt government.
Billy Fisher from the Fight for Lilly Foundation concluded:
Once a parent can see past the intimidation of the unknown in the court system, they can do anything. But it matters how you stand! I am so proud of Kitrina. She stood. She fought. She won. They have to Bring Kaylynn Home!
Home at Last!
At 2 p.m. on December 29th, 2017, Kitrina and Cody waited, expectedly impatient, for the social workers to arrive. Once they finally showed, Cody gave the two men a tour of the very clean home as he broadcast live on Facebook.
Cody commented how anxious they were for Kaylynn to be returned home.
And the social workers agreed, responding with “Absolutely” and leaving Kitrina and Cody with an hour window in which they expected to return with Kaylynn.
When the social workers returned at 3:20 p.m., they were greeted with four separate live streaming cameras and half a dozen supporters to welcome Kaylynn home.
Kitrina rushed to the vehicle with tears of joy as she unbuckled her daughter and immediately turned around and walked as quickly as she could muster, while cradling her daughter in her arms, and rushed back into her (now CPS approved) home, as far away from the social workers as possible.
Russ Belville documented the happy events through his podcast:
Everyone reveled in the joy of the family and little Kaylynn, so happy to finally be home again.
The happy reunification of a loving family is definitely the best way to start a new year!
Nothing shows it better than the smiles on their faces.
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