The story of Joe Watley and Karin Haseman who had their children unlawfully and wrongfully stolen from them by the Department of Children and Family may Finally get Revenge in the form of Monetary Compensation.
The DCF does not Know what Their Job is
On one side is the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, whose mission is to protect the welfare of children. On the other are a handful of advocacy groups who object to DCF’s handling of a long-running case involving two parents with ‘supposed’ mental health issues. In the middle are Karin Hasemann and Joseph Watley, who simply want their children back.
US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Watley and Haseman Side
Recently, they were given a glimmer of hope when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit gave them a small, but significant, legal victory.
The Second Circuit said that a Connecticut federal court was too quick to dismiss a lawsuit in which the couple claimed that DCF violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in its handling of a termination of parental rights case.
The matter was remanded to the Connecticut federal court, where the couple is seeking at least $1 million in damages and compensation.
“It’s not as if they don’t want their children, it’s that they can’t have their children,” said Hartford attorney Andrew O’Toole, who has provided some pro bono help for the couple. “These parents’ interest is to right this wrong. It’s not about financial gain but that’s the only remedy under the ADA.”
Joe and Karin with their two adorable children
The DCF has no Right to Predict Good People will be Bad Parents
The reason DCF stated for taking the children is called “predictive neglect.” Put simply, the agency is permitted to take custody of children if it determines the parents will neglect their child in the future based on their current mental state. Such policies are in place in 30 states and have drawn criticism from a number of legal rights groups and mental health advocates.
Dan Barrett, a staff lawyer with the ACLU of Connecticut, said the issue facing the two parents is a “hot” one nationwide. In 2015, the U.S. Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services criticized Massachusetts’ child welfare agency after a newborn child was taken
from a mother with mild retardation just two days after being born.
“The DOJ has reached an agreement with Massachusetts over its DCF investigation policies and practices,” Barrett said. “For us, we’re interested to see how this and the Massachusetts action will force [other states] to take their ADA obligations seriously.”
According to court documents, Hasemann has been diagnosed with a “schizotypal personality disorder,” attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other disorders, some of which developed after the removal of a brain tumor when she was a teenager. She also suffers from narcolepsy, a neurological condition that causes individuals to fall asleep unexpectedly.
I am a personal friend of Joe Watley and I can say he is the most mentally stable and even footed person I have EVER met in my life. Although I never met Karin Hasemann, from what Joe tells me, she is a saint of a woman and also a very mentally stable and happy person. I personally feel that Joe would be the best parent in the world and if I had a child I needed someone else to raise the first person I would contact would be Joe Watley.
The Battle for their Children since 2002
Child welfare officials have been involved in Hasemann’s life since 2002. Authorities took custody of her daughter shortly after the child’s birth. At the time, Hasemann was undergoing psychiatric treatment, according to court records.
Joe Watley is not the father of Hasemann’s first child. But the Thomaston resident, who is described in court records as having a “personality disorder not otherwise specified,” is the father of a second child, a son born in a Pennsylvania hospital. Afterward, Pennsylvania officials contacted the Connecticut DCF about “reportedly bizarre behavior and inconsistent and inaccurate statements made by both parents,” according to court documents. The son was placed in foster care and has been in the same foster home since 2005. The couple had another son, who was placed in the same foster home as his brother and sister.
The first termination of parental rights hearing was held in Connecticut in 2008. There, DCF officials provided evidence that they made efforts to reunite the parents with their children. They listed the therapy and other treatment offered to the parents: they made six referrals for Hasemann and eight for Watley, according to court documents. The couple was given a list of steps they had to take to get their children back, but DCF claims they failed to follow through on the requirements. I know for a fact that Joe would do ANYTHING to get his kids back. When I asked Joe about how excited he is at the prospect of serious financial compensation for the stealing of his children his response was…
“I would rather have my kids back. People are much more important than money and those kids are the most important thing in my entire life.”
DCF Fails to Accommodate Watley and Hasemann
When parental rights were formally terminated, the couple filed an appeal, claiming DCF did not show it made every reasonable effort at reunification. They argued that DCF failed to show that Hasemann did not make every effort to meet the requirements set out by the agency. And they claimed that the agency did not do enough to accommodate their disabilities under the ADA during the parental termination process, and specifically did not appoint an ADA coordinator to assist them with their case.
The couple lost that appeal. They went on to file additional state court claims on similar grounds. All were dismissed. At one point, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities rejected the ADA claims, writing that an initial review “determined that there was no reasonable possibility that an investigation would lead to a reasonable cause finding of discrimination.”
Although DCF claims the couple failed to do what was asked of them to get their kids back the fact that they have been fighting for their two sons for more than 10 years shows a determination and a willingness to do anything and everything to get their kids back. Joe states
“The DCF needs to be punished for what they have done to me and Karin and I have to make sure they don’t steal anyone else’s kids ever again.”
In 2012, Superior Court Judge Christine Keller also addressed ADA arguments, saying that neither parent offered any evidence that their disabilities were covered by the ADA or that they needed special help navigating the DCF process. So the couple filed suit in federal court in 2013. The same day they also filed a petition for a temporary restraining order barring DCF from allowing their children to be adopted.
However, within two weeks, the district court denied the restraining order and dismissed the entire case. The judge ruled that the couple’s claims had already been raised, litigated and ruled on in state court. A legal doctrine called the Rooker-Feldman doctrine holds that federal courts (other than the Supreme Court) should not directly review state court decisions unless Congress has specifically authorized such relief.
The DFC Made a Serious Error in Judgement they don’t have the Courage to Admit
The Office of the Attorney General, which has represented DCF in the litigation, declined to comment on the case. However, its briefs argue that the couple has “not demonstrated that either their ADA rights or due process rights were violated by the defendants’ actions.”
The Second Circuit is not so sure. In a brief, four-page ruling released in January, the appeals court said Hasemann and Watley should have an opportunity to make their ADA arguments in Connecticut federal court. “We find that the district court acted prematurely in dismissing the complaint in this case,” the Second Circuit wrote. It also said that an attorney should be appointed for the couple, who filed the Second Circuit appeal pro se.
During the federal court case, the couple will not seek a reversal of the parental termination hearings, according to O’Toole, but will challenge whether the ADA was properly applied to their reunification efforts.
The ACLU’s Barrett and others are watching closely. “The thing we’re paying attention to is the state’s contention both that the ADA has no place as a defense in a [termination of parental rights] proceeding and that a person who undergoes a [termination] proceeding cannot then file a later federal lawsuit,” Barrett said. The Colorado-based Disabled Parents Rights group filed an amicus brief to the Second Circuit on behalf of the parents.
“Disabled Parents Rights strongly believes that when parents with intellectual, developmental or mental health disabilities are involved in a child welfare case, they must be provided with a process that is free of bias to ensure that they do not experience disparate treatment when faced with the prospect of termination of the parent child legal relationship,” wrote attorney Carrie Ann Lucas, the group’s executive director.