By Mark Wachtler
August 26, 2014. Phoenix, AZ. (ONN) Every day, more and more Americans are exposed to the horrifying child removal campaigns being carried out by state and county offices of the Dept of Health and Human Services. Each year, more than 300,000 children are taken away from their parents by the government. Many for little or no reason, or just by mistake. One of those families is currently waging a desperate fight to get their four boys back, and after five years, they’ve nearly exhausted all their options, but they refuse to quit.
Sara Ybarra with son Jayden just prior to his removal from her custody this past February. Image courtesy of Sara Ybarra-Johnson.
Imagine it’s you and your children
Imagine you’re a young 19-year-old new mom. You’re not wealthy, but you have a solid support system and family to help. Yet some behind-the-scenes Child Protective Services employee doesn’t think you’re a good enough parent, regardless of how well you’re caring for your son. So, the agency removes your child from your custody. You fight back, thinking you’ve been vindicated when the agency’s own medical experts refute the allegations of abuse and report that there was no evidence at all. But that only makes the CPS caseworker angry.
They refuse to return your son, and instead spend the next five years taking away your next three children just to punish you for tirelessly fighting to get your first child back. That’s the heart-breaking five-year nightmare that one Arizona mom, 24-year-old Sara Ybarra-Johnson, has endured. It’s a young mom, a grandma and four small boys fighting to be reunited as the family they are and should be, against the most powerful government on Earth, determined to demonstrate that the state is in charge of America’s children, not their parents.
Karla Johnson, Sara’s mom and the boys’ grandmother, first reached out to us here at Whiteout Press for help a couple weeks ago. We did as much research as a vigilant one-man operation can and came across a report from a grassroots parents’ rights organization detailing Sara and her sons’ case. Zed McLarnon of Justice for Families looked into the accusations and was horrified by the abuse of power and seemingly endless violations of the law and of the family’s rights.
In a video the organization produced about the ongoing battle, McLarnon explains their findings saying, “We chose Karla and Sara’s case to demonstrate that Child Protective Services use false allegations of abuse. Police departments break into houses to snatch children without a warrant or pick-up order. Attorney Generals prosecute parents they know to be innocent. And judges suppress evidence and manipulate the court records, all to take into custody as many children as possible.”
In Sara’s case, one would think that a non-stop five-year campaign to get her child back would be enough to prove her dedication, sincerity and capability as a parent. But to Child Protective Services, it only indicates a failure to submit to government authority, even when those government employees were proven to be wrong. And as punishment for fighting for her parental rights and the return of her son, Sara Ybarra-Johnson has had all four of her children removed from her by CPS.
Zed McLarnon from Justice for Families explains his group’s findings after looking into Sara’s story. “What intrigued me about this case is the fact that the Judges in Superior Court, once they had appointed Sara a Public Defender, claimed that she was no longer a party to the case,” McLarnon reveals, “Imagine, a mother being maliciously prosecuted to terminate her parental custody, not a party to the case. Why did they do this? So they could refuse to give her any court documents, including the allegations against her.”
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Even worse, the various Public Defenders assigned to represent Sara in her effort to keep her children have all refused to introduce the evidence that proves her innocence, including the government’s own doctors’ reports of her son showing there was absolutely no evidence of neglect or abuse. According to Justice for Families, that’s no accident and one of the most common tactics the government uses to thwart parents’ attempts to keep their children. Most parents give up eventually. But not Sara.
Retribution and revenge
Most Americans know by now that it’s dangerous to be right when the government is wrong. You will get arrested if you push your case hard enough, regardless of how right you are. That seems to be how this whole horrifying five-year episode began back in 2009. That’s when Child Protective Services was investigating Sara Ybarra-Johnson and her 1-year-old son Isaiah for, according to the CPS report, ‘Medical Neglect - Seizures.’ Examining doctors quickly ruled out any neglect or abuse and Isaiah should have been returned to Sara that instant.
Instead, during the vicious and terrifying interrogation by CPS officials, Sara’s mother and Isaiah’s grandmother Karla Johnson fiercely argued and fought for the return of the 1-year-old baby. But according to Grandma Karla, that only enraged CPS caseworkers and their supervisor. Karla explains that while the agency did their investigation, they put Isaiah in a state foster home where he ended up being physically abused, and they have pictures.
One of the more shocking parts of this ongoing tragedy comes from a police report, where CPS supervisor Rhonda Cash is quoted explaining to Sara why the agency is keeping Isaiah and not giving him back. “I don't care what documentation you have of doctors care for Isaiah,” Cash reportedly says, “I am taking Isaiah because your mother has pissed me off.” How many readers have ever been arrested for breaking that law? Your author has, a few times. Like we said, it’s dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.
Keep in mind, the official reason for removing Isaiah from his mother Sara was the accusation that she wasn’t providing Isaiah with enough medical care to treat what the agency erroneously believed were recurring seizures. In June 2009, just five weeks after CPS seized the child, they took Isaiah to neurologist Dr. Kevin Chapman at the Barrows Neurological Center who examined Isaiah and ruled that the child hadn’t had a seizure in more than a year. His suspicion was that Isaiah may have had a seizure at the time of birth and not since. That should have been all the evidence the family needed to get their child back.
A Maricopa County Detective carried out an impartial investigation. His findings concluded, “Dr. Chapman’s report should have resolved this case in 2009. Isaiah should have been returned and the other boys should have never been removed.”
Taking all of Sara’s children
Over the course of five years trying to get her son Isaiah back, Sara and her mom Karla have accumulated a mountain of evidence regarding CPS misconduct, abuse and outright lies. One example comes from Sara Ybarra-Johnson’s CPS case file. Karla Johnson explains, “My daughter’s CPS file has an email from Cash to Kara Vanhise - Arizona Ombudsman’s Office - on June 9, 2009. Cash admits CPS did not conduct a removal review and Cash states, ‘It was based upon evidence submitted by DDD.’”
When Karla and Sara reached out to the Department of Developmental Disability (DDD) regarding the alleged evidence they supposedly submitted to Rhonda Cash, the CPS supervisor who removed Isaiah in the first place, the reply was stunning, but not surprising in this case. DDD’s official response reads, “Please be advised that the Department of Developmental Disability has no record indicating that Isaiah E. Johnson is or ever was a client of the Division of Developmental Disabilities.” In other words, the evidence Rhonda Cash fraudulently cites for removing Isaiah from Sara’s custody simply doesn’t exist. But this and all the other evidence from the government’s own agencies have been banned by the Judges in Sara’s case.
If fighting for the return of your 18-month-old son isn’t traumatic enough, try doing it while being six months pregnant with your second child. Five months after Sara’s horrifying ordeal began with the removal of her son Isaiah, she gave birth to her second son Wilfredo. Eight days later, Child Protective Services sent the Phoenix police to forcibly enter the Johnson’s home and remove the new baby - no warrant, no charges, no reason. The agency only gave two causes for taking Wilfredo. One was that they already had Isaiah. The second, cited by Judge Christopher Coury in his removal decision, detailed, “Termination of the parent-child relationship would benefit the Children because these Children are adoptable.”
Flash forward two years. Sara is expecting her third child and visiting the state of Oklahoma. She goes into labor and gives birth to her third son Josiah. Somehow some way, the state’s own Child Protective Service is alerted to Sara’s ongoing legal battle to force Arizona to return her two sons. Like an unthinking and uncaring machine, local Oklahoma CPS officials take Josiah away from Sara and place him in state custody for his own protection. 14 months later, Oklahoma Judge Brian Ishikawa terminated Sara’s parental rights of Josiah, even though CPS’ own investigators testified there was no abuse or neglect of the child. Instead, Josiah was admittedly taken simply because the government had already taken Isaiah and Wilfredo, and like the other cases, because “A termination of these parental rights would further the plan of adoption.”
Flash forward two more years to 2013. Sara and the boys’ grandmother Karla are still fiercely fighting for the return of the children. They’ve filed appeals and even lawsuits, only to find that justice has not only been unattainable, but vengeful and vindictive. In June 2013, Sara gave birth to her fourth and youngest son Jayden. Eight months later, Child Protective Services removed him as well.
Threats, terror and injustice
The campaign to remove Sara’s youngest son Jayden from her custody began at 1am on January 11, 2014. That’s when Phoenix Police and CPS caseworkers showed up at the Johnson’s home demanding to be let in so they could strip and examine the 6-month-old baby. The family refused to let them in without a warrant or court order, which the raiding party apparently did not have. Over the next three weeks, the Johnson family was terrorized by CPS employees, some of whom threatened to arrest the whole family for refusing to cooperate and for secretly tape recording the agency’s threats and intimidation.
On February 5th, Phoenix Police and CPS caseworkers again besieged the Johnson home, demanding they turn over Jayden or they would all be placed under arrest. The family cooperated, but emphatically argued that the agency had absolutely no legitimate reason to remove the child as there was no evidence of neglect or abuse, which the police report confirmed.
The agency also admits in its own documentation that it didn’t conduct any investigation of abuse of Jayden. Its own pick-up order showed the wrong child’s name on it. And it wasn’t even signed by a Judge as required by law. CPS actually filed a police report citing Jayden as a ‘missing child’. The report was later amended to reflect that it was an error and the child was in his mother’s physical custody all along.
The CPS official at the heart of Jayden’s removal, Michael Messinese, has recently testified that he did not write a case report to the court which bears his signature. He also admits in court documents that he never even interviewed Sara or Jayden or conducted an investigation before ordering the confiscation of her child. On August 7th and August 15th of this year, Sara testified in court in her never-ending nightmare to get her children back. According to her mom Karla, “Sara literally kicked CPS' butt in the court.” So much so, that the CPS official in charge of Jayden’s removal repeatedly responded under questioning, “I don’t recall.”
Sara Ybarra-Johnson’s nightmare is far from over in her effort to regain custody of her children after a five-year legal fight. And while local police officers have been seemingly behind the family, unwilling to document evidence of abuse where there was none, CPS and court officials have doubled-down on their obsession with taking all of Sara’s children away from her for no legitimate reason but simply because they refuse to admit they made a mistake in the first place.
After five years of waging a very public publicity campaign to shed some light on their horrifying ordeal, some of the government officials at the heart of the injustice are feeling the heat, and they don’t like it. Karla, the boys’ grandmother, has been so outspoken that the Arizona courts actually printed up a ‘Be On The Lookout’ poster bearing her picture and personal information in an attempt to bar her from court proceedings. She’s obtained emails from the court and from CPS where employees discuss secret investigations of the grandmother and the data-mining of her Facebook and other social media accounts.
Karla says that never before in the five-year ordeal has she been banned from the courtroom and unable to be there to witness the proceedings and support her daughter, until now. She also reports that the Judge presiding over Sara’s case, Judge Bradley Astrowsky, suddenly and mysteriously recused himself from the hearings. The family reports that Sara, Karla, their supporters and all witnesses were inexplicably ejected from the courtroom by Sheriff’s deputies and court officers, while CPS officials were allowed to stay.
After exhausting all their legal options in Arizona, including the rejection by the Arizona Supreme Court to hear their case, Sara and Karla filed a federal lawsuit alleging the violation of Sara’s civil rights. But rather than even look at the content or merits of the case, the federal court in San Francisco threatened Sara to drop her lawsuit or face “sanctions both punitive and financial.”
The culmination of this ordeal is mind-blowing considering there was never any evidence that showed any neglect or abuse of any of Sara’s boys. By contrast, all of the government’s own experts and evidence unanimously admit there was never any abuse or neglect. But for some bizarre reason, all the doctors’ and caseworkers’ reports stating such have never once been allowed to be introduced as evidence by any of the 23 state and federal Judges that Sara and Karla have appeared before over the past five years in their vain attempt to get the boys back.
Taking children from parents for profit
Zed McLarnon and Justice for Families insist Sara and her sons’ tragedy isn’t unique. He argues that millions of American children are being taken away from their parents by government agencies across the country for absolutely no reason other than for profit. The grassroots parents’ rights organization introduces case after case after case where officials across the country have been caught falsifying documents and perjuring themselves in CPS child removal proceedings.
They also point to a recent announcement from Arizona Child Protective Services that offers one possibility of what this widespread epidemic of child removal is all about. Just three months ago, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer announced the creation of a stand-alone Department of Child Safety and a check for $60 million to the very same individuals that have terrorized Sara and her boys for the past five years. Officials actually confirmed that the new mega-agency was in response to a state investigation showing there were an estimated 6,500 more children Arizona CPS could have removed from their parents but didn’t for some reason.
Sara and Karla Johnson have their own problems however. They’ve exhausted all their options on the state level and the federal Judge, Judge Snow, appears to be ignoring the law, case precedents, and ignoring the evidence of the warrantless seizure of these boys and CPS' omission of evidence from the proceedings in state court.
As grandma Karla explains after this exhausting and heart-breaking ordeal, “My daughter Sara had barely turned 19 years old when our fight began in May 2009. She just turned 24 in December 2013. Five years of her life, our lives, the boys’ lives, have been stolen because of CPS' criminal activity.” As far as Sara’s concerned, she just wants her children back. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask considering she never did anything wrong in the first place.
Just in the past couple months, the family has opened two ‘Go Fund Me’ accounts, one to help pay the legal costs of trying to get the boys back and the other to help support the family after nearly bankrupting themselves with a five-year legal battle against the unlimited resources of the government. From one victimized parent to another, we at Whiteout Press wish Sara and Karla all the best in their fight. We wish there was more we could do to help.
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