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In re L.D.H.

May 24, 2001

IN RE L.D.H. J.P.S., APPELLANT.


Schwelb and Reid, Associate Judges, and Nebeker, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. Evelyn Crawford Queen, Trial Judge) (Hon. Herbert B. Dixon, Jr., Trial Judge)

Argued May 17, 2001

Appellant J.P.S., the biological father of L.D.H., who has been adjudged a neglected child under D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(A) and (B) (March 2001 Supp.), challenges that portion of the order finding that he abused the child. He also appeals from the disposition order which prohibits him from visiting the child "until [the] therapist advises otherwise or there is [a] further order of the court." We affirm.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The record shows that L.D.H. was born in August 1989, and was placed under the care of the District of Columbia Department of Human Services, subsequent to the investigation of an incident which took place on August 29, 1998. On that date, neighbors reported that L.D.H. screamed "fire" and "help" from a window of the apartment where he resided with his biological mother, J.H. and J.P.S. *fn2 Police officers sent to the premises found L.D.H. alone in a "dirty and unkempt" apartment which "contained a minimal supply of food." The child "stated that his mother uses drugs and left him alone to go to a meeting"; and that he had not attended school "since the early part of 1998."

In early January 1999, J.H. and J.P.S. signed a stipulation. The stipulation specified that J.H. uses drugs, is unable to properly care for L.D.H., left him alone on several occasions, and has taken steps to "stay off of drugs." In addition, J.H. and J.P.S. acknowledged that L.D.H. has benefitted from his placement in a therapeutic foster home. *fn3 Based upon the stipulation, and citing D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(B) and (C), the trial court found that L.D.H. is a neglected child.

During a hearing on the neglect petition in March and early April 1999, a social worker testified that L.D.H. had been placed with a paternal cousin in September 1998, and that she had met with L.D.H.'s parents. While supervised visits between L.D.H. and his mother had been scheduled, the social worker indicated that the child "expressed concerns about" visitation by his father, "referring to him on a couple of occasions as the devil." Although J.P.S. "had the opportunity to have unlimited unsupervised visits" at the paternal cousin's home, he did not visit L.D.H. frequently.

J.H., the main government witness, testified that over a ten-year period, J.P.S. beat, threatened, and stalked her. *fn4 She described times when she was beaten and stalked, and declared that L.D.H. was present during some of these instances of domestic violence. She also recounted two occasions on which J.P.S. allegedly physically abused L.D.H. On one, J.P.S. required L.D.H. to stand in a corner of the apartment, for thirty minutes, with "his arms spread out, spread eagle. If L.[D.H.] dropped his arms just a little bit, he would smack him." On the other, when L.D.H. ran home after a fight, J.P.S. sought "to teach him a lesson on how to fight and how to take a punch." He hit L.D.H. "in the solarplex," causing the child to "los[e] air and [] gasp[]." J.H. linked J.P.S.' abusive behavior to his drinking, stating that he consumes "[W]ild Irish Rose" and becomes "meaner" when he drinks. She maintained that J.P.S. did not provide child support or financial assistance "regularly" and conditioned his support on her having sexual relations with him. In addition J.H. acknowledged that L.D.H. has learning difficulties, and has been in special education since his preschool days. *fn5

J.P.S., testifying on his own behalf, vigorously denied J.H.'s account of most events. He characterized J.H.'s testimony as "lies." He stated that he had disciplined his son by requiring him to stand in the corner "for about five to ten minutes," but had not hit him. He also maintained that he did not hit L.D.H. in the stomach, but had merely been "playing" with him. *fn6 He denied that his son had ever called him a devil. He accused J.H. of hitting L.D.H. Although he acknowledged that he and J.H. sometimes fought when J.H. used drugs, he accused her of being the instigator. He explained the bloody photograph of J.H., which the government introduced into evidence, as resulting from his effort to disarm his wife when she pulled a knife on him after an argument. He insisted that he had provided support for L.D.H. by giving his mother $400 per month. *fn7 Moreover, during the period of J.H.'s incarceration in Virginia, he was L.D.H.'s sole caretaker. Furthermore, he claimed to have visited L.D.H.'s school approximately ten times, between 1993 and 1998, to speak with teachers. On the day of the fire, he went to work, leaving J.H. with L.D.H. Contrary to J.H.'s testimony, J.P.S. insisted that he did not drink to excess, and admitted that he had dropped out of an alcohol treatment program, explaining that he could not reach the building where it was held without violating a civil protection order.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court determined that the District "has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that [L.D.H.] is a neglected child" under § 16-2301 (9)(A) and (B), because of abuse by his father, and due to the fact that he was "without proper parental care, education and control necessary for his physical, mental and emotional health. . . ."

ANALYSIS

First, we are unpersuaded by J.P.S.'s argument that the trial court placed unreasonable restrictions on his efforts to impeach J.H. and to show her bias on cross-examination. "'The extent of cross-examination [of a witness] with respect to an appropriate subject of inquiry is within the sound discretion of the trial court.'" Tyree v. Evans, 728 A.2d 101, 103 (D.C. 1999) (quoting Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 694 (1931)) (other citation omitted); see also Roundtree v. United States, 581 A.2d 315, 323 (D.C. 1990); Byers v. United States, 649 A.2d 279, 283 (D.C. 1994). While a complete denial of the right ...


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