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In re G.H.

April 25, 2002

IN RE G.H., K.H., AND S.H. H.C., APPELLANT.


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Family Division (N641-99), (N642-99), (N643-99) (Hon. Kaye K. Christian, Trial Judge)

Before Schwelb, Reid, and Glickman, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Associate Judge

Argued March 2, 2002

Concurring opinion by Associate Judge Reid

On March 28, 2000, following a fact-finding hearing, the trial judge found that respondent S.H. was a neglected child within the meaning of D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(A) *fn1 and (C) (1981), *fn2 and that her brothers, G.H. and K.H., were neglected children within the meaning of § 16-2301 (9)(C) and (E) (1981). The judge found that, while acting in loco parentis, H.C., the children's mother's live-in paramour, dragged twelve-year-old S.H. by her hair, ripping out sections of hair in two places, that he kicked her in or stepped on her back, and that several days later, he struck her in the face and drew blood. The judge concluded that H.C.'s actions constituted child abuse within the meaning of the statute. The court found that R.H., the children's mother, viewed H.C.'s conduct as appropriate, and that her sons, G.H. and K.H., were therefore in imminent danger of being similarly abused. After the mother refused to cooperate with court-ordered evaluations, the judge found that the mother was unable to discharge her responsibilities to her children because of mental incapacity. The judge ordered that all three respondents be placed with K.H., Sr., the father of two of the children, under the protective supervision of the court. *fn3

Although the mother's appellate counsel has filed a brief defending the mother's conduct, the mother has not filed a notice of appeal. H.C. is therefore the sole appellant. H.C. has standing to appeal insofar as the ruling negatively affects his reputation. In re E.R., 649 A.2d 10, 12-13 (D.C. 1994). We conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the finding that H.C. abused S.H., but not the finding that H.C.'s conduct placed S.H.'s brothers in imminent danger of being abused. Because the mother did not appeal, we do not reach any other issue.

I.

On May 19, 1999, K.H., S.H., and G.H. were living with their mother, R.H., and her boyfriend, H.C., in the District of Columbia. K.H., Sr., the father of K.H., a boy born on February 8, 1984, and of S.H., a girl born on October 5, 1986, lived in North Carolina and provided child support payments to their mother. G.H. was born on November 22, 1989. G.H.'s father was not involved in this suit. H.C. is not the father of any of the children.

Neglect proceedings were instituted after a counselor at Bertie Backus Junior High School reported to the police that a student had been assaulted by an adult man in front of a nearby McDonald's restaurant. Police identified the student in the alleged incident as S.H. This incident, as well as a second encounter between S.H. and H.C., formed the basis for the allegations of neglect.

S.H. described the McDonald's incident in her testimony before the trial court. She reported that she went to McDonald's with friends after school. From the restaurant's parking lot, she saw H.C. approaching the restaurant. She knew that H.C. was there to take her to a tutoring class which she did not wish to attend, and she sought to evade him as he got out of the car. S.H. related that H.C. approached her, grabbed her by the arm, and pushed her, and that she tripped and fell face down on the cement pavement. She testified that H.C. kicked her or stepped on her back while she lay on the ground, and that he then dragged her by her hair toward the car door. S.H. said she began crying when H.C. started pulling her hair and dragging her. S.H. reported that after H.C. had pulled her to the car door, she agreed to get in the car by herself, and she did so. S.H. subsequently noticed two bald spots on her scalp from hair that had been pulled out by H.C.

Dr. Thomas Michael Anderson, an emergency room physician at Children's National Medical Center, examined S.H. on May 25, 1999, six days after the initial incident, when a Metropolitan Police Youth Division Detective brought her to the emergency room for evaluation. Dr. Anderson testified that he observed two two-centimeter areas on the left side of S.H.'s head where her hair had been "pulled from her scalp." According to Dr. Anderson, S.H. reported that "she had been hit, kicked, and punched by her mother's boyfriend" and that "her mother's boyfriend had grabbed her by the hair . . . and had pulled her by the hair."

In addition, Dr. Anderson observed that S.H. "had a cut on the middle of her upper lip that had a crust of blood on it, a scab had already formed." He reported that the cut was approximately one-quarter inch in size. Dr. Anderson related that, according to S.H., the cut came from "a punch to the face by her mother's boyfriend" on the night before she appeared in the Emergency Room. S.H. told Dr. Anderson that the punch "occurred when the mother's boyfriend became angry at her for not telling the truth about where she was going that night." Dr. Anderson testified that so far as he could determine, these were the only injuries that S.H. had sustained.

The mother, who had also been charged with neglecting S.H., testified at the fact-finding hearing. The mother sought to defend her boyfriend's actions, but her testimony substantially supported her daughter's account in relation to both incidents. The mother testified that S.H. told her about the bald spots, and that she saw a small area on her daughter's head that was completely bald. She testified that H.C. hit her daughter with "little taps," but she demonstrated the "taps" by "slap[ping] herself in the face." She acknowledged that the "taps" left a red area on S.H.'s face for a short period and that S.H. began to bleed as a result, but "[i]t was just a little, little blood."

H.C. testified on his own behalf, and he denied that he harmed S.H. on either occasion. With respect to the McDonald's incident, H.C. stated that he had argued with S.H. for a few minutes about her going to tutoring. *fn4 He asserted that "[w]hen I began to approach [S.H.], she sat down on the ground. . . . I proceeded to grab her by the back of her clothing and pulled her to the car . . . I opened the car and forced her into the car and I took her to the tutor." He claimed that he never noticed any injury, that S.H. did not complain of any injury, and that S.H. did not cry. When asked to explain the bald spots on S.H.'s head, H.C. testified as follows:

The Witness: . . . [T]he only thing I can imagine is that when I grabbed her, I must have caught her braids up in ...


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