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In re Welfare of the Child of K. L. W.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

February 11, 2019

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Child of: K. L. W., Parent.

          Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-JV-17-5309

          Mary F. Moriarty, Fourth District Public Defender, David W. Merchant, Assistant Public Defender, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant father K.L.W.)

          Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Mary M. Lynch, Senior Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent county)

          Kimberly T. Walker, St. Louis Park, Minnesota (for respondent mother J.A.C.) Michael Tepoorten, Juvenile Justice Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (guardian ad litem)

          Considered and decided by Hooten, Presiding Judge; Reyes, Judge; and Cochran, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         Under the egregious-harm statute, Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(6) (2018), "a child" is "in the parent's care" when he or she is under the supervision, charge, or watchful oversight of the person subject to the termination proceeding.

          OPINION

          HOOTEN, JUDGE

         Appellant-father challenges the termination of his parental rights, arguing that he did not egregiously harm his child, he is not palpably unfit to parent his child, and termination is not in his child's best interests. We affirm.

         FACTS

         Appellant K.L.W. is the father of a child born in January 2012. J.C. is the mother of the child. The child's parents never married and their relationship was "very casual." After J.C. purchased a home, appellant moved in with the child and her in May 2012. The three lived together until November 2013, when J.C. had appellant evicted from the home. Following the eviction, appellant continued to visit the child. At first, he visited a few times per week. Because the child is autistic, has a speech delay, and is on an individualized education program at school, appellant's visits were changed to weekends so as to not disrupt the child's schedule. Ultimately, appellant visited the child approximately every other Sunday.

         Sometime in 2017, the Hennepin County Department of Social Services opened an investigation after receiving a report alleging inadequate supervision of the child by J.C. A child-protection investigator was assigned to the case. And in the course of her investigation, she discovered a criminal case against appellant that raised concerns about "his ability to protect and care for the child just based off of concerns about recidivism."

         The criminal case involved allegations that appellant sexually abused his cousin's daughter, M.B. The abuse occurred over a period of time spanning from May 2007 (when M.B. was nine years old) until September 2011. Appellant was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Two of the charges were for criminal sexual conduct with a complainant under 13 years of age. The other two charges were for sexual abuse involving multiple acts committed over an extended period of time.

         Appellant went to trial and was acquitted of the charges involving abuse committed over an extended period of time. It appears from the record that the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining charges, and the case was set for another trial. Appellant ultimately entered an Alford plea to the second-degree charge for sexual contact with someone under the age of 13, and the remaining first-degree charge was dismissed.[1]Appellant received a stay of adjudication and a 25-year probation sentence.

         Following its investigation, Hennepin County filed a petition to terminate appellant's parental rights to his child in November 2017. Appellant opposed the petition, and a court trial was held in May 2018. M.B., M.B.'s mother, the child protection investigator, J.C., appellant, and appellant's probation officer testified at trial. The district court terminated appellant's parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. ...


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