California Court of Appeals, Second District, Seventh Division
In re Daniel B. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent,
ANGELA B., Defendant and Appellant.
[As modified Nov. 17, 2014.]
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. DK00453 Sherri Sobel, Juvenile Court Referee.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Deborah Dentler, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.
John F. Krattli, County Counsel, Dawyn R. Harrison, Assistant County Counsel, and Sarah Vesecky, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.
Appellant Angela B. (Mother) appeals from the juvenile court’s disposition order declaring two of her children dependents of the court pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivisions (a), (b), and (j), removing them from the custody of their father, and releasing them to Mother with family maintenance services. Mother contends that the juvenile court erred in ordering her to participate in a domestic violence support group for an open-ended period, and in delegating to the program’s counselors the authority to decide how long she would be required to attend the program. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse this portion of the disposition order and remand the matter to the juvenile court to conduct further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
I. Initiation of the Dependency Proceedings
Mother and Daniel B. Sr. (Father) are the married parents of two young children―Daniel B. Jr. (Daniel) (born June 2012) and Damian B. (born October 2013). Mother also has an older son, Andrew A. Jr. (born May 2003), from a prior relationship. Mother and the children lived with Father in a small two-bedroom home, which was located on a property owned by the paternal grandparents. This matter came to the attention of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in August 2013 following a report of domestic violence in the family’s home.
On August 9, 2013, emergency response personnel were called to the home after Father stabbed Mother in her left shoulder with a knife. At the time, Mother was 29-weeks pregnant with Damian. When officers arrived on the scene, they observed that the master bedroom and the kitchen were in
disarray with broken furniture and other broken items lying on the floor. Mother was crying and bleeding from her shoulder. After being transported to the hospital for treatment, Mother was interviewed by the police. She told the officers that, earlier in the evening, she and Father were arguing about his past and present drug use. Father became angry and pushed Mother against the bedroom furniture. Father then grabbed one-year-old Daniel and attempted to leave the home with him. Mother believed that Father was under the influence of methamphetamine, and fearing that he might hurt Daniel, she took the baby from him. In response, Father grabbed a kitchen knife, broke off the tip of the knife on the countertop, and stabbed Mother once in her left shoulder as she was holding Daniel. Father then fled the home. The police also interviewed two adult relatives who had witnessed the altercation. They similarly reported that Mother and Father were arguing in the kitchen when Father grabbed a knife and stabbed Mother in her left shoulder as she was holding Daniel. The following day, accompanied by Mother and the maternal grandparents, Father turned himself in at the local police station and was taken into custody.
On August 11, 2013, the DCFS interviewed the family about the incident. Mother reported that she and Father had been married for four years, and over the course of their relationship, Father had pushed her several times during verbal altercations. Mother stated that Father would place his open hands against her chest and push her when he became angry, and that on several occasions, he caused her to fall back onto the bed. She denied that there had been any other forms of domestic violence prior to the August 9, 2013 incident. Mother stated that, on that occasion, Father began arguing with her and accusing her of infidelity in a loud voice. The paternal grandparents and other relatives who lived next door overheard the argument and came to the home to try to calm Father. Mother and Father continued arguing in their bedroom as she held Daniel in her arms. They then moved into the kitchen and a family member took Daniel from her. While arguing in the kitchen, Father grabbed a knife from the counter and stabbed Mother in her left shoulder blade. She denied that she was holding Daniel when Father stabbed her. She also denied any personal history of drug use, but stated that she suspected Father was using drugs based on his behavior. Mother expressed that she was willing to cooperate with the DCFS to ensure the safety and well-being of her children, and would not allow Father back in the home if he were released from custody.
In his interview with the DCFS, Father denied any history of domestic violence with Mother, including any prior incidents of pushing her. Father stated that the first time he assaulted Mother was on August 9, 2013, when he stabbed her in her shoulder during a verbal altercation. According to Father, he and Mother had been arguing about his belief that Mother was ignoring him and wanted to leave him. Family members who heard the argument soon
arrived at the home. Mother was holding Daniel while she and Father argued in the bedroom, but she handed him to a family member as the argument continued into the kitchen. At that point, Father grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and stabbed Mother in her left shoulder. He then left the home, but later talked to Mother and agreed to turn himself in to the authorities. Father admitted that he had a 13-year history of using crystal methamphetamine, and that he last used the drug on August 5, 2013, when he was outside the home. Father denied ever using drugs in the home or in the presence of the children. Father indicated that he was willing to comply with the DCFS in an effort to reunite with his family.
The case social worker also interviewed 10-year-old Andrew, who confirmed that he was present in the home during the domestic violence incident. Andrew recounted that he and Daniel were in their bedroom with paternal relatives while Mother and Father were arguing in the master bedroom and then in the kitchen. He later observed that Mother was in pain, but he did not see how she was injured. Andrew denied ever witnessing Mother and Father engage in any physical altercations. He stated that he was not fearful of either parent, and he wanted to remain living with Mother, but he did not know if he wanted Father to return home at that time. The case social worker observed that both Andrew and Daniel were clean, dressed appropriately, and appeared to be in good physical health with no signs of neglect or physical abuse.
In addition to these interviews, the DCFS spoke with three paternal relatives who were present in the home during the altercation. They similarly reported that Mother and Father argued in the master bedroom and kitchen while Andrew and Daniel stayed in their room with other family members. They also stated that, after the argument moved into the kitchen, Father stabbed Mother in her shoulder with a knife and then fled the home. Each of these relatives denied knowledge of any drug use by the parents or prior incidents of domestic violence between them. The DCFS also spoke with two ...