By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
After Frances delivers her packets of letters to all the attorneys, she and Luis sit down with their respective lawyers, who hand each of them a copy of the 59-page petition filed by DCFS alleging that Estephanie, Bola, Julian, Frankie, Elijah and Gennisis are "at risk of physical and emotional harm, damage, danger and death" if they remain in the Aguilar household.
Since the day of the raid, all the Hollenbeck officers who will speak on the subject have steadfastly insisted that the cops had nothing to do with the children’s being taken into county custody. Yet, the petition and its attached support documents suggest -otherwise. It states right up front that, according to the police, "The [Aguilar] home is known for criminal gang activities" and that there is a "recorded history of individuals being arrested for drug-related charges stemming from the reported address," that both parents have a "drug lifestyle," that both "engage in . . . criminal gang activity," and that the children are subjected to all of the above, plus "extremely deplorable living conditions." The report also makes clear that the DCFS workers who came to the house on the day of the raid are not run-of-the-mill social workers, but part of a newly formed Multi-Agency Response Team — or MART — that works in tandem with the police to protect children in homes "associated with high levels of illegal gang, firearms and narcotic activity."
Like most households with lots of children, two working parents and no paid housecleaner, the Aguilar home tends to go from clean and scrubbed to messy and back again on a regular basis. In addition to the gang and drug allegations, the other main charge is "general neglect." To support this, the social workers catalog a list of offenses. The house is "unsafe and hazardous," they write. The refrigerator has "insufficient food" for the number of people living in the residence. Dirty clothes and toys were found "scattered and piled throughout the floor." What is not mentioned is that the scattering of clothes and toys was mostly a product of the raid.
"I do my big shopping on Sunday, but I get stuff every other day, especially if a lot more people are eating, the Food 4 Less guys could tell you." Frances rattles this out wretchedly as she reads the report. "Some of the clothes were on the floor because I was sorting them for washing. Bola and I did those two loads early in the morning. I was going to do more in the afternoon. How else am I supposed to sort the clothes?"
Certainly, a few of the allegations listed are legitimate. A window in the bathroom has a broken section. It’s high enough to be out of the kids’ reach, but a broken window is a broken window. In addition, one of the closet doors in the boys’ room has been pulled partially off its hinges, and although Luis had already done plumbing and other fix-it jobs around the house since his release from jail, he had yet to get around to re-hanging the closet door.
Other listings are mystifying. For instance, the report cites that the "front entry door was cluttered with strollers, car seats and other objects," including a "computer desk and an entertainment center" — a situation that the report labels a fire hazard and a "way of deterring law enforcement access to the home by the front door." This would be a reasonable criticism if it were true. In reality, the Aguilars’ front door is usually never obstructed in any way. The only reason the passage was blocked on the day of the raid was because the policemoved all the offending items from their usual locations while searching (some were taken from the attic) and stacked them in front of the door — a fact that the social workers could easily have determined with a single question to an officer. In a similar fashion, much was made of the bare mattresses in the children’s rooms, another artifact of the raid produced when police yanked off sheets and blankets in search of contraband.
Several prominent areas of the report are devoted to Frances’ demeanor on the day her kids were taken from her. Rather than characterize her as a distraught mother, the report presents her behavior as damning. For instance, it states that Frances swore at the social workers and looked at them in a "hateful and threatening manner." There is a long passage about her first telephone call to a social worker following the raid in which Frances is described as being "aggressive," "erratic" and "so offensive" that the worker "had to hang up the phone," although others, who actually witnessed the call (including me), saw a justifiably upset woman who managed to hold herself in check. Even her angry outburst at Hollenbeck Police Station is mentioned in minute detail, which suggests that some LAPD officer actually took the time to make notes on the 15-second incident, dutifully passing them along to DCFS.
The report concludes that there is "substantial danger" to the "physical health of the children," as well as danger of their "suffering severe emotional damage," and that the only way to prevent such an outcome is to remove the children from their parents’ custody. Taken as a whole, it is difficult not to see the report as an energetic attempt on someone’s part to stack the deck against the Aguilars.