A Living Hell

Can This Child Be Saved? Not By CPS.
By Vicki Hart

DAVID IS ONE of the lucky ones--he lived. Earlier this year, southern Arizonans were stunned to read about 5-year-old Donovan Hendrix, who was brought to a Tucson hospital with multiple injuries, apparently inflicted by his father's girlfriend. Donovan died.

Only his death allowed public access to his state file. The 360 pages it contained chronicled the slow torture of a small boy and the indifference shown toward him by the agency whose mission it supposedly is to prevent such tragedies--Arizona Child Protective Services.

Most wanted to believe Donovan's case was an anomaly, but other than the endings, 7-year old David Ray's case is quite similar.

In David's case, The Weekly was able to piece together a story of a young boy and his two half-brothers who experienced what many who knew them described as "a living hell," before they were removed from the "care" of their mother and her boyfriend.

David is the child of Andy Ray and Denise Hassouneh, who never married. David was born April 16, 1989, in Sierra Vista, after the couple separated.

Hassouneh had two other sons, now 14 and eight, from other relationships.

At the time of David's birth, Ray says he didn't have his life completely together, and so he didn't see his son at first. In 1990, however, he moved to Tucson and met the woman he's with now, and changed his life.

By then, he says, he wanted to have a relationship with his son, and began looking for him. For two years Ray tried to track down David and Hassouneh, finding them twice in California--once they'd been living in a Volkswagen bus, and another time he found them living with a crack user who sold pot for a living. Hassouneh disappeared each time, Ray says.

In 1993 Hassouneh reappeared in Sierra Vista, living in a two-bedroom trailer with four adults and six kids. Ray had some contact with her and the kids, but again, she dropped out of sight.

In 1994, a friend of Ray's gave him Hassouneh's new address in Sierra Vista. By then she'd hooked up with Gerald Guimond, an ex-con with an extensive record in Cochise County. A partial review of his records, contained in three volumes, reveals arrests for disorderly conduct, several DWIs, assault, criminal damage, possession of Marijuana, failure to appear, aggravated assault, probation violation, several domestic violence charges, possession of cocaine, interfering with judicial procedures, and use of a deadly weapon.

Neighbors described Guimond as "always drunk and staggering." But they especially recalled the violence between Hassouneh and Guimond, and her repeated screams, calling for them to call 911. They also recalled Guimond throwing things through windows. Saying they're afraid of Guimond, none of the neighbors wished to be identified.

Nevertheless, Hassouneh insisted Guimond was like a "dad" to her kids.

Although Ray was able to see David some of the time, other times Hassouneh blocked his access. And once, when he did get to see his son, Ray recalls, Guimond threatened him. Hoping to arrange visits with his son, Ray filed for mediation in Sierra Vista. Hassouneh showed up for two sessions, but not a third. Ray filed for--and got--temporary visitation.

On September 4, 1994, Hassouneh refused to let Ray have his regularly scheduled visit with David. Ray called the Sierra Vista Police.

The police report reads: "Hassouneh stated her son was sick and didn't want him to go. I observed the boy and he didn't appear to be sick. I advised that unless she could show me a court order or something to stop the court order in place, she would have to release the boy. I observed the residence to be very dirty with no linen on the boy's bed or pillow. I observed the toilet and area to be dirty with feces in the toilet."

Shortly before that incident, Hassouneh and Guimond had moved into a hotel room with another woman and her three kids. Hotel workers recall them as being "nightmare tenants." They describe broken windows and noisy fights, and once they observed Guimond drag Hassouneh up the stairs by her hair. They said the kids were bedraggled and hungry. One worker described the adults as "dirty, drunk, filthy, dope addicts."

Hotel workers say they called Child Protective Services many times with no response. But CPS did respond when hotel workers found Hassouneh's 13-year-old son Omar taking care of five children, the youngest 18 months, for three days on his own, with no knowledge of how to contact Hassouneh or the other mother. Hotel workers say CPS took the kids temporarily, but gave them back. The hotel evicted them.

Hassouneh's parents became involved, trying to help their grandsons.

They reported an alleged incident to CPS in which they saw Guimond grab David and push him. When the grandfather spoke to Guimond about it, Guimond threw a full bottle of beer at him, hitting him in the chest. Nothing was done.

Hassouneh, Guimond and the three boys moved into a trailer with Guimond's cousin, then shortly thereafter moved to their own trailer. When Ray went to visit David, he says, he saw trash all over the house, trash so high in the yard it had paths through it, broken windows, a broken refrigerator and no water.

Ray called CPS. Neighbors called, too.

Nothing was done.

Ray began reporting to CPS more frequently. During visits David would tell him about Guimond hurting his mom, about spankings for crying and peeing in the bed. David described the boys having their mouths taped shut and having to sleep outside for punishment. Although Ray reported these alleged abuses, there was no response from CPS, he says.

On December 2, 1994, Guimond stabbed his cousin, James R. Price, 31, to death at the trailer. The Sierra Vista Herald reported:

"Gerald Raymond Guimond 34, 225 N. First St., claimed he stabbed his cousin because he thought Price was an intruder breaking into his home. But Guimond's girlfriend told investigating deputies that Guimond threw her out of his house the day before the killing because Guimond was jealous of Price.

"The woman said Guimond told her days before the stabbing that he was 'ready to snap at any time' because Price continuously harassed Guimond. And another man allegedly told investigators Guimond threatened to kill Price just hours before the stabbing."

Guimond was jailed for two days, released and never charged with the slaying. CPS did nothing.

Andy Ray had a scheduled visit with David the day of the killing. He found Hassouneh and the kids at a hotel. He took David and one brother back to Tucson with him. (Another brother went with his grandparents.) Ray says the children were traumatized by the savagery. Hassouneh had taken them back to the trailer after the killing and the boys had hidden behind old cars across the street while she went inside. The boys observed their dog licking up blood from the killing.

Back in Tucson that evening, as Ray was bathing David, he noticed a bruise surrounding a round cut on his son's hand. David said he wasn't supposed to tell what happened, but eventually Ray learned Guimond had hit David with a 2-by-4 with a nail in it. Ray called the Tucson Police Department and the Tucson CPS office. Hassouneh's response, when informed of the injury, was that David was to blame because he moved his hand. Court records state: "The mother is aware of prior disciplines by the boyfriend with various instruments and has not intervened nor indicated an understanding of the potential for physical injury to the children."

AFTER AN EMERGENCY hearing, the three boys were removed from Hassouneh and Guimond's custody and put in a CPS receiving home. Benna Troup of the Cochise County Public Defender's Office was appointed Hassouneh's attorney; Anita Sanchez was appointed the children's attorney. The maternal grandparents were granted temporary custody.

Ray filed for a hearing to get custody of his son.

On December 22 the boys were returned to their mother. The court ordered Guimond to have no contact with the children. According to subsequent court records, this order was violated from December 23 through December 25.

As a result, CPS again removed them from Hassouneh's custody; David stayed with his father, who relocated to Sierra Vista to comply with a court order. David's brothers stayed with their grandparents. Unfortunately, the grandparents soon apparently decided it was too much for them and placed the brothers in foster care. Shortly thereafter, the grandparents simply moved away. (They're still nowhere to be found.)

Meanwhile, CPS assigned caseworker Willa Traynor to the children and wrote a case management plan for them with the goal that they be returned to Hassouneh within six months. They were to receive counseling.

Hassouneh was given a case plan that required her to abstain from substance abuse, learn and demonstrate appropriate parenting skills, as well as the ability to protect the children by providing a home free from abuse or neglect. She was also ordered to undergo therapy.

Hassouneh was allowed to visit with the children on a regular basis. But from day one, reports reveal, she failed to comply with almost all of the stipulations, and she often failed to show up for the visits.

On February 9, 1995, a dependency hearing for the three boys was held in Cochise County. Guimond was called to testify about David's spanking, which led to the boys being taken from their mother. Guimond told the judge, "Sir, your honor, my lawyer told me just to plead the Fifth, that I didn't have to answer anything."

Guimond's criminal record was never brought into evidence. Attorney Troup argued there wasn't enough evidence to remove the children.

When Sanchez, as the attorney for the children, got up to argue, Ray says it became evident she was not their advocate.

According to court records, Sanchez said: "I hate adjudications like this when I am representing the children. Because we always act to protect the children from harm, and I'm uncomfortable when I'm representing the children. To be arguing that perhaps it's not the state's business to be doing that. I am very uncomfortable with this case, and not because I don't believe that Mr. Ray has the best of intentions in the concern for his son. And I think that Mr.--Gerry; I don't remember his last name--Gerry's problem with alcohol is creating a problem for these children. There's no question about that. I believe there was probably a minimal finding of preponderance of the evidence that the specific facts would prove a finding that he (David) is dependent. I just don't think there's anything to support it as to the other children."

Then, as if to cover her own ass, Sanchez added, "Even as I say that, we are in the business of protecting children and being concerned about their welfare and concerned about their safety, and there has been a lot of water under the bridge that we've already heard in other hearings to know that these children are probably at risk and bring to the attention of Child Protective Services a situation that concerns them a great deal. And so I don't want to look like I'm in the business of not wanting to protect the children."

The judge found the children to be "dependent persons under the law of the state of Arizona."

The boys were upset and in a turmoil; Ray complains the CPS office in Sierra Vista did very little for them. It never provided the promised counseling and added little in the way of documentation for their records.

Yet CPS did all it could to help Hassouneh. She was offered psychological screenings and counseling at Coronado Behavioral Health Services. She was put in a shelter for women and encouraged to attend parenting-skills classes. She was scheduled for visits with the boys, with a CPS caseworker transferring the children and supervising the visits; a schedule for her telephone calls to the boys was set up. She was enrolled in a job-training program which also helped her find work and paid her rent for three months.

In June 1995, Hassouneh moved to Tucson, where she requested her case be transferred. It was was, but then Hassouneh abruptly moved back to Sierra Vista.

Then she requested the case be transfered back to Sierra Vista. That was denied. Judge Hector Campoy in Tucson decreed that there be no visits between the children and Gerry Guimond. A new CPS worker, Shari Sand, was assigned and the children were assigned a CASA worker (Court Appointed Special Advocate), Richard Pearson, from Sierra Vista, and a CASA worker in Tucson, Barbara Himebaugh.

"The CASA workers seemed to have the children's best interests always in mind," Ray says. "Words are not adequate to describe the diffrence in care these kids received from the CASA and CPS workers in Tucson, versus what little they got from CPS in Sierra Vista."

Pearson was also invaluable in saving the kids, Ray says. "He was like a private investigator. He interviewed all the neighbors and stuff that CPS would never have done. If it weren't for the CASA program, a lot of evidence would have never come up, because CPS doesn't have the time or the money to do the detective work they should," Ray says. "The CASA program deserves a tremendous amount of credit."

For months, hearing after hearing took place. Hassouneh was virtually unable to comply with any of the stipulations that would have allowed her to have her children returned to her. Some months she didn't visit the children at all, canceling at the last minute. She missed 13 of 16 scheduled phone calls with the kids. And she continued to live in what records describe as "a squalid shed behind an abandoned trailer." Her urine screenings continued to reveal drug abuse.

And she continued to live with Gerry Guimond.

This past May, Ray was granted permanent custody of David. By July, David's brothers were moved to a permanent foster home in Tucson. They visit him on the weekends.

Andy Ray spent more than $10,000 in attorney fees and untold amounts of time in courtrooms and hearings to get custody of his son. He sought and received counseling for David in Tucson and enrolled him in his neighborhood school. An initial report from the boy's teacher reads: "David entered school with a rather shy, reticent personality. He appeared anxious and cautious...Some pre-academic skills were borderline...David has made very steady gains."

Hassouneh has not seen the children in some time; her visits were discontinued due to non-compliance in May.

After many years, David and his half brothers are now in stable situations and have a chance at normal lives--not because Child Protective Services did its job, but because Andy Ray fought for his son at all costs.

How many other children out there won't have the same opportunity?

For years, the State of Arizona has been promising to clean up CPS. It simply must happen. Our children are too valuable to abandon to squalor, hopelessness and murder. TW

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