IN THE INTEREST OF K.P., Minor Child, D.F., Father, Appellant, N.P., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Deborah F.
Minot, District Associate Judge.
and father appeal from an order terminating their parental
rights pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 232 (2017). AFFIRMED ON
E. Strain Linder of Bray & Klockau, Iowa City, for
C. Pavelich of Spies, Pavelich & Foley, Iowa City, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Anthony A. Haughton of Linn County Advocate Office, Cedar
Rapids, guardian ad litem for minor child.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and
mother and father separately appeal the termination of their
parental rights in their child, K.P. On appeal, the mother
contends termination is inappropriate due to the strength of
the parent-child bond. The father challenges the sufficiency
of the evidence supporting the statutory ground for
termination, requests an additional six months to work toward
reunification, and argues termination is not in the
child's best interest.
child at issue almost died while in the care of the mother.
The record reflects Najah and Devonte are K.P.'s
biological parents. K.P. was born five weeks early and spent
the first twelve days of his life in the hospital due to low
birth weight, respiratory problems, feeding problems, and
other issues resulting from prenatal drug and alcohol
exposure. After K.P. was discharged from the hospital, Najah,
her paramour Frank, and K.P. briefly lived with Najah's
friend Henrietta until they went to stay with a man named
Anthony. On the second day of their stay with Anthony, first
responders were dispatched to the apartment after receiving a
911 call the baby was coughing up blood. K.P. was transported
to the hospital. X -rays revealed air in his abdomen. Tests
revealed injuries to his tonsil and soft palate. Doctors
determined K.P. had "air filled neck and chest spaces
outside of the airway and significant bleeding . . . from an
unknown mechanism of injury." One doctor described the
infant as having a "stomach full of blood."
Emergency surgery revealed K.M. suffered "three parallel
sharp cuts found through the soft tissues of the throat, one
in the soft palate, one dividing the tonsil partially from
its bed and one diving into the posterior pharyngeal wall
down deeply in the throat into the hypopharynx, the lower
throat below the tonsils leading to the esophagus." The
injuries were not caused "by any tool used in routine
baby care." They were "consistent with injury from
a sharp weapon, such as a knife. It could not have been a
single, accidental penetration with three vertical swipes in
the throat." Any one of the injuries "could easily
have caused death" by blood loss. The surgeon concluded:
"I cannot come up with a plausible instrument of injury;
however it is, in my well trained and expert opinion, clearly
nonaccidental trauma, and consistent with an intent to
kill." K.P. remained in the pediatric intensive care
unit (PICU) for approximately two weeks and was then
discharged to foster care. At the time of the injury, K.P.
was twenty-five days old.
caused the injury to the child remains unresolved. A hospital
social worker met with Najah and Frank to explain the
child's injuries. During the discussion with the social
worker, Najah said, "Nobody could have hurt him because
only [Frank and I] care for [K.P.]. Nothing has ever gone in
his mouth except for his bottle and the blue bulb suction
when he needed it." The social worker noted Najah denied
that any other individuals had cared for K.P. since his
discharge from the NICU. The police executed a search warrant
on the home. They found nothing of investigatory
significance. First responders reported they did not observe
any instrument at the home that could have caused K.P.'s
injury. According to our record, no one has been charged with
any crime related to the potentially lethal incisions to
K.P.'s mouth and throat.
criminal action was not taken, protective measures were
taken. The Iowa Department of Human Services (IDHS) took
prompt action in response to the injury. IDHS removed K.P.
from Najah's care the day after K.P. was taken to the
hospital. K.P. was placed in foster care. IDHS initiated
services for Najah and Frank. Najah and Frank were involved
with IDHS and Family Safety, Risk, and Permanency (FSRP)
services through Four Oaks. Najah informed the service
providers the child's father was Devonte, but she called
him "unfit, " stating he had substance-abuse and
mental-health issues and had "tried to kill" her.
She informed providers she had a civil domestic abuse
no-contact order in place against Devonte.
matter came on for a removal hearing in March 2016. All
parties stipulated to continued removal. At the hearing, the
juvenile court learned Frank had visited K.P. in the hospital
by falsely claiming to be the child's father. In
response, the juvenile court entered a no-contact order,
prohibiting Frank from having contact with the child. Devonte
was present at the removal hearing, but he did not
acknowledge paternity. The court denied Devonte's
visitation request until paternity was established.
Thereafter, Devonte was arrested for violating the domestic
abuse no-contact order when he went to the hospital to visit
K.P. and had contact with Najah. Devonte became very agitated
in court and was escorted out of the courtroom by several
deputies. He was later found in contempt of court and
sentenced to serve thirty days in jail.
April 2016, the parties stipulated to the adjudication of the
child as a child in need of assistance pursuant to Iowa Code
section 232.2(6)(b) and (c)(2) (2016). Najah was homeless and
unemployed. She had not completed a substance-abuse
evaluation. She remained involved with Frank although she
continued to misrepresent the same. Both IDHS and FSRP
workers had asked her if she had any other information about
the precipitating incident with K.P. and she had denied
having any additional information. The court authorized
visitation with Devonte.
dispositional hearing was held in May 2016. All parties
agreed K.P. should remain in foster care. The court noted it
was "highly unlikely" the child would be returned
to Najah's care "until it is known how this child
was injured and who is responsible." The next day, Najah
and her foster mother, Cleo, appeared at the police
department. They spoke to the officer investigating
K.P.'s injuries. They advanced various theories, which
are summarized in the officer's report:
Najah said she, [Frank], [Henrietta], and Henrietta's
three-year-old daughter [J.] arrived at the . . . apartment
on [the day in question] at approximately 5:00 p.m. Najah
said Henrietta left the apartment after 11:00 p.m. Najah said
once Henrietta left, was the first time [K.P.] had ever been
left in her and Frank's care since he came home from the
hospital. Najah said up until that point [K.P.] was cared for
by Henrietta. Najah said she and Henrietta recently got into
a fight and no longer speak to each other. Najah said she
thinks whatever happened to [K.P.] had to have happened at
Henrietta's house, because it did not happen at the . . .
apartment. Najah said she suspects Henrietta knows what
happened to K.P. because she was telling people his throat
was cut before she even knew it.
Cleo proceeds to tell me that her son, [Travis], told her he
had a conversation with Henrietta at the hospital. Cleo said
Travis told her that Henrietta said her daughter [J.] might
have caused the injury to [K.P.]. Cleo said Travis told her
that Henrietta told him [J.] was left alone in the bedroom
with [K.P.] at the . . . apartment on [the day in question].
[K.P.] started crying at this time, and none of the adults
leave the living room to go check on him. Henrietta just
yells back at [J.] to put his pacifier back into his mouth.
Najah states during this time [J.] had a sucker on a stick
she was eating. Cleo said she believes [J.] shoved her sucker
in [K.P.'s] mouth, causing his injuries. Cleo goes on to
say [J.] has been known to stick candy into other kids'