On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division - Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FN-12-162-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 26, 2009
Before Judges Lisa and Baxter.
Defendant, J.S., appeals from the November 19, 2008 order of the Family Part in which the judge found that J.S. abused A.G, his stepson, then age fourteen, in violation of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21.*fn1
On appeal, J.S. argues that the trial court erred because its ruling was not supported by substantial and credible evidence and because the alleged abuse was merely corporal punishment that did not rise to the level of abuse and neglect, as defined in N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21. J.S. further argues that the removal of A.G. by the Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS" or "the Division") did not comport with the statute. We reject these claims and affirm.
On November 15, 2007, A.G. was getting ready for school when his stepfather, J.S., began to argue with him over the belt he was wearing. After A.G. responded, J.S. "jumped up, got in [his] face, took [him] by [his] shirt and threw [him] up against the wall...." When his grandmother, M.G., tried to intercede, J.S. threw her to the ground. J.S. then slapped A.G. in the face, causing his glasses to be thrown from his face. A.G.'s mother, M.G.S., apparently did nothing to halt this incident. After the incident, A.G. described his injuries as pain at the back of his head and sides of his face, and two scratches on his face.
The incident of November 15, 2007 was apparently not the first time J.S. had physically abused A.G. A.G. described an occasion when J.S. punched him in the stomach and another occasion when J.S. slapped him in the face.
The November 15, 2007 incident was reported to the North Brunswick Police Department that morning. Officer Vallese and Patrolman Frangello responded to the domestic violence call of a father hitting a child. Upstairs, Officer Vallese observed M.G. on the floor, apparently suffering from a heart attack and/or anxiety attack with M.G.S. attending to her. He also observed J.S. and A.G. Officer Vallese interviewed M.G.S. and Patrolman Frangello spoke to J.S. Vallese examined A.G., looking at his face and upper body and checking for bumps and bruises. He observed nothing "out of the ordinary." He did not look under A.G.'s shirt and did not interview A.G. After this examination and confirmation that the information obtained from M.G.S. and J.S. matched, the officers determined there were no physical signs of injury and "'no assault took place.'"
Afterward, A.G.'s aunt, R.G., and his grandmother drove him to school. After his grandmother contacted DYFS about the incident, caseworker Jamilla Robinson was assigned to investigate and drove to A.G.'s school to interview him. M.G., R.G., and family friends, P.W. and N.F., also came to A.G.'s school to recount the incident.
Robinson and another DYFS worker, Sharliz Roberts, interviewed A.G. alone. During this interview, A.G. told Robinson that J.S. "choked him and threw him to the wall." Robinson observed two "abrasions" or "small scratches" on A.G.'s cheek and redness around his neck. A.G. told Robinson that this was not the first time J.S. had abused him, and also informed her that his mother had abused him, including hitting him once with an extension cord. A.G. reported that he was afraid of J.S.; he was not afraid of M.G.S. but felt that she could not protect him from J.S.
After consulting with her supervisors, Robinson determined because of "the marks that [A.G.] did have and the fact that [he] indicated that he was fearful and felt like his mother couldn't protect him" that A.G. was "not safe." DYFS instituted an emergency removal pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.29 and left written notice at M.G.S. and J.S.'s home. DYFS took A.G. to a medical facility for a pre-placement ...