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Division of Youth and Family Services v. N.R.P

July 1, 2011


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County, Docket Nos. FN-08-15-11 and FN-04-57-10.

Per curiam.



Submitted June 2, 2011 - Decided

Before Judges Fuentes, Ashrafi and Newman.

Defendant N.R.P. is the mother of B.S., a girl who is now five years old. Defendant appeals from the order of the Family Part finding that she abused and neglected B.S., principally because of her substance problem and dysfunctional lifestyle. We affirm.

I By way of background, defendant is married to B.S.'s father D.S. B.S. was born nearly five years after defendant married D.S. Defendant also has an older son, S.B. Jr., who resides with his father, S.B. Sr.

The incident that triggered the intervention of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or Division) occurred on July 1, 2009, when B.S. was three years old. On that date at 2:06 a.m., Gloucester City Police Sergeant Michael Morrell responded to a domestic violence call involving defendant and D.S. According to Morrell, D.S. appeared intoxicated and was "rambling on about how he had made comments on his radio show" that defendant did not like. Morrell found defendant on the side of the house; she was also intoxicated and incoherent. Morrell found B.S. in the house sleeping. There were no other adults in the home. Because the child appeared to be calm and unscathed by her parents' condition, Morrell decided to simply warn defendant and D.S. to remain inside their house and keep their voices low as not to bother their neighbors or wake their daughter.

Approximately thirteen minutes later, Morrell returned to defendant's home, again responding to calls of domestic violence. Defendant and D.S. were arguing loudly. Morrell again cautioned them to keep their voices down to avoid waking B.S. They did not heed the officer's admonition. In light of this, Morrell informed defendant and D.S. that he would be reporting the incident to DYFS, which he did upon returning to the police station.

Before anyone from the Division arrived, Morrell and two other officers again responded to defendant's residence based on complaints of domestic violence. D.S. met the officers outside and informed them that defendant was inside the house "going crazy." Patrolman L. Little went inside the house to investigate. He observed that defendant had a "small laceration on her lower lip" which she claimed was caused when D.S. pushed her while they were arguing. Despite defendant's unwillingness to file charges, give a written statement, or seek a temporary restraining order, the officers arrested D.S. based on defendant's visible injuries.*fn1 D.S. was subsequently released on his own recognizance.

Two Division Special Response Unit (SPRU) investigators arrived at defendant's residence at approximately 3:50 a.m. and found no one at home. They returned an hour later and questioned defendant about the incidents that prompted the police's involvement. Defendant told the investigators that after the police arrived for the first time, D.S. became angry and "slammed [her head] against the wall two times," causing the injury to her lip. However, defendant denied any prior incidents of domestic violence.

The police brought D.S. back to the residence while the SPRU investigators questioned defendant. D.S. denied any domestic violence, but acknowledged that he and his wife argue frequently. During this interview, defendant interrupted the investigators to argue with D.S. and alleged she had documents to prove he abused her in 2007. The couple continued to argue with each other while the SPRU investigators were present.

The investigators informed defendant and D.S. that one of the two had to leave the home that night (actually it was in the early morning hours). Defendant volunteered to leave, but the person she called to pick her up never arrived. Given defendant and D.S.'s demeanor during the time the Division was investigating this incident, the investigators decided to remove B.S. from the home to avoid compromising the child's safety.

When informed of this decision, defendant and D.S. became more agitated and told the SPRU investigators that they would not permit them to take their daughter. The investigators sought police assistance to effectuate a safe and orderly removal of the child. Once the police arrived the investigators attempted, without success, to reach family members who might be willing to take temporary custody of the child. As the SPRU investigators were taking the child ...

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