People v. Miriam M. (In re Joseph J.)

Decision Date17 January 2020
Docket NumberNo. 1-19-0305,1-19-0305
Citation444 Ill.Dec. 1,163 N.E.3d 126,2020 IL App (1st) 190305
Parties IN RE JOSEPH J. and A.A., Minors (The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Miriam M., Respondent-Appellant).
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

E. Madeline O'Neill, of Chicago, for appellant.

Kimberly M. Foxx, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Gina DiVito, and Brian A. Levitsky, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

Charles P. Golbert, Public Guardian, of Chicago (Kass A. Plain, of counsel), guardian ad litem.

JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

¶ 1 The State filed separate petitions for wardship over minor children Joseph J. and A.A., who are unrelated but lived in the same home. On the State's motion and over Joseph's parents' objection, the cases were consolidated. In its petition, the State alleged that Joseph was neglected and abused due to substantial risk of injury. The petition was based upon Joseph's mother's failure to protect him from an environment where A.A. was physically abused and another minor child, Steven F., was killed.

¶ 2 At an adjudicatory hearing, the circuit court of Cook County found that the children were physically abused and neglected. The court then held a dispositional hearing, at which time it found respondent Miriam M., Joseph's mother, unable and unfit to care for Joseph and placed him under the guardianship of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). In a separate permanency order entered the same day, the court set a goal of substitute care pending a court determination on termination of parental rights. Miriam now appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County in part and dismiss in part.1

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 4 Miriam is the mother of Joseph, a male minor born in 2014. When Joseph was almost three years old, he lived in an apartment with his father, James, and his father's girlfriend, Joy. Joy's children also lived in the apartment, including three-year-old Steven and 22-month-old A.A. None of Joy's children were related to Joseph or James. Although she did not live there, Miriam also regularly slept over at the apartment occupied by Joy, James, and the children at issue.

¶ 5 On September 13, 2017, three-year-old Steven was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead. The medical examiner determined that Steven, who was covered with marks and bruises, died of blunt force trauma to the abdomen and that his cause of death was homicide. A.A. was also examined at the hospital, and the hospital staff discovered bruises on her face

and all over her body that were the result of physical abuse.

¶ 6 Following Steven's death, Miriam, James, and Joseph moved around for a few days and evaded the police. Meanwhile, Joy was charged with first degree murder for the death of Steven.2

¶ 7 The State filed two separate petitions for wardship of Joseph and A.A. The petition regarding Joseph alleged that he was neglected and at a substantial risk of physical injury due to an environment that was "injurious to his welfare." The petition noted that Joseph had been residing in the same home as Steven, who had just "died of blunt force trauma," and as A.A., who "was found to have multiple bruising on various places all over her body * * * which were the result of physical abuse." The petition additionally noted that Miriam had one prior "indicated report" for controlled substance in a newborn.

¶ 8 The State filed a motion to consolidate the two wardship petitions regarding Joseph and A.A. The State argued that even though the two children are not related, their cases arose from the same set of facts where they both lived in the same environment. Miriam objected to the State's motion to consolidate the petitions. She argued that the State was trying to confuse the responsibilities of herself and James with the responsibilities of A.A.'s parents.

¶ 9 The trial court granted the State's motion to consolidate. The court stated:

"First of all, these cases are not about the parents. These cases are about the children. * * * [C]ounsel concedes that the minor Joseph lived in the same environment as [A.A.] and the deceased child. The facts that would come out during the trial of these two cases are strikingly similar. It would be the same witnesses testifying about the same environment, the environment that this Court is being asked to analyze to determine whether it's an injurious environment. For these two children, it's essentially the same environment. And I am not going to confuse the relative responsibilities of the parents as to these two children. But for purposes of judicial economy, I think the motion to consolidate is well-founded."

¶ 10 An adjudication hearing commenced on the wardship petitions for Joseph and A.A.3 DCFS Child Protection Investigator Elisa Corona testified that she was assigned to investigate the death of Steven, as well as to investigate allegations that A.A. had been abused and Joseph was at risk of harm. As part of her investigation, she met with Miriam and Joseph at the police station on September 18, 2017. She characterized Miriam's interactions with Joseph as "positive" and did not see any cuts, welts, or bruises on Joseph. Miriam told Investigator Corona that she did not live at James and Joy's apartment but that she was there "all the time" and she slept there several nights during the week. Miriam did not allow Joy to watch Joseph because "she didn't like the way Joy talked to her children," she saw Joy hit her children, and it was "normal" to hear screams coming from the bedroom Joy shared with her children. When asked about disciplining Joseph, Miriam said that she and James would yell at him, slap his hand, and use a belt on his buttocks.

¶ 11 Miriam told Investigator Corona that in the month leading up to his death, Steven looked pale and vomited a lot. The evening before Steven died, Miriam was not at the apartment, but she did video chat with James and Joseph. During the video chat, she could hear screams in the background but that was "not unusual." She also saw bruises on A.A.'s face during the video chat.

¶ 12 Miriam admitted that she evaded the police after Steven died. She was afraid that DCFS would take Joseph. Following her conversation with Miriam, Investigator Corona decided to take protective custody of Joseph.

¶ 13 Elk Grove Village Police Detective Veronica Rohman testified next. On September 14, 2017, Detective Rohman interviewed Joy. A video recording of the interview was admitted into evidence. During the interview, Joy admitted to hitting A.A. but only on her buttocks and hands. She suggested that the marks and bruises on A.A.'s face were all from accidents. She also told Detective Rohman that James could be excessive when disciplining the children. For example, James would discipline Steven when he had potty-training issues by making him do exercises or striking him on the buttocks.

¶ 14 In her videotaped interview, Joy stated that about two weeks before his death, Steven began vomiting a lot. She took him to see a doctor, but the doctor did not provide any treatment. She could not explain why the doctor's office did not have any documentation for the visit. Steven was "back to normal" until the day before he died; he then began complaining that his stomach hurt and had difficulty eating solid foods. The morning that he died, Steven woke up crying and covered in his own feces. Joy tried to wash Steven off in the shower, but he fainted. James then came home, saw that Steven was unconscious, and drove them to the hospital. James disappeared after dropping Joy and Steven off at the hospital. Steven later died.

¶ 15 After taking a break during her videotaped interview, Joy admitted that she lied about taking Steven to the doctor because she did not want to get into trouble. She also changed her story regarding the morning Steven died. She said that she came home from work and discovered James running water over Steven in the shower because he had just defecated on himself. Steven was unconscious. She did not ask James what happened, but she took Steven to the hospital. She said that she knew it was James who fatally hit Steven in the stomach and that she would not protect him anymore. James told her, "[D]on't tell [the police] I was ever alone with the kids in the morning."

¶ 16 Elk Grove Village Police Detective Michael McIntyre also testified. He interviewed James twice, on September 17 and 18, 2017. Video recordings of both interviews were admitted into evidence. In his videotaped interview, James denied ever hurting Steven or A.A., but he admitted to knowing that Joy repeatedly hit her children with a belt. He stated that Joy had recently "whooped" Steven and A.A. He explained that his method of disciplining Joseph was a "scare tactic." He would sometimes hit Joseph with his hand but never with a belt.

¶ 17 James stated that in the days before Steven died, he was vomiting a lot. Steven deteriorated over time, moving "slower" and laying down often. On the morning that Steven died, James was heading out the door to work when he heard Joy make an outcry. He went back into the apartment and found Joy holding Steven, who was unconscious, and running water over him in the shower. Steven was completely naked and James did not see any marks on his body. He did notice that Steven had defecated all over himself, though. James then drove Steven and Joy to the hospital. He dropped them off and then returned to the apartment for the other children. He later learned that Steven had died. He blamed Joy for Steven's death and called her a "monster."

¶ 18 Following Steven's death, James avoided talking to the police because he had an outstanding warrant. He, Miriam, and Joseph moved around for a few days to evade the police and DCFS. James admitted to instructing Joy to tell the police he had not been alone with the children in...

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  • People v. A.G. (In re L.S.)
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • January 27, 2022
    ...by the general rules of civil practice as expressed in the provisions of the Code ( 735 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. (West 2020)). In re Joseph J. , 2020 IL App (1st) 190305, ¶ 26, 444 Ill.Dec. 1, 163 N.E.3d 126. Under section 2-615 of the Code, the sufficiency of the petition may be challenged by ......

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