TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – Accusing a grandmother of lying under oath, a reporter testified Wednesday he was “just doing my job” when he left a courthouse with confidential child-abuse records about a kindergartner who brought heroin to school.
News outlets across the state had been focused on the 5-year-old boy since September 2016 when a Trenton charter school teacher found him playing with a packet of heroin.
The child had another 29 packets of heroin in his lunchbox and was put in foster care a month later after school officials found crack cocaine in his personal folder.
Though the boy’s father, Maurice Leonard, and that man’s girlfriend, Turia Justice, were charged with child endangerment in September, they were out on bail in October.
It was at this point, Trentonian reporter Isaac Avilucea says, that he was approached by the boy’s mother, Tashawn Ford, who was fighting Leonard for custody.
After an Oct. 26 custody hearing, state officials followed Avilucea out of the Mercer County Courthouse carrying child-abuse documents about Leonard and Ford’s son.
Avilucea maintains he was given the file, but state officials claim he illegally cajoled the boy’s mother to hand over the documents.
Facing an injunction by Family Court Judge Craig Corson, Avilucea and the Trentonian ultimately redacted much of the information from the story they published on Leonard and Ford’s custody battle.
Both the reporter and the newspaper are fighting the order in court, however, calling the injunction “Big Brotherly” and an attempt to stymie a free press.
During his testimony Wednesday, Avilucea said Ford was “animated” and “cursing” when she handed him a copy of the child-custody document after the Oct. 26 hearing. “You can have it,” Avilucea remembered the woman saying.
He testified that he made a copy and that a deputy attorney general confronted him when he tried to hand the original back to Ford. Avilucea admitted that he continued walking with his copy after a sheriff’s officer had asked him to stop. “It was a public courthouse … I was just there to do my job,” he testified.
A family friend of Ford’s mostly backed up this account. Darren Green testified that when Avilucea asked Ford if he could make her a copy of the document, Ford simply told him to keep it. Green said he wasn’t sure whether Ford had willingly given Avilucea the document or if he had persuaded her to hand it over.
The boy’s grandmother, Tuesday Ford, testified that it was Avilucea who asked Ford for a copy of the child-custody document. “I said, ‘are you allowed to have it?’” the grandmother said she asked Avilucea after the custody hearing. “He said yes.”
Avilucea told the court, however, that the grandmother’s testimony “100 percent false.”
“All lies,” the reporter later wrote on Twitter.
Tashawn Ford took the Fifth Amendment when called to testify.
The only time she spoke was when her mother was asked to identify if Avilucea was in the courtroom. Tuesday couldn’t identify Avilucea, after which Tashawn blurted out, “He cut his hair off!” Avilucea is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
John Tolleris, the deputy attorney general who had tried to stop Avilucea on Oct. 26, also testified. He quoted a distraught Ford as telling him “they’re going to print it all!” and had asked whether she could sue the Trentonian.