JACKSON, Miss. (CN) – A Zapotecan woman from Oaxaca claims Mississippi state officials and a hospital’s “patient advocate” conspired to take away her newborn daughter “to place the infant in the custody of a white local attorney couple who were seeking to adopt and who frequently practiced before the same judge who sanctioned the removal.”
In her federal complaint, Cirila Baltazar Cruz, a Chatino (Zapotec) Indian who “speaks limited Spanish and virtually no English,” claims the Mississippi Department of Human Services conspired with the Singing River Hospital and “took advantage of (her) indigence, inability to speak or understand English, and lack of familiarity with the U.S. legal system in order to attempt to remove R.J.M.B. [her baby] permanently from her mother.”
Baltazar Cruz, who has the equivalent of a first-grade education, claims the Mississippi Department of Human Services and one of its employees conspired with the Singing River Health System and two of its employees to “effectuate a nonconsensual adoption” by providing “deliberately false information” about her that caused her to lose custody of her daughter for more than a year.
The mother claims that Singing River Hospital and Mississippi DHS refused to provide her with a Chatino-speaking interpreter while she was in the hospital and when her second cousin offered to translate, defendants’ employees told him to “keep his mouth shut” and then kicked him out of her room.
Baltazar claims that Singing River Hospital’s “patient advocate,” defendant Abigail Medina, told her second cousin that Baltazar admitted she had traded sex for housing and intended to give the baby up for adoption. Baltazar claims she never said anything of the sort. She adds: “Medina’s fabricated allegations and willful misrepresentations to MDHS set in motion a chain of events that she knew or reasonably should have known would lead to the deprivation of plaintiffs’ substantive due proves rights to family integrity. Defendant Medina’s reporting of known falsehoods to MDHS, which initiated unjustified intervention in plaintiffs’ family life, was arbitrary and egregious.”
Baltazar claims that defendant Vicki Hayes, a DHS caseworker, and her supervisor, defendant Ralph Matthews, with the Jackson County DHS, “refused to conduct any independent investigation into these obviously flawed allegations before removing R.J.M.B. from her mother’s custody.”
The complaint continues: “In violation of plaintiffs’ due process rights, defendants Hayes and Mathews continued to forcibly separate R.J.M.B. from her mother despite their awareness that the original allegations against plaintiff Baltazar Cruz were false. Defendants Hayes, Mathews, and Medina, in concert with the Youth Court judge and the foster parents, manipulated the child welfare system in at attempt to deny plaintiffs equal protection of the laws and to effectuate a nonconsensual adoption. Defendants’ arbitrary and oppressive actions caused Ms. Baltazar Cruz and her daughter to be separated for over a year, resulting in significant trauma and damage to their familial relationship.”
Baltazar claims the hospital and its employees would not let her see her newborn baby and told her she would not be permitted to take her daughter home. She claims that upon being discharges from the hospital, Medina told her and her cousin to check into a Salvation Army shelter for the night and return the next day. She says that when they arrived at the hospital the next morning, they were told the baby was no longer there.
Baltazar claims that her daughter was given to Douglas and Wendy Tynes, a local white couple, who took the newborn girl home. She claims this violates state law, which requires that when MDHS “takes custody of a child, it is required to give first priority in placement to the child’s relatives.”
Baltazar claims MDHS made no attempt to contact any of her relatives. She says that during the yearlong separation from her daughter, She was allowed to see her child just four times, for one-hour visits, and always in the presence of (nonparties) Douglas and Wendy Tynes.
According to the 36-page federal complaint, Baltazar was finally reunited with her daughter after a ruling from the Mississippi Youth Court, but she was “deprived of the chance to see her daughter grow her first tooth, learn to crawl and utter her first words.”
She adds that after the final hearing, “the Youth Court judge entered a sweeping ‘gag’ order against all parties and witnesses to the case, prohibiting the disclosure of the facts of the Youth Court case. This ordered was entered over the strenuous objection of Ms. Baltazar Cruz, who sought leave to speak truthfully about her own experiences in the case. Ms. Baltazar Cruz, on her own behalf and as sole legal custodian of her daughter, has appealed that order to the Mississippi Supreme Court and contends that, under the circumstances of that case, the gag order is unconstitutional.”
Baltazar’s attorney adds, however, that “out of an abundance of caution,” significant portions of Baltazar’s story have been redacted in the complaint.
She seeks punitive damages for malicious prosecution and conspiracy to violate her civil and constitutional rights, and actual violations of her civil and constitutional rights.
She claims the defendants failed to investigate the false allegations against her, refused to communicate with her about her daughter, denied her access to hearings and reported her to immigration authorities, all in an attempt to separate her permanently from her daughter.
She adds: “Defendants’ actions in separating Ms. Baltazar Cruz and R.J.M.B. for over a year shock the conscience.”
Baltazar Cruz is represented by Vanessa Carroll with the Southern Poverty Law Center of Jackson, and its Immigrant Justice Project in Atlanta.