NASHVILLE, TN – No mother should have to choose between her three older kids and the 4-week-old baby DCS took from her in October 2020. But that was the hard choice Abby West had to make.
“I think the goal of giving me an attorney in the divorce was to get me to sign the settlement agreement,” said West, mother of 4. The judge awarded West $5,000 to hire a lawyer and $300/month support during the divorce trial. The agreement West ended up signing is not in line with Tennessee case law that gives parents equal time with their children after a divorce.
But it meant West could start having parenting time with her three older children, so she signed a settlement agreement. She gets them 104 days a year. Her ex-husband has them 261 days.
“Three months later DCS non-suited Lucy’s case,” West told the Tribune. DCS dropped its prosecution of West after snatching her baby and harassing her for 10 months while the divorce was underway. DCS acted like a meat hunter closing in on wounded prey.
When divorcing parents can’t agree on terms and DCS gets involved, it usually takes Mom’s side; sometimes it takes Dad’s; sometimes DCS takes the kids away from both parents. (See https://tntribune.com/when-charges-fly-kids-end-up-in-foster-care/)
The Tribune has reported about DCS manipulation of police, hospitals, judges, and court proceedings in Tennessee Juvenile and District courts. (See https://tntribune.com/black-father-fights-to-be-a-dad/)
In a Montgomery County DCS case, Ralph Ulysses has gotten two judges to recuse themselves because they refused to hear a motion to remove a restraining order that should have been heard by October 2020 and is still in effect. Ulysses has not seen or talked to his daughter since Feb 2021.
He returns to court next month. Ulysses hopes Juvenile Court Judge Wayne Shelton will vacate the restraining order and change the venue to Davidson County. Abby West has already been there and it was no easy walk in the park.
“My divorce and custody battle definitely had an effect on Lucy’s case. That could be why DCS responded so dramatically and rushed in they way they did,” West said.
The DCS case against West started September 11, 2020. DCS investigator Sylvia Vanderbilt went to West’s home in Donelson to tell her traces of methamphetamine were found in Lucy’s umbilical cord.
On October 2, Child Protective Services (CPS) investigator Teena Jones visited West at home. It checked out fine. West peed into a cup and signed an agreement not to be around drug users and to be subject to random drug screens. Jones told West the case would be closed. But it was really just beginning.
On October 5, CPSI Alexandrea Hickson came to the home and Mom peed into another cup. Hickson told her that it was positive for THC. West explained again that CBD would have traces of THC, and you can buy it over the counter as she did, legally.
Sometime between October 2 and October 5, DCS learned West’s partner, Luke Lassiter, had a DCS case in Hickman County. They probably heard about it from Adam West, Abby’s ex. He called DCS the day before Lucy was removed.
Baby Lucy was taken into custody around midnight in a Berry Hill Wendy’s parking lot on October 6, 2020. She was four weeks old.
Family Law Attorney Connie Reguli filmed it. (See https://youtu.be/bTjVf-hgjuE)
“You’re going to see what a real government kidnapping looks like,” Reguli says into her cell phone camera and then walks into the parking lot where several squad cars are blocking West’s car. Lucy’s dad, Luke Lassiter, is standing by his truck.
One by one, Reguli talks to four officers and asks them why they are blocking them in. One of them says it’s a missing child. “She’s not missing. She’s right there with her Mom,” Reguli tells him.
The police got on their phones but couldn’t reach DCS and Reguli tells one of the officers that DCS never called her and she represents Lucy’s Dad, Luke Lassiter. Thirty minutes go by before DCS caseworker Kimberly White shows up with a non-exigent removal order—which means it’s not an emergency. But DCS was obviously in a rush to take the baby.
Reguli gets on the phone with DCS supervisor Sylvia Vanderbilt. She asks her what the allegations are and if DCS held a safety placement meeting with Lucy’s parents. They are required by policy to have one. Vanderbilt hangs up on her.
And then ”under the color of law” baby Lucy is taken into custody. “This is what they do,” Reguli says. “And they get the cops to come out and help them.” The video has had 214,000 views on YouTube
DCS Case Against Lucy’s Mom and Cullen’s Dad: drugs they didn’t take
West once did have a drug problem. She relapsed in 2017 and realized she needed to do something about it. She sent the three kids to their Dad, got clean, and told the Tribune she hasn’t used for three years and has been clean for 10 of the last 15 years.
But she didn’t trust DCS or the lab they used, so she had a hair follicle test done on October 6. A week later it came back negative. By then DCS had already taken Lucy.
“Over the course of the nine months I took 32 tests. They were all negative for drugs. Two were considered positive because of a protein called Creatine was found in two of the samples,” she said.
West disputed the positive findings. She stopped taking CBD for two weeks and took her own test that was negative just a few days before DCS tested her again and they said she was positive. It should have been a moot point because West bought the CBD legally. It has a very small amount of THC in it. Not enough to get you high but enough to show up in a drug screen.
DCS didn’t care. They kept bringing it up over the next few months and Magistrate Carlton Lewis ordered West to take drug tests with Averhealth. She wasn’t taking drugs so slowly West made headway against DCS’s allegations.
Dr. Ann Charvat, West’s Mom, had custody of Lucy. She testified twice at hearings in Juvenile Court. Magistrate Lewis seemed intimidated by her.
Charvat spent a career helping people, has a PhD in sociology, and has been an expert witness in more than 100 capital cases. She is no slouch and Charvat was Lucy’s grandmother. She was not in the least intimidated by Magistrate Lewis. Lewis fought with Charvat and at one point called her a liar.
Given his hostility and obvious bias in favor of DCS, Lewis eventually recused himself in May 2021. On May 18, 2021 Lucy signed the divorce agreement in Circuit Court.
In June, West filed a motion for unsupervised visitation in Juvenile Court so Charvat could go home to Illinois. Lassiter filed a joint discovery motion for West, Charvat, and himself in Davidson County Juvenile Court. Family law attorney and video vigilante Connie Reguli represented Charvat in the matter.
DCS wanted no part of Reguli. She would have cut them into a thousand pieces for repeatedly misleading West and Lassiter, running roughshod over them in four different courtrooms in two different counties, and all the while violating DCS protocols with impunity. DCS can dish it out but they can’t take it.
On July 1, 2021 DCS submitted a motion to Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway to non-suit the case. Calloway granted it. It meant DCS was throwing in the towel and Abby, Luke, and Lucy could finally go home.
In October 2021 West filed a civil rights complaint in federal district court against ten DCS employees, the MNPD, Vanderbilt Medical Center, and Averhealth, the lab-testing company.
Luke Lassiter’s DCS Case Had One Good Judge
Lassiter is appealing his DCS case in Hickman County. He gets his son, Cullen, now 4, every other weekend. He wants him back fulltime. Cullen’s uncle, Grant Crawford, is willing to give Lassiter custody but DCS won’t let him and he can’t get his custody petition heard. Hickman County has just one Juvenile Court judge, Amy Puckett, and she has recused herself from the case.
Lassiter received notice from the Tennessee Supreme Court appointing Judge Douglas Chapman from Maury County to his case. “So right now my custody petition is floating in the wind,” he said.
The case started in November 2019 in Hickman County when Cullen’s maternal grandmother and his Mom’s brother, Grant Crawford, picked up 2-year-old Cullen from daycare while his Mom, Christina Crawford, was at work. They put him in foster care with DCS without talking to Cullen’s Mom or Dad.
They had reason to take such drastic action. Crawford worked but she was a heroin addict. Lassiter had been out of the house for a year and Crawford didn’t let him see Cullen during that time.
“They coerced us in court,” Lassiter said. Cullen’s grandmother didn’t want to become a foster parent. “If you don’t sign temporary legal custody over to Grant, he’ll be placed in a foster home and be lost in the system,” DCS attorney Keller Mizzell told Lassiter.
Somebody in the gaggle of DCS workers gathered outside the courtroom pressuring Lassiter to sign added, “We are going to send him to some foster home, maybe in Memphis.” There’s nothing like a little race-baiting to put the fear of god into a reluctant defendant terrified by what might happen to his child.
DCS took Cullen because his hair follicle tested positive for heroin. But DCS can’t terminate parental rights unless both parents are convicted of severe abuse or neglect. Only Mom used heroin. Lassiter doesn’t. DCS knew that so they framed him for smoking pot while Christina was pregnant with Cullen three years before. They had no evidence but that didn’t stop DCS.
Christina and Cullen had tested positive for THC when he was born in 2017. DCS found the case unsubstantiated and closed it at the time. Three years later, DCS resurrected the “unsubstantiated” finding to file a new petition against Mom for severe abuse and neglect, this time naming Lassiter as a respondent. It was not about the Mom. She was out of the picture. It was about Lassiter.
Lassiter said he was never asked to take a drug test. “There were no allegations against me. Not a single one. But somehow now I’m guilty,” he said.
“I’m a severe child abuser because my son’s Mom smoked a joint while she was pregnant and that’s the allegation I’m fighting in the Court of Appeals,” Lassiter said.
If he ever gets there, it should be easy to show DCS decided he was guilty by association. Juvenile Court Judge Puckett let them get away with that. She forced Lassiter to agree to random drug screens in order to see Cullen every other weekend. They used the same tactic with West. It was unwarranted in both cases.
“I’ve never failed one. I’ve passed very single drug screen they’ve given me, including a nail follicle test,” he said. Even so, DCS wouldn’t let Lassiter visit with Cullen until Circuit Court Judge Michael Spitzer found DCS in contempt. After that he got Cullen every other weekend, and still does.
All too often, however, judges let DCS get away with wrongfully taking children and treating parents with utter contempt. As we have reported, DCS has a presence in every Tennessee county. Judges either cooperate willingly or acquiesce because they are afraid to make waves. Judge Michael Spitzer is one judge who stood up to DCS bullying and found them in contempt.
When a judge holds a private citizen in contempt, they go to jail. When DCS gets found in contempt, they just shrug and keep on snatching babies and terrorizing families. (See https://tntribune.com/dcs-needs-a-major-overhaul/)