Pair charged in abuse case might see kids

Date: 2004-07-28

The Jackson Sun

TRENTON A ruling in Juvenile Court on Tuesday opened the door for a couple charged with child abuse and neglect to visit at least some of the 18 children removed from their home.

Attorneys for Tom and Debbie Schmitz sought visitation rights for them in Gibson County Juvenile Court, where a temporary restraining order had prevented them from having any contact with the children.

Judge Robert Newell has allowed visitation if guardians for the children, the Department of Children's Services and the Schmitzes' attorneys can work out an agreement, according to Michael Robbins of Memphis, Debbie Schmitz's attorney.

The case was continued to Sept. 2 in Juvenile Court. There is still a hearing pending on a dependent neglect motion DCS filed against the Schmitzes.

"If the guardians can't come to a decision, we would have to bring it back in front of the judge for him to decide," said Didi Christie, a DCS staff attorney.

"I think it's fair based on the testimony of expert witnesses and their recommendations," Christie said of the judge's decision. "I think it's safe. I think it's appropriate.

"Rather than making a blanket decision applying to all of the children, I think it was very sensitive of the judge to approach it this way."

The DCS removed the children from the home in June.

The 18 children are divided among five guardians. They represent the children and are their voice in court, Christie said. They're interested in the children and what they want and will make sure that what's done is in their best interest, she added.

Christie believes the Schmitzes will be able to see at least some of the children under supervision, she said.

Both Robbins and Tom Schmitz's attorney, Frank Deslauriers of Covington, filed motions Monday morning to dismiss the criminal charges against the Schmitzes in Gibson County General Sessions Court.

The Schmitzes will have a preliminary hearing on the charges Aug. 17.

Robbins' motion argues that the affidavits of complaint in support of arrest warrants don't allege criminal offenses, according to the document.

Deslauriers states in his motion that the "affidavit of complaint does not recite facts that indicate any harm or injury occurred to any child or that any child's health or welfare was adversely affected," according to the document. "This is an essential element of the crime charged and is not alleged."

The Schmitzes also filed a joint motion to suppress evidence seized in what they believed to be an unlawful search and for the return of property seized.

Robbins allowed Debra Schmitz to speak briefly with reporters but only about the judge's decision and the opportunity she had to see her and Tom Schmitz's biological son, 14-year-old Mackenzie.

Some of the children were in court Tuesday.

Debra Schmitz said she was "elated to see" her son and pleased "that the judge ruled that we will be able to see our other children, hopefully, soon."

She hugged her adult sons, Mitchell and Zachary, outside the courtroom. Mitchell is Debra's biological son. Zachary is an adopted son. The two wore yellow ribbons around their arms to show support for the family.

Other family and friends also sported yellow ribbons pinned to their clothes or tied around the neck of a plush Barney, the purple dinosaur TV character loved by many preschoolers.

Christie was not certain how many of the children taken from the Schmitzes' home were in court Tuesday. But she said all those 12 and older have a right to attend any hearing in which they're involved.

The expert witnesses who testified were psychologists and social workers who have done some preliminary evaluations of the children.

One recommendation they made was that someone do counseling with "some of the children with more needs and some of the non-verbal children" to determine where they are in wanting to see the Schmitzes, Christie said.

"That will be done," she added. "Any recommendation made by the people evaluating the children will be followed."

The DCS has said from the start of the case that it did not place with the Schmitzes any of the children who were removed from their home in June.

But Deslauriers pointed out Tuesday that the DCS had placed one child in the Schmitz home for a short time on Jan. 12. The child was no longer at the Schmitz home at the time of their arrest.

DCS had removed the child from an abusive situation and placed the child temporarily with the Schmitzes, Deslauriers said.

"From my understanding, before this, they'd checked the Schmitzes out," he added. "They have to."

Christie said she was aware of that incident but personally didn't know much about it, adding she took over Gibson County in February. She did reiterate that the DCS did not place any of the 18 children who were removed from the Schmitzes.

Tonya Smith-King, 824-3640

What to know nTom and Debbie Schmitz will have a preliminary hearing on child abuse and neglect charges on Aug. 17 in Gibson County General Sessions Court.

A case pending in Gibson County Juvenile Court has been continued to Sept. 2.


Pound Pup Legacy