Tamia's adoptive parents arrested

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-22

Baby at center of custody dispute between Harvey woman, Utah adoption agency

Chris Hack
Daily Southtown

In a bombshell twist in the legal battle over the controversial adoption of a Harvey girl, 6-month-old Baby Tamia's adoptive parents in Utah were arrested late last week on felony drug charges, attorneys said Monday.

Tamia has been in the custody of Utah's Department of Child and Family Services since her adoptive parents' arrest March 17 on charges of possession of cocaine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia, according to Utah Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Nichols.

The child is at the center of a bitter custody battle with her birth mother and grandmother on one side and the Utah adoption agency Cherished Child on the other. Tamia's grandmother Maria McDonald and mother, Carmen McDonald, of Harvey, demanded the baby back in a lawsuit alleging the agency used pressure tactics to rush the adoption through.

Carmen McDonald, who has a history of mental illness, flew with then-3-month-old Tamia to Utah on a ticket bought by the adoption agency -- and within 24 hours was back in Chicago without the baby.

In Utah, Carmen McDonald was running a 102-degree fever, suffering from severe post-partum depression and crying uncontrollably, her attorneys say. When she told the agency she changed her mind about the adoption, the agency's director allegedly threatened to leave her stranded in Utah.

Attorneys for Cherished Child dispute that McDonald was mentally ill and said she wanted to sign the forms relinquishing her parental rights.

Lawyers for McDonald have noted that state officials in Illinois and Utah have since agreed the adoption did not follow proper procedures. Attorneys said child-protection agencies in both states should have been notified before the adoption went through, and in Illinois, a 72-hour cooling-off period would have been required.

And last week, Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Murphy ruled the adoption was illegal -- but did not immediately order the child's return. That was scheduled to be debated at a hearing before Murphy on Wednesday.

Attorneys for the adoption agency had said they would switch the focus from the legality of the adoption to what's in Tamia's best interest. But Robert Fioretti, an attorney for Carmen McDonald and her mother, indicated Monday that the stunning new development in the case means he'll do the same.

"They're concerned with the welfare of Tamia -- they want to know she's in a safe environment," Fioretti said of the baby's natural family. "They're upset; they're very upset."

The couple who adopted Tamia have been identified only as John and Jane Doe in court papers surrounding the lawsuit. Nichols refused to release their names Monday, noting that while records show they were arrested for illegal drugs last week, they have not yet been formally charged and have since been released from Salt Lake County's jail.

After their arrest, Tamia was placed into emergency state care "because there was no one else suitable to take custody at that point," Nichols said. Because the adoption had not been finalized under Utah law, Tamia was still in the custody of the adoption agency.

"This is fine with me because I wanted the child away from these parents," Fioretti said of the temporary state placement. "We didn't want to get into a jurisdictional fight, but now we may not."

Nichols said that because Tamia's custody is disputed, Utah's DCFS plans on petitioning a judge there to keep the child in state care at the so-called Christmas Box House, an emergency temporary children's shelter in Salt Lake City.

"We have natural parents who need to be notified, prospective adoptive parents, an adoption agency and our agency," Nichols said. "Everyone gets involved."

Nichols said she expects that a hearing scheduled for today in Utah on the child's placement will be postponed until after the Cook County court hearing Wednesday in the disputed adoption. Judge Murphy said at last week's hearing he hoped the adoption case would be resolved by the end of this week.

"The family is very distraught," McDonald family spokesman Sean Howard said of Tamia's mother and grandmother. "But with this new issue, we're now more confident than ever that Judge Murphy will order the child back to Chicago."

Contributing: Jonathan Lipman

Chris Hack may be reached at chack@dailysouthtown.com or (708) 633-5984.

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