Birth dad in custody fight faces allegations

Relates to:
Date: 2007-12-22

Deseret News, The (Salt Lake City, UT)
Author: Amy K. Stewart Deseret Morning News

AMERICAN FORK -- As Christmas draws near and an American Fork couple prepare to celebrate with their adopted baby, allegations are surfacing against the birth father, who is suing for custody.

Court and police documents state birth father Matt Tenneson, 20, of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, was charged with theft and has been investigated for allegations of nonforcible statutory rape.

In an interview Friday with the Deseret Morning News, Tenneson declined to comment on those issues, as advised by his attorney.

LDS Family Services, which handled the adoption, is filing an appeal to try to reverse Idaho Magistrate Robert Burton's ruling that Tenneson has some parental rights.

Idaho Magistrate Barry E. Watson later ruled Tenneson would have temporary primary custody of the baby while Birth mother Cammie Knight would have some visitation.

Knight, 19, of Coeur d'Alene, along with adoptive parents Jed and Cally Nielson, 24 and 26, of American Fork, say they are puzzled by the two rulings since Tenneson didn't declare his paternal rights before the required date.

The Nielsons' attorney received a letter from Tenneson's attorney last weekend, asking the couple to give the baby to Tenneson. But the Nielsons say they are not going to just hand over 5-month-old baby Harvey.

Cally Nielson's father, Flint Stephens, of Highland, says the family has purchased Christmas presents for the baby and they plan to celebrate the holiday together. If the baby went to Idaho for Christmas, "we'd be devastated," Stephens said.

Tenneson said Friday he is the one who is devastated since he won't have his son home with him for Christmas. "I am sad I haven't had him from the start," he added.

Tenneson said he has purchased Christmas gifts of toys, clothes and blankets for his son. "I thought I would have him long before Christmas," he said.

The Nielsons aren't happy to hear baby Harvey could be sent to Tenneson, especially in light of the allegations that have surfaced in the past few months during the court proceedings.

Kootenai County District Court clerks verified Tenneson was charged with misdemeanor petty theft in 2006.

According to an incident report from the Coeur d'Alene police, Tenneson was investigated for allegations of nonforcible statutory rape. The incident, reported Oct. 24, allegedly occurred between Jan. 28 and Feb. 5 with a 16-year-old girl, the report states.

According to Coeur d'Alene police reports, Tenneson stated during a police interview regarding the allegations that he and the girl "smoked approximately two bowls of marijuana in addition to drinking wine."

The police officer in the report stated: "Matt told me he and (the girl) had sexual intercourse. Matt told me he gave her a ride home after having sex."

The report states Tenneson's statement was recorded on a DVD and logged into evidence.

The 16-year-old girl stated in a custody court hearing on Dec. 11 that she believes Tenneson knew how old she was, as he had known her for a long time.

Knight added that Tenneson didn't support her financially during her pregnancy. In fact, she says, she gave him money to pay his rent and to buy cigarettes.

Knight says she still can't believe Watson ruled that Tenneson should have temporary primary custody of the baby. "I don't understand how this can happen," she said.

Knight's attorney, Kacey Wall, said, "He has no business parenting a child."

Tenneson's father disagrees, saying his son has changed a great deal and is ready to handle the responsibility of fatherhood.

"I think he'll make a great father," Dave Tenneson said.

Matt Tenneson said he has a job at Hollywood Video in Coeur d'Alene but is enrolling in culinary school. He has registered for parenting classes. He is now living with his parents. The family has a nursery all ready for the baby, whom Matt Tenneson has named Tyler -- which is the name on his birth certificate.

"I will make a good father," Matt Tenneson said.

Matt Tenneson's mother, Kerrin Tenneson, said Friday that statements from others saying she is the driving force behind her son wanting the baby "are horribly mistaken. That is not a true statement."

Kerrin Tenneson stated in court on Dec. 11 that she believes her son has grown up a lot and that he was very upset at the idea of never seeing his son.

An allegation that Dave Tenneson and Burton are buddies is not true, said Dave Tenneson, who is a juvenile probation officer for Kootenai County.

"My relationship with Judge Burton revolves around me getting detention orders signed by him," Dave Tenneson said. "That is the extent of our relationship. You call that being friends?"

Knight says otherwise. LDS Family Services' attorney asked for Burton to recuse himself. Burton declined to do so.

Burton did not return phone messages left for him from the Deseret Morning News.

Rumors that Burton retired the day after ruling on the Tenneson issue are false. He plans to retire in 2008, possibly in February, according to a Kootenai County District Court officials.

Kootenai County District Court judges have now ordered the custody case to be sealed because it includes parental termination proceedings and, therefore, it can be sealed in accordance with Idaho law.


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