"For the least of them..."
The civil hearings surrounding the Tyler family of Major County took a dramatic turn last week when a Liberian born attorney stepped forward to represent the family's adopted daughters.
The Tyler parents, Ardee and Penny Sue Tyler, face one felony count each of child abuse, while the couple's adult son, Ashton Tyler, is charged with one felony count of rape by instrumentation. The state's charges allege that the crimes were committed against the second oldest of five girls adopted from Liberia in 2005.
Nathania Dellare Tyler, the Tylers' adult daughter, has also been charged with one misdemeanor charge of assault and battery for allegedly hitting her adopted sister in the back of the head.
The pending civil action involves the four remaining minor girls, who continue to reside with the Tylers in their home west of Fairview.
Local activists have pursued the case for more than a year, attending court hearings and keeping the case in the public eye. Their forces were augmented last week when attorney Melvin Johnson offerd his services in the case free of charge, or pro bono.
Johnson works as a trial attorney in the Atlanta, Ga. area and serves as municipal court judge in the Atlanta suburb of Lithonia, Ga. Johnson stressed that he is acting as a private pro bono attorney, and that he is not affilliated with any organization in his work on the Tyler case.
Johnson's ties to the Tyler case go beyond the legal realm, as he was born and raised to his teen years in Liberia. And that background, said Johnson, gives him some unique insight into the circumstances surrounding the case of the Tylers' adopted girls.
"This case is very interesting to me on many fronts. . . and I am uniquely qualified to listen to both sides," said Johnson last Thursday. His initial interest in the Tyler case came when a colleague, who was familiar with his pro bono legal work on behalf of the underprivileged, brought the case to his attention. "Being a father myself I can't put into words the thoughts that went through my head when I read about this case," said Johnson.
Johnson traveled to Fairview last week to meet with interested community members, and rally support for the Tyler children in the civil proceedings. The civil action in question, according to Johnson, is a pending deprivation proceeding centered on the four adopted Tyler girls. "Those proceedings will ultimately decide what is best for the children, and there's a lot of sentiment in this case that the proceedings should focus on custody, on whether or not the children should stay in the Tyler household," said Johnson last week.
In advance of those proceedings Johnson met with 18 members of the community at the home of Gary Payne and Donna Payne of Fairview last Thursday. "I came here to gather the locals, to ask that you appeal to your neighbors, your pastors and your friends to get involved in this case," said Johnson. "We have a great legal system in this country and when people get involved in a case like this the individuals entrusted with making the decisions usually make the right decisions," he added.
Ultimately, said Johnson, public pressure does weigh in on decisions in civil court cases, and he urged the public to keep up the pressure. "Let them know that you're watching, that you're listening and that you want justice to be served in a timely fashion," he told the assembled community members.
Johnson urged all community members to become involved in the process, regardless of their point of view in the case. And, Johnson urged the public to pursue the case in a peaceful manner, reflecting on the impact on the Tyler girls and other children. "When we look at this case we should handle it the way we would want it handled if they were our daughters," said Johnson. "If the judge can't look you in the eye after this case and say that it was handled the way it would be handled for his own children, then justice hasn't been served," he added. Johnson stated that he will be returning to Fairview "for any meeting of consequence and for all hearing dates" in the Tyler trial. "We're in this together and we're going to see it through," Johnson told the room full of activists.
In a particularly emotional portion of last Thursday's meeting Johnson contacted the girls' birth father, James Andrew, in Liberia. Andrew spoke to the assembled community members, thanking them for their work on behalf of his daughters. "God is working through you," said Andrew, "and I am very happy that you people are working for me and my family and I am always on my knees praying for you."
Specific scheduling information and details of the pending civil action involving the Tyler children is not subject to public record, and is not available for printing in the Fairview Republican.