by Jackie Snyder, Lauren King, and Mahanaz Ebadi
February 24, 2015, marked the third day of the Nan-Hui Jo trial. The courtroom was once again filled with many of Nan Jo’s supporters, all of whom had a purple ribbon tied around their arms.
Deputy District Attorney Steven Mount continued his direct examination of Barbara Enriquez (she had been called to testify as a witness the previous day). Ms. Enriquez was employed through the District Attorney’s Office in the Child Abduction Unit from September of 2009 to 2013. While her title was Child Abduction Attorney, she made it clear she was not a prosecutor, and it was not her job to prosecute. As an attorney in the Child Abduction Unit, her duties consisted of enforcing child custody and visitation, as well as helping to locate and return “children who have been maliciously taken, detained or concealed in violation of court orders.”
DDA Mount presented several court documents including a declaration, a proof of service, and several minute orders, all of which were on Jesse Charlton’s (the biological father) behalf. He then asked Ms. Enriquez to identify them for the court. Ms. Enriquez identified the declaration as one being submitted by Charlton in 2009. A declaration must be submitted by a parent who is in need of an emergency hearing. In addition, a proof of service must be filed with the court as well.
The proof of service, identified by Ms. Enriquez, stated that Mr. Charlton had informed Ms. Jo, in person, that she must attend court on November 2, 2009. The first minute order identified was dated November 2, 2009. It reflected that Mr. Charlton attended court that day, however, Ms. Jo was absent. The order contained an additional court date of December 21, 2009, to continue the matter.
The December 21, 2009, minute order presented by DDA Mount showed once again that Mr. Charlton attended court on December 21, 2009, and Ms. Jo was a no-show. A further court date was set for February 9, 2010, and when Ms. Jo failed to show up once again, physical custody was granted to Mr. Charlton.
Ms. Enriquez explained to the court that an order, such as the order granted to Mr. Charlton on February 9, 2010, is never final. At any time a parent can petition the court regarding custody and a different order may be granted. Ms. Enriquez explained the court ultimately has jurisdiction over a child until they reach the age of 18.
The last minute order identified was dated August 5, 2014. The order acknowledged Mr. Charlton as having sole legal and physical custody of his child. Ms. Jo’s visitation and custody rights were terminated, pending trial. DDA Mount likely presented these documents to the court to illustrate that Ms. Jo was provided with many chances, but continued to not obey court orders. Ms Enriquez explained it is important for each party to show up to a hearing so they can present their side of the story.
One of the many duties of the Child Abduction Unit, in which Ms. Enriquez was employed, is to make repeated attempts to get all parties into court for hearings. In the past, bus tickets have been purchased (for a party not living in the city where their court hearing is held), friends or relatives have been allowed to appear on a party’s behalf, and parties have been permitted to appear in court telephonically, all in an effort to get the party to show up for court.
DDA Mount asked Ms. Enriquez what a parent might do if they were being abused and wanted to leave with their child to ensure safety. Ms. Enriquez stated that a parent, in this situation, could file paper work with the court to show good cause. They would likely be allowed to leave with the child, as long as the court knew of their location. If the other parent reported the child missing, the court could then inform them of the situation and a hearing would be set. Ms. Enriquez testified that the location of the parent and child would be kept confidential.
DDA Mount then began to ask Ms. Enriquez many questions about the Hague Convention, a treaty among several countries, which was formed in an effort to help protect children against the negative effects, likely to occur, when a child is abducted and taken to a different country.
Ms. Enriquez explained that the countries who participate in the Hague communicate amongst each other and help aid in the abducted child’s return to their habitual residence (the country they were taken from). This does not necessarily mean the child will stay at their habitual residence, but the habitual residence does have jurisdiction and they can make the decision where a child will live, based on a child’s best interests.
South Korea was not a Hague signatory until November 1, 2013, which was after Ms. Jo had already fled to South Korea. This meant there was little that could be done to have the child in question returned to its habitual residence.
The State Department was very limited in South Korea (due to it being a no Hague country). The United States government essentially has no power there. The State Department was allowed to inquire into a welfare check of an abducted child, but if a parent refuses to cooperate, which in this case is true, there is not much recourse.
When Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson cross-examined Ms. Enriquez, he asked her if she was being paid to testify, and she said she was not. DPD Johansson made the point she was employed through the District Attorney’s Office. Ms. Enriquez explained that she was not a prosecutor in the DA’s Office, she was working in the Child Abduction Unit.
DPD Johansson also inquired into the Hague Convention’s term of “habitual residence.” Ms. Enriquez explained a child’s habitual residence was the country they were taken from. DPD Johansson asked if the habitual residence took into consideration the child’s best interest.
Ms. Enriquez explained that, once the child is taken back to their habitual residence (which has jurisdiction), they ultimately determine what is in the best interest of the child. They may determine the child’s habitual residence is, in fact, not the best choice for the child, but they must be the ones to make that determination. DPD Johansson then confirmed with Ms. Enriquez that South Korea was not a Hague country at the time of the abduction.
After three hours of testimony Ms. Enriquez was excused as a witness. Court was then dismissed for lunch and set to reconvene in Department 4 at 1:30 p.m.
The trial of Nan-Hui Jo resumed after the lunch break on February 24, 2015, before Judge David Rosenberg. There were still many Korean supporters present on the right side of the court gallery. On this afternoon, they were fewer in number, but varied in age. Deputy District Attorney Steven Mount called his first witness of the afternoon, Ms. Angela Smith.
Ms. Smith is an enforcement officer within the Child Abduction Unit of the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office. She has many duties within the unit, some of which consist of locating and recovering missing children, persuading parents to follow the law in custody cases, and directing people to Family Court. Ms. Smith also teaches at various law enforcement agencies within Yolo County.
On December 15, 2009, Jesse Charlton contacted the Child Abduction Unit and told Ms. Smith that the mother of his child had disappeared. He tried to serve her papers and searched for her at her last known address. He was unable to locate Ms. Jo. Mr. Charlton then proceeded to give Ms. Smith further details about the situation between himself and Ms. Jo, and presented Ms. Smith with previously filed legal documents.
Ms. Smith opened a case file and attempted contact with Ms. Jo with information that she had attained from her interview with Mr. Charlton. She tried to reach Ms. Jo by phone and email. The phone number had been disconnected and the email did not receive a response. Ms. Smith continued steps to try to locate the mother.
Ms. Smith testified that she discovered a number of purchases made with Ms. Jo’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. She followed up on this information by looking at surveillance footage with Mr. Charlton at stores where the EBT card was used. Mr. Charlton was brought along to identify the purchaser; it was not Ms. Jo.
Mr. Charlton’s stepmother was contacted by Ms. Smith during the beginning of the investigation and this exchange led to Ms. Smith discovering that Ms. Jo had a storage unit located in Sacramento. The storage unit was mentioned in an email that Ms. Jo had sent to the stepmother. As a result, Ms. Smith paid a visit to the storage unit to speak to personnel and try to get information about Ms. Jo and her whereabouts. The only consequent information that Ms. Smith mentioned in her testimony was that Ms. Jo was still paying for the unit.
DDA Mount then presented the court with a series of emails. In the first email sent from Ms. Smith to Ms. Jo, the recipient was urged to make contact with the Child Abduction Unit. Ms. Smith informed Ms. Jo that it was important that she respond by phone or email as soon as possible. Ms. Smith received no response.
After some time had passed, Ms. Smith sent a second email to Ms. Jo. This time, Ms. Smith’s message took on a more urgent tone. “It is very important that you make contact with me. You are not in trouble at the moment…I will not tell Mr. Charlton your whereabouts. ..I just want to know that you and the child are safe.”
Ms. Jo responded to this email on January 7, 2010. She informed Ms. Smith that she had been keeping in touch with Mr. Charlton’s family so that everyone would be aware that she and the child were safe. She also made several claims to Ms. Smith about Mr. Charlton’s pornography habits, his self-inflicted hand injury, and his arrest the day before their child’s first birthday party. Ms. Jo did not want Mr. Charlton around her or the child and said that she did not understand why Ms. Smith had contacted her. Ms. Smith replied that she was contacted because Mr. Charlton had reported that his child was abducted and that he did not know where Ms. Jo was. Ms. Jo did not reply to this email.
On January 11, 2010, Ms. Smith sent yet another email to Ms. Jo stating that she needed to update Ms. Jo on the legal issues that had transpired and thus needed Ms. Jo to call her. On January 15, 2010, Ms. Jo responded to Ms. Smith’s email saying that she could not speak English well and so she preferred that their correspondence continue via email so that she could consult a Korean-English dictionary for assistance.
The next day, Ms. Smith emailed Ms. Jo the date of the upcoming custody hearing and asked if she could fax or mail the legal papers to Ms. Jo. The same day, Ms. Jo replied that she could not go to the court date because she was not allowed to stay in the country and asked if there was some other way that she could tell the court her side of the story. Ms. Smith informed Ms. Jo that it was very important that she not leave the country before talking to her. Ms. Smith asked again that Ms. Jo call her.
Ms. Jo did not respond until January 21, 2010. She stated again that she preferred email correspondence. She also told Ms. Smith that she never wanted to see Mr. Charlton again and she did not believe that she could explain her story to the judge anyway. Ms. Jo explained that she did not understand American law well and that she only filed for child support so that Mr. Charlton would learn to be more responsible. She was worried about losing her child and told Ms. Smith that her ignorance of American law, which had led to this situation, was her greatest regret. Ms. Jo also explained that she could not get a job because there were no family members in the United States that could watch the child. Without a job, Ms. Jo could not remain in the country.
In response to Ms. Jo’s statements, Ms. Smith emailed Ms. Jo the court documents from Mr. Charlton and an order to appear in court on February 9, 2010. She also suggested that Ms. Jo telecommunicate so that she could still make an appearance at the hearing. Ms. Jo could contact someone named “Amy” to set up the telecommute. Ms. Smith also added that if Ms. Jo believed Mr. Charlton to be a danger, she could contact a women’s shelter for assistance. The shelter could help Ms. Jo fill out court papers and try to explain why the child should remain with her.
Ms. Jo thanked Ms. Smith and agreed to call Amy. On January 28, 2010, Ms. Jo asked for Amy’s email address because she did not own a phone and it was difficult for her to use a payphone while caring for the child. Ms. Smith replied that she did not know Amy’s email address and therefore Ms. Jo would have to call her. That was the last day that Ms. Smith received any response from Ms. Jo.
Ms. Smith emailed Ms. Jo several more times in February and March of 2010. She wanted to update Ms. Jo on the legal proceedings and warned Ms. Jo that if she did not show up to her February 9 court date, she may not approve of the court’s decision.
Ms. Smith testified that on February 18, 2010, she contacted immigration and learned that Ms. Jo and her child had flown to Seoul, South Korea on November 7, 2009. The documents from that flight were presented to the court by DDA Mount. They revealed that Ms. Jo and her child flew out of LAX via Asia Airlines on November 8, 2009.
After Ms. Smith discovered that Ms. Jo was no longer in the country, she contacted the International Criminal Police Organization (also known as ICPO or INTERPOL) and the United States Department of State to expand her search to the international level. Ms. Smith also contacted the State Department to follow up on a tip from Mr. Charlton stating that Ms. Jo might be in New Zealand. There was no evidence found that Ms. Jo and her child had ever been to New Zealand.
In June of 2014, Ms. Smith was contacted by the State Department and alerted that Ms. Jo had applied for a visa waiver with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) so that she could re-enter the United States. This would be a ninety-day visa. Ms. Smith asked that the State Department allow Ms. Jo and her child to enter the country so that the Child Abduction Unit could recover the child, the subject of a five-year investigation.
Ms. Smith soon discovered that Ms. Jo and her child had boarded a flight to Honolulu, Hawaii. In response to this information, Ms. Smith contacted Mr. Charlton, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and the Honolulu Police Department. The NCMEC was contacted to help Mr. Charlton with the new custody arrangements after Ms. Jo was in police custody.
Ms. Smith was informed when Mr. Charlton gained custody of the child and facilitated another court date in Sacramento. She also examined the living conditions that the child would be placed in and later attended the court appearance with the father and child.
Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson then began a cross-examination of the witness. DPD Johansson asked Ms. Smith if Mr. Charlton had ever reported domestic violence in his interviews with the officer. Ms. Smith did not recall ever being told of domestic violence.
DPD Johansson then presented the court with the first emails that were exchanged between Ms. Smith and Ms. Jo. Ms. Jo told Ms. Smith that, as the child’s mother, she had to protect her child and that was why she wanted Mr. Charlton to stay away from them. In the email from January 7, 2010, Ms. Jo had made several claims about Mr. Charlton that concerned violence, pornography, and an arrest. Ms. Smith testified that she did not follow up on these claims.
The court was back in session after a 30-minute recess. Angela Smith was called back on the stand and was cross-examined. She explains that she tried to direct Ms. Jo to the Sacramento Family Court Case, which was another option to better assist her in her particular situation. She was asked in cross-examination if she took action after Ms. Jo hinted about Charlton being domestically abusive, and Smith said she had not.
She mentioned that a criminal history check was conducted and there were no charges of domestic violence on Mr. Charlton’s rap sheet. Smith continued to mention that she asked Charlton to come to her office to conduct another interview. During the interview Charlton mentioned being physically violent during his relationship with Ms. Jo.
The second witness to take the stand was Donna Baumgartner. She is a Supervisor for the Department of Child Protective Services. She has been employed by them for 24 years and works with the supervisors’ legal unit. She explained that Ms. Jo came to her when she was pregnant with the child.
She recalled Jo filing a lawsuit against Charlton. She explained the process to the court and how a case can be opened.
The applicant could be getting welfare services, or may not be getting welfare and a case can be opened on their behalf. When it came to Ms. Jo’s case, she wanted the case opened to receive an order. Ms. Jo requested the case be closed around April 30, 2009, saying she was getting back together with the child’s father. However, the case was not allowed to be closed once the process began.
Charlton filed for custody, and due to the fact that Jo did not show up for all the court dates, he was appointed full custody of the child. He knew this and was aware that the child was with her mother in Korea.
The last witness took the stand to testify. Her name was Tina Harbert. She is a property manger for a Public Storage facility and has been holding that position for eight to nine years.
She explained that Ms. Jo rented a unit. Jo would contact Harbert during 2010, via email, and Jo gave a telephone number to Harbert, which was an international one, as a means of contacting her if necessary. Harbert mentioned that on various occasions, Jo was late on her payment and they were prepared to auction off everything, but she managed to transfer the money and pay online. The court ended its session and the testimony of Tina Harbert. The testimony will resume the morning of February 25, 2015.