Testimony Details Child Services Involvement in Green Case

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YoloCourt-26By Christina D.

On August 29, 2016, in Department 14, the prosecution continued to call witnesses to the stand for the Samantha Green trial. She is accused of murder in the death of her infant son, Justice Rees, in February of 2015.

A social worker practitioner, “VZ,” from the Yolo County Child Welfare Services (CWS, previously called CPS, for Child Protective Services), testified to her experiences working with Ms. Green. VZ is part of the Emergency Response Unit, whose responsibilities include balancing the safety of children and reunification of families. VZ testified that, at any sign of danger, CWS would automatically remove the child from the home. They have the authority to seek a warrant or utilize law enforcement, or file a petition to bring a case to court.

VZ received a referral from Green’s hospital and first met with Green there on February 6, 2015. Green denied her drug usage and claimed she only tried drugs once. Then she was more forthcoming when confronted with test results, but still minimized her drug usage. Based on their meeting and other reports (VZ knew Baby Justice had tested positive for drugs, and about the history of drug use and welfare services involvement with the family), VZ placed a protective hold on Justice. While VZ worked with the parents to develop a safety plan for Justice’s return home, they could not leave the hospital with the child in their custody or care.

On February 9, 2015, VZ met Green, her boyfriend Frank Rees (father of Baby Justice), and his parents “WR” and “PR.” At the meeting, they went through three lists of what they thought were strengths/things they were doing well, things they were worried about, and the plan for creating a safe home for Justice. The positives were that the plan had the support of Justice’s grandparents, WR and PR. However, they were worried about the baby not being in the home very often, about the housing situation, and Frank Rees’ unwillingness to use CalWorks and food stamps. Mr. Rees was worried about the baby not having his siblings at home (custody of his other four kids was also being evaluated in another case). The main concern shared by all parties was drug usage.

VZ testified that, when talking about drug use, Green seemed to understand the consequences of daily methamphetamine use and the dangers it presents to the child. She was also engaged in the conversation, didn’t suffer from decompensation or have illusions about meth, and was willing and open to confront problems. On the other hand, Rees seemed disengaged, disinterested, and preoccupied, like he was above the situation and had other things to do. Although the grandparents said he was draining their resources, Rees responded that he didn’t like to go the aid office and that it was inconvenient for him. VZ testified that if the grandparents said they knew of drug usage at home, there was a risk of reassessment and getting the other four children removed.

Conditions of the safety plan for Justice to return included subjection to random drug tests, drug rehabilitation programs for Green, and accessing county resources for housing money and legal advice on keeping custody of the other four children. VZ testified that Green did make a phone call to a drug rehabilitation center once, but didn’t follow up; Rees met with a social worker about resources only once.

After February 9, VZ did not meet with the family again until February 23, the day Green went missing. VZ received a call on February 23, 2015, from Justice’s paternal aunt, “CR.” VZ testified that the call may have triggered her to visit unannounced around 12pm, only to find Green missing from the house. VZ also received another call on February 25, 2015, from FR’s ex-wife AJ, regarding a February 21 incident. AJ met Green at a McDonald’s, and thought that Green did not dress Justice appropriately for the cold weather.

VZ assessed risks for children on almost a daily basis for seven and a half years, but she never ordered Green for random drug testing. She said it may have been because of the overwhelming size of the caseload, and that there were other more urgent cases that took priority; statistically, families with a newborn generally make it through their first week.

The second witness of the day, “CC,” had been a staff nurse for Kaiser Roseville in the neonatal intensive care unit for 16 years. CC examined Justice for three hours during her shift, and found that he had a higher Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) score than what the nurse in the baby-mother unit had reported. The NAS is a term for a group of problems observed in the newborn which reflect withdrawal from exposure to drugs before birth. The higher score was due to an additional observation about Justice’s elevated temperature, which may have been hyperthermia due to the meth in his system. She suspected the fever was due to meth, but was not sure. Although it depends on the baby when fevers caused by meth subside, Justice’s temperature went down the next day. He was also scored for tremors, high-pitched cries indicative of substance withdrawal, and inability to keep food down.

The third witness was “MS,” Frank Rees’ mother-in-law who had given testimony earlier, but was recalled. She had called the district attorney and public defender’s office, saying she had more to say but wasn’t asked during her testimony. MS testified that she definitely saw Green on February 23, 2015, the morning of her disappearance, and that Green not only seemed under the influence of something, but was frantic and in a hurry. Green talked really fast and seemed to be in the worst condition MS had ever seen her in, but Green was still able to seat herself in the car Rees was driving. When the public defender’s office called back, asking what she was going to say in court, MS refused to say, citing that she had been fair to both sides in court.

The fourth witness, “AV,” was a medical doctor from the Sutter Medical Group in Sacramento. AV works as the medical director of the B.E.A.R. (Bridging Evidence Assessment & Resources) Center, a program which conducts voluntary assessments for victims of adult sexual assault. AV examined Green for three hours on February 25, 2015, at 12pm, including reviewing medical history and details about the situation, as well as a head-to-toe examination and a more focused exam of the anus and genitalia.

During the questioning of her history, Green was tearful at first, then turned very tired and sleepy, but was still oriented enough to answer questions appropriately. When asked specifically about the alleged assault and sexual acts, Green cited memory loss and loss of consciousness. However, Green remembered that the assault happened on February 23, 2015, at 2-3pm, at an area outside of Knights Landing, and by someone named “Cary,” whom she identified as around 42 years old, white, and her boyfriend’s friend. She also remembered that he touched her breasts and was “going down her pants.” To questions about use of controlled substances, Green admitted to using drugs, including marijuana.

During the physical examination, AV found multiple scratches over Green’s arms, legs, buttocks, and back, as well as some bruises. They were consistent with the history of assault, meaning a layperson could understand that something like assault could have happened based on the injuries. There was possible saliva on the right breast, and also debris found near her genitalia, which was collected and sent to the lab.


Afternoon Testimony

by Raya Zahdeh

The People v. Green trial resumed on the afternoon of August 29, 2016, in Department 14, Judge Rosenberg presiding. The defendant, Samantha Green, is being charged with second-degree murder of her infant son, Justice Rees.

The first witness to give her testimony was a Detective Polay, a former police officer and an emergency medical technician (EMT). Detective Polay interviewed Samantha Green in the paramedic vehicle at the site of the incident on February 25, 2015.

Before the detective gave her testimony, the court played an audio recording of the interview between Det. Polay and Ms. Green in the EMT vehicle. The audio recording revealed that Ms. Green had been crying hysterically and was unable to control her emotions. The detective was constantly trying to calm her down and gain as much information on what had happened as quickly as possible in order to find Baby Justice.

During the interview, Ms. Green stated that she had “blacked out” and had no recollection of how she and Justice ended up in the state they were in. She claimed that she woke up that morning propped up against a tree, with Baby Justice propped up next to her. However, Ms. Green could not recall how they ended up in that position and did not remember falling asleep against the tree.

When she woke up, Ms. Green felt numb and cold, and stated that Baby Justice’s body was cold as well. She proceeded to bring him closer to her and to talk to him, when she noticed that he was unresponsive to her touch and voice. At that point, Samantha believed that her son was probably dead. She proceeded to get up and look for help, during which time she swam across the river and stumbled through the surrounding bushes. No further details were given regarding what happened after she left Baby Justice by the tree, to search for help.

When the detective asked Ms. Green how she and Justice ended up in that area of Knights Landing to begin with (the day before the interview), Samantha answered that she had been looking for Frank (Rees), her fiancé and the father of Justice Rees. Earlier that day, she had stopped by her house to pick up Baby Justice’s formula while Rees was supposedly already on his way to the same area to which she and Justice ended up driving. In addition, Green stated that she suspected Rees had been cheating on her with a woman known as “MC,” and that Rees might have been with MC in that area.

Upon arriving at Knights Landing, Green pulled over, got out of the car, and began walking while carrying Justice, a diaper bag, and the milk bottle. She said that Rees’ car was nowhere to be found and that she set out to find him on foot.

According to the detective, Green was unable to recall the details of what had occurred after that point, up until the next morning when she woke up against a tree next to Justice.

The next witness to take the stand was “TW.” TW was previously employed as a social worker at the Yolo County Jail. Currently, she is a supervisor for the psychologists and social workers at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, specifically at the Mule Creek State Prison.

On February 28, 2016, TW had been employed as a social worker at the Yolo County Jail, and met with Ms. Green that morning. TW stated that she received a call the night before from the on-call clinician, who told TW that Ms. Green had been placed on suicide watch and that she was to do an assessment on her the following morning.

The information that TW obtained from the assessment indicated that Ms. Green had not affirmed experiencing any audio or visual hallucinations. According to TW, Green claimed to have been subjected to physical, sexual and mental abuse in her previous relationship of seven years, which had ended three years prior to their meeting. In addition, Green’s records indicated that she had been diagnosed with anxiety and she claimed that she smokes marijuana to control her anxiety.

Afterward, Ms. Green stated that she had previously experienced audio and visual hallucinations after using methamphetamine during the two days that she and Baby Justice were missing. While she was missing in Knights Landing with Justice, she remembered hearing “hell’s gates” and “seeing Satan,” and also believed that people were out to hurt her baby.

Upon further questioning regarding her drug use, Ms. Green told TW that she first started using methamphetamine three years prior to their meeting. She claimed to have quit using the drug for some period of time during those three years, but ended up re-using for the past ten months prior to February 28. Ms. Green also claimed to have been using methamphetamine almost every day for two weeks prior to the incident during which she and Justice went missing, on February 23, 2015.

After the assessment, TW diagnosed Green with the following: anxiety, methamphetamine dependence, post-partum depression (provisional), substance-induced psychotic disorder and/or mood disorder (provisional.) Ms. Green and TW met again on March 7, 2015, for a follow-up appointment, as Green had been placed under mental health observation after being removed from suicide watch.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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11 thoughts on “Testimony Details Child Services Involvement in Green Case”

  1. Tia Will

    VZ testified that at any sign of danger, CPS would automatically remove the child from the home. ”  and yet:

    1. Mother known to have been using meth throughout the pregnancy

    2. Baby tests positive for meth at birth

    3. Baby has documented signs of withdrawal in hospital

    4. Mother  lies to social service worker about extent of meth use even when confronted with test results

    5. During interview father of baby seems impatient, distracted, unengaged, and more concerned about his own convenience than providing for his family.

    6. The safety of four other children in the home is under investigation.

    As a doctor with years of experience in prenatal care including that of those with significant substance abuse issues and who has served on teams of evaluators for family reunification ( albeit in the distant past)I am thinking that some education and/or change in policy is needed with regard to recognition of what constitutes “any sign of danger” if we are hoping to prevent future such cases from occurring.

     

  2. ryankelly

    Per this article, I believe that the social worker’s errors means that she needs to go.  She didn’t attempt to see the baby outside of the hospital for 3 weeks and then only because someone called her with concerns.  She didn’t follow her own plan to have the mother receive random drug tests, etc.

    If the case load is too great, maybe we could hire assistants – people to help with the management of cases, check on evidence of compliance of plans – the busy work related to cases.  This may be less expensive than just hiring more social workers.    The social workers then can focus on meeting with families and visitations.

      1. hpierce

        Yeah… the system is responsible, so the mother should get a “pass”… got it.

        Innocent by reason of “system failure”… time served, no more than that, iff found guilty… if not, reparations should be made.

        1. tj

          Yes, our taxpayer paid social workers are responsible for making responsible decisions in these cases.   No wonder one of the relatives said earlier that she’d given up calling CPS about the other children because nothing was ever done.

          I wonder why the social worker isn’t named, wouldn’t her name be public record?

  3. Tia Will

    Matt

    My heart hurt far, far too many times to continue on the panel to evaluate for family reunification. I am seeing here in Yolo county repeat after repeat of what I saw in Southern California. My opinion is that we have totally derailed a system that is supposed to balance the well being of the child with parental rights. At this point in time, it is essentially assumed that you will be an adequate parent regardless of how much evidence is accumulated to the contrary if you are willing to “say” not demonstrate, but “say” that you will care for the child. I gave it up years ago. I can only imagine how you are feeling now. I wish you, your heart, and your family all the best.

  4. MamaBear

    A dead child is the saddest story ever told. No one on drugs should be sent home with a child. Anyone, no matter how decent, is capable of doing unthinkable things once drugs are in their system.

    Same goes for serious mental illness.

    To the tenth power for mentally ill people who ALSO use drugs (which is very common).

    I could be totally off on this and I don’t think this shortcoming is limited to Yolo county, but our culture has become way too drug friendly and generous with mental diagnoses.

    So much so that it’s plausible the social worker exposed to this case may have been an addict herself. (But the kind that has a prescription for any assortment of pills or otherwise). Not saying that’s the case but it is extremely common now. Addicts used to be recognizable because they were on street drugs and stood out from the masses. Now, not so much… until you are stuck TRYING to make sense of their dulled empathic receptors.

    Add to that, that children are being labeled with all these different “disorders” that relate to being alive, curious, and healthy. And I think a lot of us underreact and underestimate the validity of true severe mental illness. Because, heck, every household has some variety of “crazy” in our label happy culture.

    These things go deeper than this story alone. It’s just very unfortunate.

  5. tj

    So Frank Rees drove Green somewhere that morning and knew the condition she was in, but did nothing to protect his child.

    It’s strange that he’s not also on trial.

    Likely the grandmother, Frank’s mother, was getting paid to take care of the 4 older children, and enjoyed Green being in the house to take care of those kids, whether Green was drugged up or not.

    Something is dreadfully wrong with Yolo County’s Child Welfare office.

  6. Tia Will

    hpierce

    Yeah… the system is responsible, so the mother should get a “pass”… got it.”

    No, I don’t believe that you do get it. I have not seen anyone argue that the mother should get a “pass”. But it is entirely possible to have both individual and systemic responsibility. The mother should definitely be held responsible for her actions. The father should be held responsible for his. The grandparents who agreed to a supervise and support the well being of their grandchildren and did not should be held responsible for their failure to do so. The social service worker should be held responsible for not ensuring that the approved plan was actually being followed. CPS as a socially responsible entity should be held responsible for the fact that we have multiple children in Yolo County who have died while under the “observation” of CPS just within the past 5 years. We should all consider ourselves responsible if we support a system that supports punishment over prevention.

    If our goal is simply to punish someone after a child has died, then fine, we can claim that it is solely the responsibility of the mother. We can try her, and lock her up, and feel good about ourselves until the next child dies. Punishing Ms. Green will not prevent the next drug addicted parent from killing their child

    Or we can accept that as a society there are steps that we can take that could keep these children safer. We could see and actually heed the “signs of danger”. Doctors could order drug testing more liberally while the mother and child remain in the hospital. The baby could not be discharged to a drug positive mother. We could monitor the “plans” that we work out with families and check to see that basic levels of care are being adhered to. We could perform random home visits and drug checks. We could stop our one sided insistence on family reunification when part of the family has consistently shown themselves to be uninvolved in the care of the children that they keep producing. We could stop assuming that grandparents who themselves have raised the parents who are now on drugs are the best “safe haven” for these children. These well meaning individuals frequently either turned a blind eye, or were unable to “see” evidence of their own child’s drug use. So why do we assume that they will be successful in protecting their grandchildren ? We could hire enough workers in the social service fields to ensure that plans are being carried out and the people are attending drug rehabilitation programs, not just acknowledging that they know “drugs are bad”. We could place the safety and well being of the child above the biologic rights of the parent and grandparent.

    Or we could continue doing what we have been doing for the past 30 years that I have been in medicine. We can demonize the individual, punish after the fact using our highly expensive legal and prison system and wait for the next preventable death.

  7. tj

    Adding to Tia’s excellent remarks, we could pay foster parents enough to actually provide for their foster children.  It’s a sad state of affairs when “drives” and other events solicit school clothes, school supplies, Christmas gifts and so on for foster children.   “Orphanages” might have their place to, instead of shifting children around from foster home to foster home where foster parents may have their own agenda and harm the children too.

    Foster homes developed at a time when mothers rarely worked outside the home, and one more mouth to feed, or sewing up a few more clothes wasn’t difficult.

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