A Father's Quest 

The case of Arianas Campos-Reese and his son Tyberius illustrates what's wrong with family court.

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The following Monday, Arianas filed once again for full custody.

May 13, 2008

As Arianas waited to hear back about his petition, Self's time with Tyberius began on Tuesday evening. Arianas said he requested in advance that the police be present at his home for the child's transfer. Because of the incident the previous week, the police had advised Arianas to request their presence whenever he and Self met to exchange Tyberius. When the police did not arrive on time for the standby, Arianas kept Tyberius inside the house with his mother, while he waited outside. Self also arrived late, but even so, the police had still not appeared by the time she got there. When she arrived, Arianas again called the police again and waited outside his home with her.

Arianas recalls standing outside the house, bickering with Self as they awaited the police. Meanwhile, according to the police report, Arianas' mother called 911 to ask where the police were. Records show that Self also called 911 to ask the same question.

Self's boyfriend, Keith Andre Dixon, evidently had been sitting in her car the whole time. Arianas told police that Dixon got out of the car and started walking toward them in the dark. "He gets out of the car and starts yelling things — 'Your baby was sitting on my lap last week; I'm the new father now' — things like that," Arianas recounted in a police report filed later that day. "We're arguing, and next thing I know I hear a gun click."

Records show that Arianas told police that Dixon was standing next to Self, about ten feet away from Arianas, when he aimed a 9 mm Luger and started shooting. A mixture of scorn and relief still catches in Arianas' throat as he remembers how Dixon somehow missed him, then got into Self's green 1999 Honda Civic and drove away with her.

Arianas was halfway into his house to see if a stray bullet had hit his son or his mother when a squad car pulled up, according to the police report. They had literally passed the Honda on the way down the street. Arianas said he gave them all the information they needed — the car Dixon had been driving, descriptions of Self and Dixon. But he says that the officers never interviewed his mother or entered his home to check on the welfare of his son. Even though Self's 911 call placed her at the scene, Arianas was dismayed that they didn't seek her out for a statement or track down Dixon.

The bullets that had whizzed past the father's ears while his son's mother stood by and watched had reignited his determination to stand his ground. So one day after the shooting, Arianas returned to court with the police report about the incident and temporarily won full custody until a new court date on June 2. At the next mediation session, Arianas was determined to see that Self's custody be restricted. He felt that she had been a participant in an incident that had directly threatened his life, and to him, it suggested that Tyberius might one day end up in danger as well. Arianas requested that Self receive a psychological exam and be prohibited from seeing Tyberius except in the presence of a county employee.

May 29, 2008

The report by court-appointed mediator James Fiero described the shooting, along with the charges against Self of resisting arrest and violation of a court order. As both parents stood again in front of Commissioner Hendrickson four days later, on June 2, she read the mediator's report that concluded that "the mediator is not at this time inclined to support the father's varied requests. ... The information presented does not appear to indicate that either parent has been delinquent in their care of Tyberius."

Arianas' nightmare was unfolding before his eyes. "I was standing there crying, telling them about the shooting, my ex was standing there with a blank look on her face, and it just seemed like the judge wasn't listening," he said. "They were saying there was no reason why I should get full custody. At that point, the courts were telling me to hand my son over to an unsafe and dangerous environment. I couldn't see myself giving my son to a person who might bring guns around him."

But a parent's fear is not enough evidence to prompt a family court judge into action. This is the crux of the court's worst problem; unless abuse has occurred, most judges turn away.

"One hour in mediation is not sufficient to sort out what's in the best interests of the child," said Kathleen Russell, of the Center for Judicial Excellence, who has worked with hundreds of parents who have faced similar stalemates. "There needs to be more adequate time and accountability to fix this crisis in our court system. Parents need more information; a lot of the time they have no idea that their hour with the mediator could end up being the most important hour of their life."

After the judge's last ruling, Arianas felt out of choices. He had followed all the rules, but was still being forced to place his son in a potentially unsafe situation. He was sick of seeing no results come from his efforts to comply with court process. So he made what he now realizes was a major mistake.

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