Freedom Caucus members and conservative think tank take on the case of a child’s removal

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On June 20, state Child Protective Services workers took the 4-year-old son of a Kaufman County couple from their home and into protective custody.

Since then, there has been a furious back-and-forth between the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services defending the removal and the Texas Home School Coalition. The coalition provided attorneys for the couple and produced a social media ad that has raised nearly $75,000 for legal expenses and gathered more than 28,000 signatures on a petition to Gov. Greg Abbott demanding the boy be returned to his family.

The ad, titled Bring Drake Home, contends that Drake Pardo was “kidnapped by the state.” The couple’s state senator, Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, posted the ad on his Facebook page and called the state agency’s action a “most egregious display of injustice.”

Attorneys for the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation have filed a brief in support of CPS releasing the child to his parents, alleging the state’s removal violated basic state constitutional guarantees for parents and their children.

While supporters of the Pardo family have made liberal use of social media to voice their indignation, state officials have been muted. Kaufman County District Judge Mike Chitty, who upheld the CPS decision to take the boy, issued a gag order to prevent the parents and other principals from discussing anything about the case in public.

There is, however, a rapidly growing court record telling two quite different stories — the allegations of overreach by the state on one side, but on the other, concerns of medical child abuse that left the agency with little alternative. Most recently, attorneys for the Pardos have appealed Chitty’s decision to the state’s Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas.

According to a response filed in appeals court by attorneys for TDFPS, the agency first got involved with Drake and his parents, Ashley and Daniel Pardo, in the spring when doctors reported concerns that Ashley had requested that her son have a feeding tube surgically implanted. The doctor believed that the procedure was not necessary.

Medical records reviewed by Suzanne Dakil, a child abuse pediatrician at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, “demonstrated that Ashley engaged in a pattern of reporting that the child was exhibiting symptoms or behaviors that could not be confirmed by the medical professionals and which resulting in multiple tests/examinations and assessments,” the court document said.

Since the boy’s infancy, Drake’s mother has pressed doctors with concerns that he suffered from everything from epilepsy, immunodeficiency, and autism to cerebral palsy, Dakil reported. Doctors have substantiated none of those diagnoses, she said in a document provided to the court.

Dakil concluded that subjecting the boy to a surgery that doctors thought unnecessary and could become permanent constituted medical child abuse.

According to the Pardos’ court filing, the state did not take seriously the boy’s developmental problems, his problem with eating and the diagnosis of two doctors that he was autistic, a diagnosis the state contended Ashley Pardo misunderstood.

According to the state, the Pardos were “upset that a child abuse pediatrician had been involved,” and so Dakil did not interview the parents.

And while the Pardos maintained that they had been cooperative with the doctors and state officials in the past, their position changed when an attorney for the Texas Home School Coalition, Chris Branson, agreed on June 11 to represent the couple, who home-school all three of their children.

Branson began asking CPS workers to outline the evidence against Ashley Pardo. According to the couple, the caseworkers would not cooperate. After Branson got involved, according to the state’s account, the Pardos refused to meet with caseworkers.

“The medical professionals and the department became concerned that the child was in immediate danger of undergoing an unnecessary surgery,” the state filing said, prompting the department to obtain a court order for Drake’s removal and to schedule a hearing to determine if and for how long the state should keep the boy.

At a court hearing July 2, Chitty upheld the removal of the boy and left open the question of his return, pending further evaluation by the state’s doctors.

In the Pardos’ appeal, their attorneys said the state had no right to take children from their families as a preventative for what might happen in the future based on conjecture.

In the weeks since the boy’s removal, Dakil reported that, contrary to his parents’ view that he could not eat solid food, Drake was eating and enjoying solid food. She noted that the boy was not “the aggressive, tantrum-throwing, not-eating child” she had read about in his medical record.

She also said in the court document that Drake, who was wearing diapers when he was removed from the home, potty-trained while under state supervision.

However, the two sides disagreed about Drake’s diet, according to the documents. Drake lost six pounds after he was removed, a loss that state medical staff said occurred in the transition from soft to regular food. They said he was gaining weight again.

The district court also upheld the state’s request that the parents undergo psychological evaluations and ordered them to turn over to the state all information necessary to provide Drake with the proper medical care while in state custody.

“I do not see any reason [why,] with cooperation and appropriate action on the part of the parents, that the child cannot be reunified with the parents,” the state document says. “And I think the ball is in your court, frankly, Mr. and Ms. Pardo. With appropriate action by you and cooperation, I would trust this child could be returned to you promptly.”

In a reply filed with the appeals court last week attorneys for the Pardos conceded nothing, repeating a litany of overreach and illegal action. “Instead, CPS was angry that the Pardos did not pull down their pants for an intrusive, unfounded, and – as it turns out, illegal – intrusion into their family’s personal business,” Pardo attorney James Pikl wrote.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation filed its amicus brief on behalf of Hall and Republican state representatives Matt Krause, Fort Worth; Mayes Middleton, Wallisville; Scott Sanford, McKinney; Matt Schaefer, Tyler; and Valoree Swanson, Spring. All but Sanford are members of the conservative Texas House Freedom Caucus.

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].

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