Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mitch, Did You Get a Release?!?

I bet Mitch Daniels doesn’t know Trent Harris appears in his “Spirit of Optimism” TV commercial.

You'll see Mr. Harris at :32 seconds in the NBA jersey and black baseball cap. He looks like he's literally giving the Governor an ear full. Why might he be doing that, you ask?

Because on September 28, 2005, the Indiana Department of Child Services made Mr. Harris a casualty of their “800 new case managers” that Daniels is touting in other ads.

You see, Mr. Harris lived in a not-so-stellar neighborhood. For personal protection, he owned a handgun, which he kept on the top of his refrigerator “in the back.” You may say, “Well, that wasn’t the smartest place to put a gun.” I agree in the abstract. But Mr. Harris’ children were 4 and 5 at the time and unable to get on the adjacent counter to access the refrigerator top, which was over six feet tall. Moreover, even if they could get to the gun (of which they had no knowledge), they couldn’t have pulled the trigger.

I know this because I was Mr. Harris’ lawyer. I located the original craftsman who designed the gun in question (which was no longer in production) to inquire about the “trigger weight.” Basically, some guns are harder than others to fire, in particular, when they are semi-automatic revolvers because the extra length the trigger must travel. I had read studies that toddlers can fire a gun, and I wanted to know if I was being naïve now.

The designer advised me that as an adult male, he still needed two hands to pull the trigger. Ultimately, I visited Mr. Harris, and I could not dry fire without holding the gun with a second hand either. The other thing DCS apparently didn’t consider is the size of the children’s fingers in relation to this gun. They wouldn’t have been able to hold it in the manner I did, which was the only way TO fire it. But, hey, guns are evil, right?

So in April of 2005, DCS had Mr. Harris’ gun removed by IMPD. DCS then told Mr. Harris that if he would agree to “perform services” such as going to a drug testing facility for a weekly urine drop and meeting weekly with a home-based counselor, they would let his children stay in his home. Mr. Harris adamantly disagreed he needed services, but to “get DCS off his back” and keep his kids in the home, he went along.

He started participating in the services and, per DCS’ instructions, he put a safety lock on the gun, which he then put in a gun safe, which was stored separately from his ammunition, which was put in a separate locked container. How DCS expected him to defend himself was beyond me, as he had a two-bedroom apartment with 900 square feet, at most. An intruder moving with the assistance of a walker could have pummeled Mr. Harris before he ever loaded his gun.

In September of 2005, Mr. Harris decided he was tired of jumping through unnecessary hoops, so he quit participating. DCS took his children from his home, even though by that time Mr. Harris had disposed of the gun. Despite glowing testimony from a Head Start teacher and a kindergarten teacher that Mr. Harris took his children to school every day, was active in their school, and was always asking about what he could work on with his children, and that their educational, health, and emotional needs were being met, the trial court agreed with DCS that my client’s children should be taken. On November 20, 2006, the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned that decision in DCS v. Harris. (As a side note, this same Magistrate was reversed six times in the same year).

Fourteen months passed before this injustice was righted, and Mr. Harris' children were out of his home during almost all of that time. So, yeah, I might have something to say to Mitch Daniels, too, were I Trent Harris.

On a sadly comical side note, the case manager for DCS testified at the trial that Mr. Harris’ neighborhood was so unsettling, she was afraid to enter the outside of Mr. Harris’ apartment building without an escort from the Marion County Sheriff’s Department.

In other words, she knew SHE wanted a gun to even walk where Mr. Harris lived...and she wasn't content to have it locked in a box.


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