Larissa Nearing’s story is a poignant illustration of what can happen when you are busy living your life.
Larissa Nearing and her son
(SAN DIEGO) - We are a nation of rules and laws, with over 40,000 new laws that went into effect on January 1, 2012, alone. With such a minefield, even for the most sober citizen, it is easy to slide down the rabbit hole. Not see a construction zone sign; it could cost you dearly. Overdrawn at the bank; there are fees and penalties. Recently, in Oklahoma there was a 21 car pileup on an icy street and every driver received a $252 ticket.
Larissa Nearing’s story is a poignant illustration of what can happen when you are busy living your life.
On November 3, 2011, Larissa began what seemed like a routine day. She had taken her baby to daycare in the morning and then went to work.
Around noon, she got an urgent phone call from a neighbor who said her apartment was on fire. She rushed home to find the firefighters wrapping up and learned that the apartment above hers was where the fire originated.
She saw from her doorway all her worldly goods. Many of the items had been wrapped in plastic by the fire department. But she noticed her speakers for her DJ business were not protected.
She tried to enter her apartment since the fire was out and police officers were standing inside her apartment talking. She was prevented from entering and so she asked if they would please protect her speakers. Larissa explained she had a DJ business and this equipment was vital for her livelihood.
There was one officer, Scott Crane, who ignored her pleas for help. She says she never was hostile to the officer, but was just frantic to get her possessions protected from further damage. After several attempts to reason with the officer, she said he spun her around and stated, “You are under arrest for obstruction of justice”. He then proceeded to take her to the back alley away from all the neighbors and witnesses. But the media, about five TV stations and even more news reporters showed up while Larissa was being handcuffed. She kept asking “Why are you arresting me? What have I done wrong? Why won’t you help me? My equipment is worth $20,000. That’s my business. Why are you doing this?” Because of her upbringing she knew not to lose her cool and did not use any language toward the officer that would be deemed inflammatory such as swearing at him. She knew she shouldn’t be getting arrested. "Don’t hit him. Don’t swear. Don’t hit him. Don’t swear," was the mantra ringing in her head.
It seemed the more controlled Larissa was the angrier the officer became. He was rough and at one point her breast came out of her dress and was exposed. Mercifully, another officer came to her rescue and covered her up. Then Officer Crane threw her into the back of the police cruiser. The media was capturing everything on film.
When he put me in his cruiser, he pulled some marijuana out of the trunk & started waving it around. “Is this yours? If it is, you are going away for a long time.” She responded that she was 100% legal and possessed a medical marijuana card issued by the state of California. She had moved to California in order to be legally compliant as she had suffered a severe car injury and marijuana was the safest and best way to ease her pain. He laughed at her. Later she learned that the San Diego Police department officers exaggerated on camera the amount they found. One officer extended his arms outward suggesting a huge amount of pot. When this accusation was made she lost her job. The reality was she only had a small amount, well within the legal limits of California law. Unfortunately, a false accusation has the same repercussions as a true one. Employers don’t care to check out the veracity of these charges. You are guilty even if proven innocent.
The officer took her to the booking area and left her in the squad car. It was a warm Southern California day; around 80 degrees and she asked to have the window cracked for some air. This request was ignored. Over a period of 5 hours she was kept in the back seat of the car handcuffed and on several occasions different officers come out to urge her to talk. She had asked for an attorney but that request too was also denied. One officer had the audacity to suggest to Larissa to keep her legs closed and be a mother. Finally, when the arresting officer returns she is confident that she will be released only to learn that a new charge has been filed; child endangerment. How can there be any child endangerment, especially, since her son was at daycare at the time? At this point, Larissa started to cry and begged the officer to release her one -year- old son to family living in the area. The officer started laughing at her and said, “No, he is going to go to a children’s home”.
The arresting officer, Scott Crane, went off duty and a replacement came and took her out of the cruiser and started explaining to her what was going to happen to her and her son. He explained that someone would be going to get her son and take him to state children’s home. Since she isn’t acting like officer Crane had said, he offered to help her retrieve some vital phone numbers to make some calls.
The arresting officer told his fellow officers that Larissa was acting crazy and abusive. Apparently, the two police reports contradicted themselves. In one report the officer said that Larissa was arrested because she ran into a burning building and he so feared for her life that he had to arrest her and detain her to save her life. And in the other report he stated that she was so abusive with her language and she was verbally assaulting him. There were at least five different cameras rolling at the time of the arrest and there was no evidence found where Larissa had been verbally abusive or cursing the officer.
She was booked in on a felony child endangerment charge with $100,000 in bail. She lost it when she realized she wasn’t going to get out of jail any time soon. Next, they took her DNA because of the felony charge. This was permanently entered into an ever -growing database even if the charges were later dropped. Though she was arrested around 12:30 p.m. it took until 2 a.m. the following day before finally being booked. She believes this was done on purpose in order for her to have to sit in jail until the next Monday. The bail amount was too high for her to meet. Unbeknownst to her, bail had been reduced to $10,000 the following day but she was never notified. She sat in jail needlessly. No doubt this was bad for her but the real injury was to a one-year- old child who had never been away from his mother. What about the psychological damage done to this poor innocent?
Larissa spent 5 days in jail. The arresting officer charged her with 5 counts. One of child endangerment, child neglect, etc. but when she was finally brought before the judge the only charge that stuck was a misdemeanor obstruction and she was released on her own recognizance.
While she was imprisoned her child was tested for drugs and found to be drug free. A friend of a friend was a former district attorney and came to represent Larissa pro bono because he thought this shouldn’t be happening to her. She had been told by child welfare services that once she got out of jail she would be able to see her child, but when she was released the nightmare continued.
A restraining order had been placed on her so she couldn’t see her baby. Larissa was about to get schooled in the world of juvenile court. Juvenile court operates under the preponderance of the evidence. Guilt is not beyond all reasonable doubt. The judge only needs to believe 51% of the evidence is true in order to convict someone.
Larissa went to the detention hearing on Tuesday morning fully expecting to be leaving with her baby. She thought since all charges were dropped except for a misdemeanor of obstruction it would be an automatic return of her child. She walked into the courtroom thinking that she would say, “Here I am” and be given her son back. Instead, the judge decided that Larissa was a bad parent and started the adoption proceedings.
He disregarded the fact that her son tested negative for any drugs or illegal substances. The court- appointed attorney volunteered her for rehab and Larissa said, "Excuse me. Don’t volunteer me for rehab, I want my baby back". She kept firing her court appointed attorney on the record and the judge asked the attorney, "Are you having a problem with your client?" The judge said they would set a date to come back in a month to discuss the case and Larissa respectfully, yet firmly, said, "No. I want my baby back". The court-appointed attorney said this was her only option. And he kept saying to her, "You can’t fire me".
When the original charges were dropped and never made it passed the district attorney’s office, apparently the Child Welfare Services did not care. It seems that Larissa’s one-year-old son was being offered for adoption from the first day he was taken and placed into the system. Even though the original charges of possession and sales, being under the influence and child endangerment were immediately dropped, no one bothered to inform the CWS. The accusation of these crimes is apparently what CWS went with and they didn’t bother to check out if the charges were legitimate.
One of the charges was for neglect because she hadn’t vaccinated her son. In California you don’t have to vaccinate for personal, religious or philosophical beliefs. She didn’t’ vaccinate because of her beliefs. The attorney said she had to vaccinate him. “You don’t understand how they are. If you don’t do what they want you to do you will never see your child again” he threatened. Her child was forcibly vaccinated against her will. He got 8 shots in one day. While under state care, they had to take her son to the emergency room twice. In his mother’s protective custody, he had never required emergency room care. Even though Larissa provided a very stable and safe home for her son, studies suggest that children fair better even in a troubled home over foster care.
Reminiscent of The Salem Witch Trials, it doesn’t matter how good a parent you are. All it takes is one “official” person to accuse you. The ramifications still rise up even today, a year later. People read the initial story; family and strangers alike readily believe the charges because they think the officer is infallible.
Larissa lost her job, her home, her baby for a period of time, her good reputation, her dignity, her money and her family in a matter of minutes. And she still carries the stigma. Even now when she applies for jobs she hopes, “please don’t Google my name”.
The arresting officer not only put her son’s life in a horrible position, he also further punished her by issuing a citation, suspending her driver’s license. He turned her over to DMV in the attempt to permanently revoke her driver’s license because he said she was a drug addict. A year later Larissa still shakes with fear reflecting back on these events.
When trying to get her driver’s license restored, the doctor at the DMV couldn’t believe why she was being stripped of her license. “What the hell happened here?” he asked. “First, we rarely see this and second, when we do, it is for things like severe dementia, Alzheimer’s cases or people who are extremely old. What did you do to make this officer so angry at you”? After the physical she then had to go into an interview with another staff member. Larissa said to herself, “Thank God, my driver’s history is spotless”. Off the record, the interviewer asked, “Can you please tell me what happened? Why is this officer trying to revoke your license for being a drug addict? What is going on here? The Supreme Court has already said you can’t lose your license for using medical marijuana. This was the first person to really shed some light on her situation. It was this person’s opinion that some police officers don’t like the marijuana laws and they go out of their way to harass people over the laws they don’t agree with and try to cause them problems. He said he had seen this happen frequently as a form of retaliation by the police.
Do they remove children when parents have a beer in the refrigerator or Vodka in the cupboard? What about possession of legally prescribed, mind-altering, psychotropic medications or tobacco? All of these substances can be much more problematic and sometimes lethal, yet they don’t carry the same stigma.
She had a court-appointed attorney but she knew she would have to get the best attorney possible. Her court-appointed attorney said she was guilty. He condemned her for calling the officer of the law a liar. He berated her and said, “That’s fine, we will put him on the stand and it will be your word against his and we’ll see who people believe”. Her son would be gone in 6 months if she didn’t jump through their hoops.
In cases such as these, the courts work with the drug rehabilitation program and everyone is ordered to go. She was to be there 5 days a week from 7 am to 2 pm. She was to drug test every single day. She would not be allowed to use medical marijuana even though it was legal in California and she resided in California, it was not federally allowed. If her urine test had even one problem, it would be considered a violation and she would be considered non-compliant. If she was two minutes late for rehab Mon- Fri by 7:00 a.m. , she would be deemed non-compliant. Larissa asked, “Aren’t you going to give me an evaluation before you say I need intense treatment?” “No”, was the response. “We won’t give you an evaluation for at least the first month. “ Larissa did anything she could possibly do to show them she was a fit mother. She provided 30 character references. CWS refused to present even one of her character references to the judge and told her in and e:mail that the fact that she was a good and responsible mother was nothing new.
Larissa, with all her troubles, was blessed with an intellect and a heart of a fighter. Having the wherewithal in knowing that she needed a very good attorney she took to social networks. She found Shawn McMillian by frantically sending e:mails. From Shawn McMillan she was put in contact with Art La Cilento because Shawn McMillan didn’t do CWS cases. Art La Cilento had also been Octomom’s attorney. He has a 98% success rate. What is the difference in courts today, sadly, is not whether someone is guilty or not, but rather, if one can afford to retain an effective attorney. Even though Larissa didn’t have much money, she had enough to pay him. She says it was worth every penny. She got her baby back but even that was not without its struggles.
When Larissa walked into court with Mr. La Cilento the entire court shifted in tone. Larissa could feel the cold stares being shot in her direction. It was one of few highlights in an otherwise horrific experience. CWS court was offering plea bargains. Her new attorney kept saying, “Do you want your baby today? You can just concede and just say that you left your marijuana out where your son could get it.” Larissa said, “No, I never did.” She refused to take the plea bargain even though her attorney was very powerful and intimidating. And even though her heart ached to get her child back, she said to her attorney, “I’m innocent” and he said, “Then you don’t want your baby. You don’t understand how these people work, Larissa. You’re not going to get your kid back. You’re working on a time clock. The time clock is ticking”. She was in tears and kept insisting, “No, Art. I refuse. I will take them to trial. I will take them to trial. We will go to trial.” They were using her child like a carrot being dangled before her. She felt like a Greyhound chasing the rabbit. Because she didn’t plead guilty at the 6 weeks juncture the courts dragged the process out until 13 weeks before they released her child to her. But she never admitted to something she did not do. This is the gift that she can give her child; a mother who stands firm and holds to principle. Courage does not mean you don’t have fear.
They kept her baby 13 weeks; Thanksgiving, Christmas and his second birthday. A year later he still has problems going to bed at night. Being taken from his mother at such a young age a psychologist told Larissa was worse because he had no concept of time. It was worse for him because it seemed like an eternity. He would take naps and have to wake up when she wasn’t there. He wasn’t used to that. He used to be very secure and had no fear. After the incident he is more fearful. He used to climb up on anything and jump off. He doesn’t act like that anymore. Larissa says, “He is still my angel baby. I used to be able to take him into his room, lie him down and pat his bottom 3 times and walk out and he’d go to sleep. Now it takes me almost an hour of rubbing his back and he hangs on to me before he goes to sleep to this day. He just hangs on to me. I can tell a difference in him”.
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