INLAND VALLEY NEWS, Ontario, California, Monday, 14 February 2005.
By CHRISTINA CHANES NYSTROM
MONTEREY PARK - A San Dimas Canyon woman, who was dramatically rescued during last month's storms, was reunited with her two children Monday after a judge determined that there was not enough evidence to keep the children in protective custody.
Erica and Jeffrey Henderson, who were flooded out of their San Dimas Canyon cabin on Jan. 10, had their children taken away by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services in the wake of a highly publicized rescue in the rain-swollen San Dimas Creek.
However, Los Angeles County children's court Judge Phillip Soto said accusations of neglect and putting the children at risk were based on poor evidence.
"This is not a criminal court," Soto said. "This court is about issues related to substantial risks to a child and make no mistake, our goal is to reunite families."
Soto said family services relied on reports, including allegations that Jeffrey Henderson had committed assault against neighbors, predating the Jan. 10 rescue, that were lacking in evidence.
"You have here issues detailed in reports but no arrests. The reports are not backed up by any evidence," Soto said. "I am fully aware of the hearsay that can go into these reports and although there are reports, the social workers report attached to the police report was incomplete."
During the rescue, fire officials complained about Jeffrey Henderson's behavior and asked the District Attorney's Office to file criminal charges against him. The district attorney, however, declined that request.
The two children, 9-month old son William and 19-month-old daughter Abigail, have been kept together with regular visitation from their parents.
"I just want my babies back by my side and in our home," Erica Henderson said.
The Hendersons, however, will be under close scrutiny from the county. The couple had Erica's 8-year-old son, from a previous relationship, taken out of their care after Jeffrey was accused of striking the boy with a belt in 1998. The couple had another child die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 2002.
County attorneys have also accused Jeffrey Henderson of performing a circumcision on William. Henderson says he is Hebrew and performed the circumcision out of religious duty.
Soto said there is no law prohibiting that practice.
"I do not want in anyway to imply that it is OK to do that or that people should go out and circumcise their children themselves," Soto said, "but it is only illegal if one mutilates a female -- there is nothing in the penal code about a male child."
The Hendersons agreed to several conditions including: random drugs tests and unannounced social worker visits between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Soto also ordered the Hendersons to undergo counseling that included addressing anger issues.
Jeffery Henderson's attorney Nathan Hoffman said the case was a weak one because there was nothing in the documentation that proved the accusations.
The Hendersons, with their ordeal firmly behind them, were smiling from ear to ear after the ruling. "My wife and I are extremely happy," Jeffrey Henderson said. "I just feel bad for all those parents here today that did not get their kids back. The government has no business raising our children, just take one look at the public school system -- it's an excellent example that clearly shows they have repeatedly failed to teach our children anything."
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