Then, as they told the Sun:
“Jace was diagnosed with a viral infection that was causing fever and diarrhea. While Crystal showered and did her hair upstairs in their apartment, Jarvis was giving Jace his second bath of the day. Jarvis laid the baby stomach-down along his forearm as he bent over the bathtub, pouring soapy water over Jace’s back. The baby slipped sideways off Jarvis’ arm, his knee hitting the bottom of the tub.
“Jace cried, and Jarvis picked him up to console him, he said. Jarvis said he was leaning into the tub when the baby fell into a small amount of water, ‘enough to make a toy float.’ Jarvis didn’t mention it to his wife.”
Later that night, Crystal observed that it seemed like Jace was favoring one leg over the other. She was already planning to take him to the hospital that night because the virus wasn’t getting any better, so when she got there she asked if the hospital would also look at his leg. It turns out that Jace had fractured his femur.
Crystal called Jarvis, who told her about the slip in the tub. So Crystal relayed that information to the hospital, who then turned on the family.
A full medical work-up was done, and evidence of several previous fractures showed up in X-rays. The police and Child Protective Services arrived, and Crystal and Jarvis were placed in separate rooms and interrogated. They concluded that both Crystal and Jarvis were “deceptive.”
But here’s the thing: Because Jace had plenty of documentation of his ongoing health struggles, the many experts who made up his medical team and who saw him each week or every other week — doctors, nurses, therapists — were legally required to report any suspicions of child abuse. No one had ever filed any reports against the parents.
Jace was also a regular at the emergency room, often to replace his feeding tube. Feeding tubes are tricky with babies because they’re easy to dislodge and move around. Babies who require feeding tubes are often regulars in emergency rooms, and the ER is the first place that accusations of abuse often happen. Doctors and nurses are trained the spot the signs. But still, no one had ever raised any alarms about the family.
It seems like something shifted when Crystal came into the ER about the virus and asked about Jace’s leg. Three days later, he was removed from their custody, and Crystal and Jarvis had to face every parent’s nightmare: allegations of abusing their child and the removal of their child from their home. Because they didn’t have family nearby, Jace was placed with a foster family.
Crystal and Jarvis were frantic, and the next day Crystal called CPS “five times” to get information about her son. It’s a tricky thing when children are placed in foster care: It’s not always easy to get information right away. In fact, when my husband and I were foster parents, we found out that the mom of the kids in our home didn’t know where they were for a whole week.
On the phone call, Crystal asked if she could see her son for Thanksgiving. The answer was no.
Crystal sank into a dark well of depression that was so intense she once opened her car door on the highway while Jarvis was driving 80 miles per hour. The two were returning from a supervised visit with their son.
She said, “I just wanted to jump out. I couldn’t believe I was still living on this Earth, without my son. It was hell on Earth. There was no living for me.”
Crystal also stopped eating and drinking, and Jarvis had her admitted to the hospital a month and a half after Jace was removed from their home.
It was there that they found out there were warrants out for their arrest. Charges of felony child abuse had been filed. The two ended up handcuffed and taken to El Paso County Jail. Neither of them had a previous criminal history.
Jarvis took it upon himself to start learning, and quickly. He contacted the ACLU and began reading court cases and medical records. He said, “This is literally our lives, our son’s life, our livelihood, our well-being, our mental state, pretty much everything that we could ever think of is at stake. I’m not going to sit here and let this happen. It’s one thing if you know you did something wrong. But if you know you didn’t do anything wrong, why are you going to go down innocent?”
After their release, Jarvis started visiting every single hospital that had ever seen Jace. According to the Sun:
“He collected 1,200 pages of medical records, along with discs of all of Jace’s X-rays, including those taken before and after his surgery and tube placements.
“They hardly slept. They fought, wondering if losing Jace would break them. They went to supervised visits at the Family Visitation Center, and signed up for individual therapy and parenting classes, trying to anticipate what the county would ask of them and speed up the process to getting their son back.”
One night, something clicked. Jarvis found a video of interviews Katie Couric conducted with families who had had their children removed by CPS and were falsely accused of harming their children. The stories resonated, and he went down a rabbit hole that led him to Fractured Families, a website that supports the families of babies who experience unexplainable fractures. He emailed everyone he could, asking for help.
He was able to get in touch with doctors and radiologists who were experts in fractures. He wrote: “We need help from a medical professional urgently to try and fight this matter properly and get our baby back and prove our innocence. It just doesn’t make any sense how a baby like ours has such a lengthy medical history and no one has done their due diligence to properly rule out everything before they automatically say child abuse. Please help us.”
Two doctors took him up on the request and offered their help for free.
Dr. Susan Gootnick is one of the doctors who took on the case. She noted, “Obviously, the baby wasn’t getting the appropriate nutrients that he needed to grow. These bones break under stresses that a normal bone would not break under.”
She also said that it appeared that many of the fractures may have been caused by medical staff when they were reinserting Jace’s tubing. She said, “It’s unpleasant, as you can imagine, sticking a tube down their nose. You have to increase the strength of how you hold the baby still.”
The second doctor, Dr. John Galaznik, echoed the idea that Jace’s numerous fractures were due to medical care he had received. He also said that the leg fracture had no evidence of “yanking, pulling, twisting forces as one might predict an abusing caregiver to inflict.”
Jarvis had an attorney by this point, and he printed out the reports from both doctors and handed them over.
Jace was in foster care for exactly 164 days, from age 5 months to 10 months. Crystal was constantly worried he would forget them. His parents had one two-hour visit a week with him, which was also a concern. She said, “One more of those and I feel like my son wouldn’t even remember me.”
A few months into the experience, a couple Jarvis knew from work offered to become Jace’s foster placement and to allow Crystal and Jarvis to live with them. CPS agreed to the arrangement, as long as Jace’s parents were never alone with him. This lasted for two additional months.
The family was called into court in July to assess the case. Crystal and Jarvis were prepared for the worst. Instead, they got the best news: They could take their baby home that day. The charges against them were dropped a few months later. Jarvis and Crystal were thrilled, but also stunned.
“I never would have thought in a million years that this would be our life,” Crystal said. “I never thought this could happen to my son. But we’re still here. People would have thought we would have given up and turned on each other and Jace would stay in foster care. But I survived that. We survived that.”
Crystal and Jarvis believe they were victims of racial bias, and the El Paso Department of Children’s Services has said it will not comment on the case. It is true that black children are placed in CPS custody at nearly twice the rate of white children. To be fair, it is also true that, generally, parents who are accused of neglect of their children are rarely found to be innocent.
As the public information officer for the El Paso department said, “It is exceedingly, exceedingly rare.”
Happily, Jace is back home with his parents, where he belongs. He’s also slowly being introduced to solid foods, and he may get his feeding tube removed later this year. Crystal is no longer pursuing her nursing certificate, but Jarvis is on track to have his status in the Army reinstated.
The emotional trauma from the experience still hangs heavy. Crystal said that Jace recently had a 104-degree fever, but they weren’t sure about taking him to the hospital. “I’m sure as soon as you pull up his medical records, it says possible abuse, and everybody is looking at us now.”
The two are also trying to help other families who have been falsely accused. Jarvis says, “It’s no hard feelings for us, but it’s anger. This is what we actually had to live through. This is what our son had to live through. There should be due diligence before someone’s child is removed from their care. That is like, absurd, that you can take someone’s child and get a judge to sign off on it and you didn’t even do your due diligence.”