MT. VERNON — The Fifth District Appellate Court has upheld a lower court's ruling terminating the parental rights of an East St. Louis man.
According to court documents, on May 16 the appellate court affirmed an Oct. 12 decision by the St. Clair County Circuit Court to terminate the parental rights of Antoine K., who was deemed an unfit parent for son A.K.
On June 12, 2011, one of A.K.'s siblings was found wandering the streets of East St. Louis without adequate clothing. When the East St. Louis police department took the child back to her home, they found A.K. and five other children in the home without adult supervision.
The state determined that A.K. and his siblings were neglected and Antoine, a 40-year-old laid-off steel worker, was found to be an unfit parent because he had "abandoned the child, failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility for A.K.'s welfare and that he had deserted A.K. for the preceding three months.”
After the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) attempted to reunite the family, case worker Christina Schwab told the trial court that Antoine had not made reasonable efforts toward an action plan set out by the court and DCFS.
"With respect to the outcome that Antoine would provide an adequate supervision plan for his children, Schwab reported that at the time of the report, the children could not go to his home because of 'safety concerns in regards to domestic violence, alcohol abuse and housing,'" the court noted.
Antoine argued that he should have his parental rights for A.K. reinstated because "it was his God-given right to be his parent." He also disagreed with DCFS that he had not shown a reasonable degree of interest, concern and responsibility for A.K.'s welfare. He explained that he refused any further recommended domestic violence treatment because he had already taken the lengthy course required.
Antoine blamed much of his actions on A.K.’s mother, Lokesha, with whom he had a domestic altercation in May 2015. He claimed she had a habit of taking out unnecessary orders of protection against him and others in the extended family.
At the time of the circuit court's hearing, A.K. and three of his siblings were thriving in foster care with a single woman who had signaled interest in adopting A.K. and one of his sisters, court documents said. Schwab testified that "A.K. was happy in this home, had a good relationship with his foster mother, and that it would be disruptive to A.K. if he was removed from this home.”
On Nov. 18, 2016, the circuit court judge entered his order concluding that "the State proved by a preponderance of the evidence that it was within A.K.'s best interests that Antoine's parental rights be permanently and forever terminated.”
Upon appeal, Antoine argued that "the court should not have found him unfit for failing to make reasonable progress on his service plans.” He also argued that the court should not have found him unfit for failing to maintain a reasonable degree of responsibility as to A.K.'s welfare.
The court upheld the circuit court’s decision, saying that “because the trial judge saw and heard the witnesses, the reviewing court does not reweigh the evidence or reassess the witnesses' credibility.”
The appellate court noted that the May 2015 domestic altercation affirmed the lower’s courts findings that Antoine's domestic violence treatment program was insufficient to reinstate his parental rights.
"He testified that he participated in 'Celebrate Recovery' group meetings at his church, which may have satisfied this DCFS requirement as an alternative program," the decision states. "However, Antoine had no proof that he had ever attended these meetings. Furthermore, the events of May 2015 revealed that he was not living a sober life. We know that Antoine and his son love each other, and that his visitations with A.K. went well. However, we cannot consider this factor alone. Antoine had a responsibility to his son to do what was necessary to comply with the DCFS service plans.”
The court concluded that the state presented "clear and convincing evidence that Antoine failed to show a reasonable degree of responsibility towards A.K.'s welfare and that the trial court's order concluding that Antoine was unfit is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence."