Cleburne family freed of CPS supervision after 18 months (TX)

CLEBURNE — In less than five minutes, David and Angel Cook’s 18-month nightmare with Child Protective Services was over.

On Monday, the agency formally relinquished guardianship over their seven children. CPS had removed their children for more than a year after accusing them of starving to death their four-year-old adopted son, Buddy.

“I don’t understand how this is justice. But for us, for now it is because our kids are home,” Angel Cook said.

The Cooks contend they were victimized by CPS caseworkers, who they accuse of withholding crucial medical information that led to a homicide ruling in Buddy’s death, of misrepresenting what they and their children said during the investigation, and finally, of failing to protect their children while in foster care.

The Cooks’ long nightmare began in March 2013 when Buddy died at their Cleburne home. The Cooks were charged with first injury to a child, a first degree felony punishable by up to life in prison. Their seven children – including then 14-month-old Wesley – were placed in foster care.

The Johnson County District Attorney’s Office dropped the charges after the medical examiner who performed the autopsy came forward saying he believed that Buddy died of natural causes, not from something the Cooks did or did not do. The pathologist told News 8 that he believes Buddy had a metabolic issue that caused his body not to properly process nutrients.

The children returned home last April under a mediated agreement, but they remained under CPS supervision.

The family and all of its seven children came to the Johnson County court today for that final hearing. Friends and family came to show their support.

CPS officials had told the family that there was no need for a hearing but the Cooks wanted their day in court.

“The department has prepared an order to dismiss,” said an attorney representing CPS. “All parties have signed off on it and here it is for your approval.”

Judge Keith Dean took the order, signed and said that it was immediately effective.

“Good luck,” the judge told the Cooks.

And with that, CPS was out of their lives.

The CPS attorney left out a side door and was not available for comment.

Patrick Barkman, an attorney representing the Cooks, says this is often how these cases end.

“These cases are always tough,” he said. “Any time you have the kids removed from you, that’s really rough on the family and it’s especially rough here because the little boy had died and they didn’t ever have any time to mourn him or go through the normal grieving process because they had to slip right into fighting a very serious criminal case and then this case as well.”

The Cooks say the battle to stay out of jail and to keep their children has cost them more than $200,000.

“We’re the same family [we were] 18 months ago, just one less person, and so for them to automatically say, ‘Oh, you’re a safe parent.’ Why wasn’t I 18 months ago?” Angel Cook said. “We lost everything.”

She says that, had CPS officials just listened, unimaginable damage to their family could have been avoided.

David Cook said he’s just “relieved” that the case was over.

The Cooks say several of their children were abused and neglected while in the foster care system and they are still fighting to have someone held accountable for that.

“My kids returned completely different kids and none of it can be given back,” Angel Cook said. “My kids lost their innocence in state care.”

They also plan to sue CPS and they want the case workers involved in their case to lose their jobs. They’re also seeking an administrative hearing to overturn the CPS finding alleging that they were culpable in Buddy’s death.

Barkman, their attorney, says he’s been inspired by the Cooks’ tenacity.

“I personally have been inspired by how tough these people are, how determined they are and how they held their family together,” Barkman said.


Cleburne family freed of CPS supervision after 18 months
After 18 months and over $200,000 spent, the David and Angel Cook have their seven children back.
Tanya Eiserer,
October 3, 2014