Steven Berry is a Marine. He barely survived heavy fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan, suffering such horrific injuries in Afghanistan that he was medically retired after ten years of service, four of those years as a Marine recruiter. The young father is now classified as one hundred percent disabled.
Barely emerging from the Middle East with his life, last week Mendocino County took another Taliban-quality whack at Berry when the County descended on his well-kept Ukiah home to steal his children and arrest his wife for a domestic assault that didn't happen.
District Attorney Eyster took one look at the police report and tossed it, but the two little girls were still in a foster home pending a Monday morning hearing in Judge Cindee Mayfield's court. (That hearing is described below.)
The confiscation of his two babies, ages two and one, has not helped the Marine's struggle to get himself all the way back from the terrors he's survived. The arrest of Mrs. Berry was not warranted, but the taking of his two children by Ms. Dale and Ms. Myer of Mendocino County's Children's Protective Services was, to say the least, arbitrary and not justified by any known domestic circumstances in the Berry home.
Mr. and Mrs. Berry's devotion to their girls is not in question; if it were their many friends and neighbors would put those questions to rest. But nobody asked friends and neighbors. Mendo CPS just grabbed the kids and drove off with them.
Lacey Berry does double duty as Steve's wife and in-home caregiver. The Marine, understandably, suffers frequent nightmares and flashbacks. He is medicated and commutes back and forth to the Bay Area for therapy at the VA Hospital. He also regularly sees a doctor in Ukiah. The attractive young family is presently on a waiting list to get into an intensive PTSD in-house program in Palo Alto. And now this trauma.
On Monday night last week, Steve Berry woke up from a frenzied nightmare imagining that his wife was attacking him. He called the police. His wife had not touched him. It was all in the Marine's haunted head.
Somehow the normally sensible Ukiah cops determined that Mrs. Berry had ignited the Marine's late-night terror. “Probable spousal abuse,” the cops called it in lieu of any evidence that spousal abuse had occurred. Five of them arrested the wife and left the hallucinating Marine alone with the two babies. A neighbor promised to check on the Berry home while Mom was held overnight at the Mendocino County Jail.
Mrs. Berry tells us what happened next. “I got bailed out. I went home. My girls had been up for hours because my husband was still asleep due to his medications. We went straight to all his doctors who wrote notes to the DA, the police department etc. The charges were all rejected on Thursday.”
But the previous day, a Wednesday, and two days after the Marine's screaming nightmare, the two social workers, Dale and Myers, appeared, just as the Berrys were getting back to their usual state of difficult-normal.
“They told me they were there because of the domestic violence charge," Mrs. Berry recalls. "They had us do a family plan where they wanted my husband to leave, which I didn't understand when I'm his caregiver. He walks with a cane, but they made him walk out. After that they gave me a drug test. I said I would pop for thc but that I have my 420 card and also an opiate from a prescription for dental work. I just didn't have the bottle that day. So they said they would bring in a police officer to give me a sobriety test. I asked the CPS woman what that would consist of, and she said a breathalyzer, touch your nose, walk a line etc. The police officer came. He was very nice but never gave me a sobriety test. The 4 of them, 2 officers, 2 CPS agents, went outside my home (which they mentioned is beautiful and clean) called me back in and said they are ‘detaining’ my children.”
The CPS workers were calling the tune. They had refused to read the letter in which the Marine's doctor explained that the DA had already tossed the charges against Mrs. Berry and that her husband, not to mention the couple's two children, needed to be with his family in the marital home of Mrs. and Mrs. Berry and their two babies. But the two social workers proceeded to take the kids anyway, oblivious or uncaring that Mrs. Berry is Sgt. Berry's full-time caregiver. He needs her, he needs his children, she needs him and her children. They're a family.
But Sgt. Berry now has a new trauma to go with the combat-induced traumas he lives with. Neither he nor Mrs. Berry know where or with whom his little girls are. This is a brand new terror for Mrs. Berry who doesn't remember seeing anything like a warrant or other official order authorizing the taking of her children.
CPS Mendocino County is not known for its intelligence or compassion. They are famously incompetent, as again established in the recent Wilson Tubbs case where they placed an infant with a known Fort Bragg meth head who proceeded to beat the child to death. Mendocino County has been ordered by the federal court to pay the dead infant's mother a hundred thousand dollars.
Mr. and Mrs. Berry have an attorney and an array of witnesses, including an official from the VA, who will appear with them in Judge Mayfield's courtroom Monday morning.
“I’ve never been away from my kids this long,” Mom says. “Ever. I'm a stay-at-home mom and caregiver to my husband. I just can't believe this happening. I'm sorry I'm crying. I hope this makes sense.”
It doesn't make sense.
Sgt. Berry gives it all he's got to beat back terrorists 13,000 miles from Ukiah only to be terrorized by Mendocino County? In Ukiah? In his home? Which CPS Mendocino County ordered him out of?
Monday morning. Mrs. Lacey went to court only to have the matter put over until tomorrow. According to the detention narrative produced by Mendocino County CPS, Sgt. Berry's children were taken because CPS was afraid that Berry would return to his own home and not honor the “safety plan” that CPS had Mrs. Berry sign.
It was not explained how exactly Sgt. Berry is a menace to his own children. It's not a crime to wake up screaming. Normally, the abusive person is asked to leave the home. But no one in the Berry home had been abused. Mrs. Berry had allegedly abused Sgt. Berry, but all she'd done, as she has done on countless late-night occasions, was to calm him when he woke up from a dream that he was back in Afghanistan and the Taliban were trying to kill him.
Mrs. Berry did nothing to warrant her arrest, less than nothing to warrant the loss of her children.
The Berrys are now concerned that their family is over, that their children are permanently gone, that Sgt. Berry will be left to cope as best he can without his wife and two little girls.
Welcome home, Sarge.