MOORHEAD — Two Minnesota parents will have to wait before regaining full custody of their child after a judge sided with government authorities and ruled that the child needs continued protective services, but added that there needs to be a plan to ensure reunification.
Jill Pease and Joshua Jurado’s 9-month-old son, Oliver, was taken into the custody of Clay County Social Services (CCSS) in January, after medical professionals concluded that Oliver suffered a brain bleed that was likely caused by head trauma, raising concerns that the trauma may have been abusive. Whether there was any abuse has not been proven.
Pease, 38, who identifies as a lesbian, and Jurado, 27, who identifies as a gay man, are in a platonic, nonromantic relationship and, in a previous interview with The Forum, expressed concerns that their case started and has been prolonged because of their sexual orientation.
Both parents, who have been working with CCSS to reunite with their son, took their case to trial this month in Clay County District Court, arguing that the government’s position that their child needs protective services is unfounded.
On Monday, July 29, Judge Michelle Lawson ruled that Oliver is in need of continued protective services, saying that “medical evidence points to non-accidental trauma as the cause of Oliver’s injuries and Josh and Jill as his sole caregivers in the days and weeks leading up to his hospitalization.”
But Lawson further ordered that CCSS should come up with a plan to “incrementally increase contact, relaxing supervision and returning Oliver” to the parents' custody, adding in her ruling that Pease and Jurado have met CCSS requirements so far in the case and have been appropriate parents in all their visits with Oliver.
While the judge's decision is disappointing, said Jurado’s attorney Nicole Tabbut, the overall result is that there is now a plan in place to return Oliver to his parents’ care.
Tabbut said CCSS, after the trial ended, began working with Pease and Jurado on a step-by-step plan to reduce supervision, increase contact time, overnight visits and finally reunite Oliver with his parents. That plan will be reviewed by all the parties at a hearing set for Aug. 15, according to the ruling.
In her decision, Lawson directly addressed the topic of Pease and Jurado’s sexual orientation, a topic that came up intermittently during the trial. Pease and Jurado, who conceived Oliver through artificial insemination, haven’t made any formal accusations against CCSS.
“There has been a recurring, albeit subtle, theme throughout this case that perhaps allegations were made or Oliver was not returned to the care of Josh and Jill as quickly as he should have been or Josh and Jill have been treated unfairly because they are homosexual,” Lawson wrote in her ruling. “Sexual orientation is wholly irrelevant to the issues at hand in this case.”
The case stems from what happened to Oliver in late December and the unsolved questions that linger.
On Dec. 28, Pease and Jurado brought Oliver to Essentia Health in Moorhead after Oliver experienced twitching in his left side.
Doctors found that Oliver suffered from a subdural hematoma, also known as a brain bleed, typically caused by abusive or accidental trauma to the head.
With no medical or genetic condition found, and with no report of accidental trauma, doctors arrived at the likelihood that the injury was non-accidental. Pease and Jurado told authorities that they had not observed Oliver fall or injure himself, and both denied hurting him.
On Jan. 3, CCSS took custody of Oliver, with questions remaining as to how he suffered a brain bleed and whether the injury was abusive.
Pease and Jurado’s attorneys said authorities reached the conclusion of abuse “haphazardly,” and offered the alternative that the brain bleed could have been caused by a stroke or a seizure, as suggested by a medical expert they recruited.
The government objected to that expert testifying during the trial, saying his position that a brain bleed can be caused by a stroke — a position the government’s witnesses rejected — is not widely held in the medical community.
Lawson sided with the government on this issue, saying in her ruling that the expert’s views “are not generally accepted within the medical community and does not give them weight herein.”