SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - WLOX News has been investigating claims from so many South Mississippians making what seemed to be outlandish allegations against the Mississippi Department of Human Services. What I've discovered may shock you.
In part one of our special investigative report "Broken," we meet Dr. Michael Garrett with Homes of Hope for Children.
"I've been in the system," Dr. Garrett said. "I know what it's like to live in a miserable foster home where you're being abused."
But thankfully, Dr. Michael Garrett ended up spending the rest of his childhood in a Christian youth home in Monroe, Louisiana where he was nurtured and loved. That lit a fire in his soul.
"God gave me this and led me to ministry and there was no doubt that I would spend the rest of my life fighting for these kids."
In 2010, he and his wife Julie opened "Homes of Hope for Children" in Purvis. The 6,400 square foot home and campus for children is run solely on private donations. But the Garretts never dreamed they were about to go to war with DHS and win.
"They always had attitude toward me. They treated my wife and I like dirt from day one."
When they fostered an 18-month-old girl, Kelly Rose, he said they had to fight DHS not to return her to a clearly unfit, abusive home, that DHS deemed safe.
Dr. Michael Garrett said, "When you have a two time convicted sex offender, a woman who is mentally challenged that's had a child die in her home. She lost parental rights to another child because she's so unfit, before these other five children were born. These are the people that DHS didn't just stand by, they fought for. And against me and my wife."
It took the Garretts a two and a half year trial in Lamar County Chancery Court and $35,000 to prove that Kelly Rose's home was unfit and that she should not be sent back. But her four older siblings were still there.
"And every single time we had these hearings, they marched one DHS worker after another in to tell the judge there were no problems."
Judge Ronald Doleac ruled to terminate parental rights for Kelly Rose and in his decision wrote, "Frankly, I am at a loss. DHS chose to ignore the direct order of the Youth Court judge when he said the couple's other children should not be returned to the home, and instead substituted its own judgment and interpretation of the law. Some DHS workers in the case developed a bias against the Garretts early on in the proceeding, which only served to hamper the court in making a determination of the facts and the best interest of the child."
Garrett said, "That's his second conviction, mind you, where he went to court, pled guilty, [was] convicted, and served jail time for fondling an 8-year-old girl. And you're going to tell me that this woman's going to say the courts found him guilty, but DHS didn't? Who do they think they are?"
And it turns out, very worried teachers had been calling DHS about Kelly Rose's siblings for many months. Garrett said they did nothing.
"The testimony from the teachers in our trial was heartbreaking. With tears in their eyes describing the situation these kids were coming to school and what they looked like, what they smelled like. Roaches falling out of one of the little girl's hair during class."
I personally met with the Director of DHS Mark Smith and asked for an on-camera interview about the allegations. But because of privacy laws, I was told, "He can not comment."
So you know, WLOX News has been unable to get comment from Kelly Rose's biological parents, but she has now been legally adopted by Michael and Julie Garrett.
This 2012 case is expected to set precedent for child protection law. But so did the "Olivia Y" case years before it that would rock DHS to its core. That's where we pick up Tuesday night.
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