By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
This is particularly good news for Jacqueline Mercado and her boyfriend, Johnny Fernandez, who have regained custody of their 1-year-old son Rodrigo. Last week, Dallas Observer staff writer Thomas Korosec reported ("1-Hour Arrest") how Mercado and Fernandez ran afoul of the law for the dastardly act of taking a photo of their boy suckling at Mercado's breast. Last fall, the couple had the photos developed at a local drug store. A clerk there saw the image and called Richardson police. Long story short: Mercado and Fernandez wound up indicted for "sexual performance of a child" (though the case was later dropped by Dallas County prosecutors), and Child Protective Services took away their two children and ordered all sorts of onerous counseling and tests.
You might wonder what sort of twisted upbringings Texas bureaucrats must have had to see breast-feeding as a sexual act. Our readers certainly did. We received upward of 50 letters from people in the States and Canada, all sharing one thought, summed up by this writer: "That parents could have their children taken away from them because of photos of a 1-year-old breast-feeding is horrible beyond words." (One writer from Alabama described it as "jack-booted thuggery." It's a proud moment in Texas history when residents of Alabama are appalled by our heavy-handed government.)
At the time the story ran, Mercado and Fernandez still hadn't regained custody of their sons--Mercado is the mother of a 4-year-old from a previous marriage--and the state was demanding they take lie-detector tests at their own expense before they could get them back. One of the couple's lawyers, Steven Lafuente, says that since then the state has essentially walked away from the case. No polygraphs were required, though the couple will attend a few parenting classes, he says. The oldest boy is still with his biological father, and a private custody dispute is brewing there, but no one is still calling Mercado and Fernandez deviants.
Now, lest you think we're being too tough on CPS for its idiotic handling of this case, know this: Buzz generally sympathizes with the agency. Their overburdened caseworkers have jobs we wouldn't take for 10 times the pay. Dealing with child abuse--real abuse, we mean--has to be inconceivably grim. One mistake, being either too stern or too lenient, can have terrible consequences. So it's hard to smack them. Hard, but not impossible. Buzz asked Lafuente if anyone in officialdom had apologized to the family.
Now that's indecent. Damned jack-booted thugs. Why can't someone with CPS send a letter, a note, a friggin' Hallmark card saying, "We made a mistake. We apologize." Just try it, CPS. Really, it's not hard to say "We're sorry." A child could do it.