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Harris County's three hundred and Fifteenth District Court was packed, it was October 4th, twenty eighteen day two of the court hearing to determine whether CPS was justified when it took Melissa and Dylan Bright's children. After everyone settled into their seats, LeVar Jones stood up and walked toward the stand. LaVar adjusted his suit jacket as he sat down. Then he raised his right hand and swore to tell the truth. Dan, when the attorney representing CPS was nervous, at this point, I was playing defense.


I'm the prosecutor and then I'm the one playing defense.


Dan asked the VA to detail the findings of its investigation into Mason Bright's head injuries and why those injuries left with no choice but to take the kids. At one point, Dan asked if he could have communicated better during the investigation. LaVar said yes, if he'd made any mistakes along the way. Yes, some mistakes. For example, LaVar said he shouldn't have waited three weeks to get back in touch with the brights before taking their kids. Finally, Dan asked, Is there anything else that you wanted to say either directly to the parents or to the court?


No. Past the witness judge, then it was the bride's lawyer's turn, Dennis Slater stood up and started grilling the investigator. He wanted to know if LaVar had been honest. Back when he told a judge the bright kids were in imminent danger, Dennis asked, were there any inconsistencies in his testimony that day? But before LaVar could answer, Dan jumped out of his seat. Your Honor, my client's going to assert the fifth. Dennis glanced at his cocounsel.


Stephanie Prophet. I was shocked, actually. It was the first time I've ever had that happen in a CPS case. And actually it's the only time I've had it happen in a court case today. Dennis and Stephanie protested lawyers can't plead the Fifth on behalf of their clients. Dennis demanded LaVar answer the question had he been truthful in his earlier testimony, LaVar replied, Plead the fifth. Dennis and I looked at each other with just like amazement on her face.


And when he pled the fifth, we actually kind of laughed.


You could understand why someone accused of a crime might invoke their constitutional right to avoid self incrimination. But in this case, the VA was the one doing the accusing in a civil matter. If you plead the fifth, the court can presume that you are admitting to lying. I remember Mr. Bright looking at me kind of confused, like, what the heck was that all about? And I had to kind of explain to him that he's basically admitting that he lied in his removal affidavit.


It didn't end there.


Dennis asked whether it was right for CPS to take children without hard evidence of abuse. LaVar said plead the fifth later when the VA said he was intimidated by Dylan's aggressive questioning on the night of the removal, Dennis asked, But I don't intimidate you, LaVar said. Plead the fifth. Dennis cracked a smile that literally the entire room was in laughter.


At that point in time, no one could believe it. Behind the bench, the judge presiding over the case, Mike Schneider, tried to conceal his own reaction in handling these cases for gosh. Twenty two years or so, I've never seen a caseworker take the fifth. And he did it over and over and over. The fact that the fifth was being pleaded like this suggested to me that nobody at the agency actually thought these kids were in danger at home with their parents.


Schneider thought about the photos introduced into evidence earlier that day showing two year old Charlotte crying with a gash under her eye, the aftermath of her two days in foster care. There was no doubt in his mind that the girl had been traumatized.


And for what? By the time we got to court, the kids have been injured, but not by their parents, by the state. On the Internet, you can be anyone, some people use that power to become who they wish they were. But what happens when they're little lies harm other people? MTV and Wanda represent Catfish. The podcast hosted by award winning filmmaker Neve Schulman Catfish. The podcast exposes the truth and lies of online dating. Subscribe on Apple podcast Spotify or wherever you're listening now.


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From NBC News and wondering, I'm Mike Xinbo and this is Do No Harm. This is episode six, The Cost. Mike Schneider had spent a decade on the bench by the time the Bryant case landed in his court. He was a Republican judge in the most conservative big state in America. He was also active in Houston's punk rock scene, having mixed albums and designed cover art for local bands. And he's a dog lover. That's why he'd been up early before heading into court for the break case.


That morning, Elsa and I went to the dog park because I would generally have to wear her out so that she would behave in court. She's a little pit bull with a lot of energy.


Also, the rescue pit bull was often curled up at Schneider's feet during hearings. One of the quirks of having a case heard in his courtroom, Elsa was sleeping soundly. As LeVar Jones stepped off the witness stand, Dan Funen stood up. Your Honor, I believe the state's going to rest at this point. Now, it was the brights turn to present their defense, to call their witnesses, but Dennis and Stephanie didn't see any reason to do any of that.


Instead, they asked Schneider to issue his ruling right then, based only on the testimony of the witnesses called by the state. We knew at that point that we didn't need to put on any additional evidence and that we could ask the court for a directed verdict to just find that there was no emergency and that the children should not have been placed in the possession of the agency behind the bench.


Schneider thought back to the first day in court when Dennis played audio from the night LaVar took the children, he thought of the sound of Charlotte's little voice.


One of the things I'll never forget was the recording of her daughter trying to comfort her.


That really that that hit hard. A hush fell over the room. As Schneider began to talk, Dylan reached over and grabbed Melissa's hand at the defense table, squeezing so hard he left an imprint of his wedding band.


We had had so many lost battles up to that point, even though we had the confidence we were going to win. And there's always that just that pit in your stomach where this could be kind of the, you know, the other shoe dropping type final blow thing.


Schneider was saying something about the facts of the case, making it impossible to believe CPS was truly worried about Charlotte and Mason's safety. Here's Judge Schneider rereading his ruling for us. The court finds pursuant to two sixty two to a one be one, that not only did the state not prove that there was a danger to the physical health or safety of the child, once he began reading his ruling, it was apparent that he was going to rule in our favor.


They made it clear that they did not believe that there was such a danger out the child. It is not possible to look at the facts and imagine that the agency actually felt that there was any sort of urgent need for protection to run three children. The court finds that the agency's efforts were unreasonable, and although dismissal was requested, I don't think the court has the ability to dismiss it. What it can do and will do is to remove the agency is any sort of managing conservator and order the return of the children to the parents.


And at that point, it was just a cascade of emotion from from from everybody that was that was with us.


We kind of turned back and looked at our friends and family that were in the audience. And they are all like thumbs up and smiling and happy for us.


Melissa got up and hugged Dylan, tears streaming down her cheeks. And there was just almost one of those things where you let out the breath that you've been holding in, or at least you don't realize you were holding in the whole time. The judge is reading and then it kind of hits you the fact that you needed to actually take your breath or you pass out. But once once it set in and after he ruled, then it was it was just an unbelievable relief as far as the burden.


Afterward, Dylan and Melissa stepped into a meeting room outside the courtroom where a local TV crew was waiting to ask them questions about their ordeal. Then they headed for their car. It was getting dark when they pulled up at Aunt Dolores's house that evening. The kids were still up waiting for them.


You know, we came in and said, Mommy, daddy, mommy, daddy. Charlotte had talked and so she ran up and she's Peyrol a mess. She's in our diaper with a long sleeve shirt on. And Dylan embraced her. We picked her up.


Dylan went out and got the car seats, the same seats he'd strapped into the back of Lavoie's car weeks earlier. Now he buckled them into his own back seat back where they belonged.


You dreamed of the moment when you finally arrive and you finally get to take your kids back.


And you've probably played the scenario out in your head one hundred times. And it's like this is really happening. We're really doing this. We're really picking up the kids for the last time, you know, from the last household that had to watch them and take them back to our home and put them back with. They safe would be a family again that night, Melissa and Dylan could not stop smiling as they got Charlotte and Mason ready for bed, resuming their old nighttime routine as if they never stopped reading the Charlotte rocking Mason, tucking them into their own beds, giving each a kiss.


As Melissa and Dylan lay in bed that night, joy and relief weren't the only emotion swirling through their minds. Sure, they had one in the end. But at what cost? Across town that same night, Lance Butler was getting ready for bed when he noticed an email from his lawyer, Stephanie sent me that I believe at the Met.


As a matter of fact, it was a link to the TV news story about the brights. Lance opened the article and hit play Jonathan in a show called Soury that ended today.


A CPS case worker took the fifth when he was asked about why he had two little kids taken by emergency removal. The parents say they tried to do everything CPS wanted them to do, but the caseworker kept dragging his feet. The facts of the case were so familiar.


In fact, there was Lance's lawyer on TV, so he sat down in court swearing that these children are in imminent danger and he hasn't seen them actually in thirty five days only the outcome could not have been more different.


Reporting live from downtown, Randy Wallas, FOX.


Forty six minutes glance at his phone down and tried to digest what he'd seen. They'd spent their life savings on lawyers. Lance was facing criminal charges and the prospect of 20 years in prison after his baby suffered nearly identical injuries as Mason Bright, he and Shardey had been separated from their children for a year. But now, after just two weeks apart from their kids, something very different was happening for the family on the news. They didn't lose their children.


But as we did, I don't recall, the father wasn't even charged. So my thought was Stephanie uses so we can get our kids back. You know, even as she celebrated doing the melisa's court ruling that night, Stephanie was asking herself the same question. Was it possible to take the brights victory and use it to help others? Everyone wants to keep their home and family safe, whether it's from a break in, a fire flooding or a medical emergency, simply save home security delivers award winning 24/7 protection.


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But tastes are fickle. Join us for Tick-Tock versus Instagram. Listen on Apple podcasts, Spotify or listen at free by joining one three plus in the wonderous app. One month after the bright kids came home, Dylan and Melissa were back in court, this time, they were the ones who filed the lawsuit. They were asking Judge Schneider to punish CPS for what the agency put them through. This was no slam dunk. As in most states, Texas law exempt CPS from liability in most cases, as long as the agency acts in good faith, parents can't sue for damages over the course of five days in November.


Twenty eighteen, Dennis and Stephanie grilled CPS officials about their decisions in the case.


In this time, Nisha Edwards, the VA supervisor, was among those called to the witness stand.


At one point, Dennis asked her about the agency's refusal to let Melissa breastfeed Mason overnight, back when he was recovering from surgery and the Brights were still complying with the CPS safety plan, Nyasha responded. The family did not ask for Mrs. Bright to stay overnight. During the family team meeting, Dennis scoffed, then reminded her Dylan recorded that meeting.


You're saying that there was never a request made to you for Mrs. Bright to be able to stay and breastfeed her child overnight? I don't recall. Just a second ago you said it wasn't. Now you're saying you don't remember. I don't recall what? I don't recall. Why did you just tell us a minute ago it didn't happen? I don't recall. You don't recall why you didn't tell us? I don't recall. It went on like this for hours.


Nyasha would misstate a fact from the case. Dennis would show her a document or play her recording to jog your memory. The Nyasha would say, I don't recall or I can't answer that question. Over the course of two days of testimony, Nyasha repeated those two phrases. One hundred and three times. After five days in court, Judge Schneider had made up his mind on the afternoon of November 8th, twenty eighteen, he announced his ruling from the bench.


This court has witnessed personally the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services protecting children, saving their lives. I've seen it. I've also seen this agency destroy families. Dylan held Melissa's hand more gently. This time, the court finds in this case it was indeed dishonest to not notify the parents of the hearing. Lovaas and several CPS officials sat in the audience. The court can infer from that behavior not only that that behavior was dishonest, but you could argue it rises to the level of being both discriminatory and malicious.


This court further finds that. But for the fact that the parents were not here to tell their side of the story, this case would not have made it past the emergency hearing. The children would never have been removed. The case would have been over, but it wasn't over. So the court finds it would be appropriate to award the parents for their fees. One hundred and twenty seven thousand five hundred and fifty seven dollars and thirty eight cents. As to other sanctions, frankly, if the court felt that they would be upheld and wouldn't be unfair to taxpayers, the agency would be sanctioned a whole lot more money.


Schneider had just issued the largest penalty against CPS in Texas history. Dylan and Melissa shook Dennis's hand and gave Stephanie a hug, the brights hadn't just saved their family. They'd made CPS pay for what had put them through. I mean, we would have had to take out a 30 year mortgage to pay that back. So it would have just financially devastated us. It just kills me to my core, knowing that there are parents out there, good parents, that just because they don't have one hundred and twenty seven thousand dollars sitting in the bank can't fight for their kids or have to live in debt for eternity.


And it makes me mad. It makes me mad that CPS has the availability to do that to a family.


I reached out to both Nyasha and Lovaas to ask them about the decisions they made in the break case and about their testimony. Nisha didn't return messages I left for her, but after a few tries, I was able to reach LaVar. Hello. Hi, is this liver disease? Hey there, sir.


My name is Mike Hicks and I'm a reporter with NBC News.


I told LeVar I wanted to talk to him and Nisha about their work on the Bryant case.


Do you have a few minutes to talk now?


With all due respect, sir, you know, and because I'm still involved with the agency, I don't even know if I'm allowed to. Yeah. So, you know, LaVar thanked me for reaching out, but said he couldn't comment.


After we hung up, I asked a spokesman for CPS if I could interview LaVar Nisha or other officials, but he declined, saying the agency was prohibited by state law from commenting on specific cases. When Judge Schneider ruled on the break case, he concluded that the problem was much bigger than just the specific case and a couple of caseworkers.


It was systemic. That's why he also ordered CPS to retrain all of its workers in the Houston region on how to properly investigate reports of suspected child abuse. But he's not sure it was enough to solve the problem. It's hard for me to tell that it really change anything. I don't know.


One thing was certain media attention of Judge Schneider's ruling was deeply embarrassing for KPS, so embarrassing, it led officials to begin rethinking the way it handled some cases, starting first, perhaps with another family in the Houston suburbs.


Three months later, in February twenty nineteen, Lanson Shardey Butler returned to the Harris County Juvenile Justice Center. This time they arrived together, no longer pretending to be separated. It had been more than 19 months since Lance dropped Langston on the Fourth of July and more than a year since police backed into a corner at the hospital when CPS took custody. A lot had gone wrong since then, but this day felt different.


I was a little bit more lax on this court visit I had on like jeans, like, you know, nice shoes, but I don't. Jeans and a blouse.


In the weeks before the court hearing, Stephanie Profit had been busy, just as she promised. She'd quickly turned the break case into leverage to help the butlers.


I made every chance I could to make a comparison between the butlers to the Brits. I did it. I probably used the name Bright about as often as I said Butler when I was dealing with CPS. They knew the similarities. You know, these case on the Butler matter, they weren't stupid. They knew that the facts were very similar and the agency was abuzz. And so when I was dealing with the caseworker on the Butler case, I would point out, isn't it funny how this is exactly what happened in the bright case?


And I think she was smart enough to go back to her supervisors and say, look, this is so, so similar and look what happened just up the stairs, up the elevator. Look what happened in this court. Do we really want another one of these?


Right on the heels of the Bryant case, in her meeting with CPS, Stephanie highlighted each of the misstatements in Langston's medical records, the broken leg that wasn't really broken, the shattered back that looks normal.


On a follow up, x ray, the baseless doctor statement saying the baby's injuries were like he'd been dropped out a second story window. And once I was able to show them that, I think that the county attorney, I don't think she wanted to be embarrassed by what was obvious facts. And so after nineteen months of hell, Lance and Shardey rode the elevator to the fifth floor and walked into the three hundred and 13th District Court, the same courtroom where Judge Glenn Devlin had raised his voice months earlier and refused to give Shardey her kids back.


But now a different judge was sitting behind the bench this year that we got all these Democratic judges that came in to play. And for the butlers, it meant a fresh start.


Fortunately, you know, I went out, I voted, my family voted and was out. So we got a new judge to play. Her name was Natalia Oak's, a former teacher turned juvenile defender. And what we got this new judge, it just kind of gave like a completely different feel to this courtroom.


This time when CPS announced in court that the agency was now ready to return Langston and Malia to their parents, the judge didn't yell at anybody. She listened quietly and asked thoughtful questions. Lanson Today's big day in court was subdued compared to the brights, almost a formality. But after Judge Oaks gave her ruling that day accepting CPS decision and officially returning Langston Amelia to them, Shardey burst into tears. Lance got up and thanked. Stephanie is almost like a moment that I passed out and walked back up.


You know, this is kind of true. A black man. Yeah, it was. It was a good day.


There were no TV crews waiting to interview them as they walked out. But Stephanie was proud. We didn't have all of that. But we absolutely had the satisfaction of knowing that the people who had been accusing you for months and months and months were finally acknowledging that they were wrong.


Shardey turned to Lance and reminded him their fight wasn't done yet.


So I felt like we had one thing down, but we had one more to go. And so I remember telling him that, like, we got this win. Now let's just focus on this criminal matter. We gathered up the family and walk out the double doors of the courtroom and the doors swing shut. And I remember, you know, saying goodbye and go get your baby's short.


I was giddy as they got in the car. Finally, they were free to bring their children home.


I was so excited. I was so happy because I get to go to the day care, pick up my kids, bring them home, give them dinner, give them a bath, put them in bed. And the next morning I get to wake them. I get to dress them, feed them, take them to daycare, and then later on the day I can go pick them up, bring them back home like they were my kids again. I just I felt like I felt like mommy when she told me to go get my kids and nobody had to intervene in that.


I felt like mommy.


That first night back, Shardey Lance Langston O'Malia all slept together in the same bedroom. The kids had both outgrown their old crib since the last time they were home.


I remember I was so excited. I went and bought Langston a bit and I bought them their own mini Mickey Mouse comforters and stuff that I didn't think I was going to get to do because I didn't think that I was going to get the opportunity to think that I was going to be able to go shopping ever again for these kids. It was a lot of things that I didn't think I was ever going to get to do. So to wake up and then get in the bed with us and we would just lay there with them.


You know, we didn't have to worry about a court date coming up. We didn't have to worry about having to get them back somewhere else at a certain time. They didn't miss a beat and we did it either. Then one month later, Lance got the call he'd been waiting for from his criminal defense lawyer, if CPS couldn't even prove Lance most likely abused Langston a lower standard than in criminal cases, there was no way a prosecutor was going to convince a jury of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


The charges had been dropped. He called me and told him, you know, I think I was still kind of and believe they emailed me, emailed me the decision was, I need a favor. I need to see it.


Before Lantz's charges were officially dropped, Stephanie remembers meeting with him one last time and he came into my office.


We're in this big office. He's standing at one in I'm standing at the other. And we're talking about what had happened with the brights.


She wanted to know what had been gnawing at her for months as she worked simultaneously on the two cases.


I told him, I said, you know what makes me sick? I said, the facts are almost identical.


The only difference is the color of your skin. And I remember Lance kind of looking at me, almost surprised that I said it. He looked at me and he said, you know, it's OK for you to say that because you're white. But if I said that out loud, people wouldn't believe it. And I was like, well, I mean, I watched it. I watch two different families. One was white, one was black. And I mean, the facts couldn't have been any closer.


Stephanie was saying out loud what Lance Armstrong Day had been thinking for months from the moment the butler showed up at a hospital with an injured baby, the deck was stacked against them. Studies show black babies brought to hospitals with head injuries like Langston's are twice as likely as white children to be evaluated for abuse by doctors feeding them into a child welfare system that disproportionately polices black parents. Shardey thinks about specific moments from their case and wonders, Was that because we're black?


When CPS made them take drug tests, even though neither of them had a history of using when police backed her into a corner and removed her from her son's hospital room, not even giving her a moment to say goodbye when doctors reported her son's injuries to CPS, not once, but three times. When a judge yelled at her lawyer for even suggesting that her kids might be safe with her.


So I guess I kind of look at that as a metaphor with George flawed as far as they have their knees on his neck and he couldn't breathe. That's how I felt during my case, literally. I couldn't breathe. I have panic attacks when I go to court because there was nothing I could say. And they were steady, just put in their knees on my neck. They wasn't letting me even have a word in. There was nothing I can say and nothing I can do to make them let up.


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No harm. I started reporting this story three weeks after the birth of my fourth kid. Early one morning after one of those long nights where the baby had been up practically every hour, I remember lifting him out of his bassinet and carrying him out to the living room. The sun hadn't begun to rise, but I was up. I figured I might as well get the day started. I slipped one of those slings style newborn carriers over my shoulder, the kind with a pocket to hold the baby snug against your chest.


I wanted my hands free while I started the coffee, but when I went to place Felix in the sling, I missed the pocket. He slipped straight through my arms and into a headfirst freefall toward the floor. I felt like my heart might explode in my chest, thank God I happened to be standing over the couch. He'd landed on a cushion. Now he was on his back staring up at me with an eyes wide expression that seemed to say.


What the hell was that? Then he started crying, nightmare scenarios flashed through my mind as I picked him up. What if he'd hit his head on the floor instead?


We have the exact same ceramic tile as the butler's, hard as concrete with the doctors and CPS have believe my story or would they have given me a college educated white guy? The benefit of the doubt that moment and those questions have lingered in my mind for two years.


In that time, I've spoken to more than 50 families from across the country who say CPS took their children after a mistake like the one I made that morning, an accident.


Only theirs were followed by a rush to a hospital, the beginning of their transformation from worried parents to suspects. And at the center of each of these stories is the same question. The one we asked at the beginning. Is this what it takes to keep kids safe? I put that to Rhonda Carson, the former CPS supervisor who took a job at the agency after fighting it for years. One of the things that I think about a lot with this is with the right case and others that I've seen like it where, you know, there's a lot of very justifiable concern about leaving kids with parents who may be abusive.


And I think I see in this case and others that I've looked at kind of this better safe than sorry. And I wonder if there's not this kind of unspoken philosophy and child welfare and CPS workers and agency officials that in order to protect kids, we're just going to have to take some of them from innocent parents.


That that's just going to be part of it. Absolutely. Absolutely.


Rhonda left CPS in twenty nineteen to pursue a nursing degree. And I hate to say this, but I feel like and I've always felt like those decisions to remove a child a lot of times are not done in the best interests of the child. I just rather remove the child so nothing comes back on me and that is wrong. That is so wrong. And that is traumatizing to the child. That's traumatizing to the family. When a good, thorough investigation should guide your decisions, nobody will ever admit to that.


No. Better safe than sorry, it seems like a reasonable approach, especially when it comes to protecting children. We've heard the horror stories, the stories of real abuse that make your stomach turn. Of course, we should do everything we can to save vulnerable children. But how many innocent families must be traumatized in the process? How many have already been traumatized? I wanted to pose that question to CPS officials, but they declined to speak, noting that in the wake of my reporting, Texas lawmakers are now considering reforms to protect parents like the Brits and the butlers.


We can't get ahead of the legislature, an agency spokesman wrote, as I'm sure you can understand, in the months after her case became public, and especially after she and Dylan told their story on NBC Nightly News, hardly a week went by when Melissa didn't get a message from a desperate parent living her worst nightmare, parents who lost their children to CPS, some temporarily, some permanently. After a doctor's report, parents who swore they were innocent. The messages flooded into her Facebook account from California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas.


I just got to the point where there were so many messages that I just couldn't read them all. I couldn't bear the weight of all of this families enduring this hardship. But it's just astounding to me that there are so many people who have a story that may be similar to mine or at least wrapped up in the CPS world. And most of them are just wanting to be heard. And most of them are just wanting to to know what the next step is.


You know, they're in it, too, and they're looking for that next step, just like we did all of those months.


Melissa has gotten to know several mothers in the Houston area who faced similar battles with CPS. They meet for coffee and talk about what they endured, the fears they still carry, members of an unfortunate sisterhood, just many different women from many different backgrounds, all coming together to chat about the horrible things that have happened to us.


Two years later, she still hadn't met the mother, whose struggle was most closely linked with her own. Shardey and Lance have mostly carried the weight alone.


I still worry about that. I still get scared about it. If my kids are playing too rough, I'm scared because I'm afraid if something happens, how am I going to go to the hospital and tell them, hey, you know, my child hurt themselves, so I still worry. I still live in fear, but somebody bangs on my front door really loud. It scares me because I think of that night when they came to tell me that my child's back was broken.


If the pizza man comes in, he bangs too hard. I'm afraid this CPS's come to get my kids or that's the police come to get my kids. Sometimes I feel like maybe somebody's watching me and they're judging me. So I still live in fear. I try not to show my kids that.


I try not to show my family that, but I still do live with their Shardey struggle has been far more private. Her case didn't make national news, and the only mom to ever message her about their shared struggle was Melissa. I said Shardey said, You don't know me, but I'm Melissa. Right?


While reporting this story, I told Melissa some details about today's case.


I hope it isn't too far to just reach out and want to know you. Then she went and found her on Facebook.


I just recently learned of your case and how similar it was to our case. Let me just say I'm so sorry for what you had to endure. No mother should ever have to. I just wanted to reach out to you and to let you know that I know your pain and to remind you that you are wonderful, you are fierce, and that your kids are blessed to call you mom with love.


Melissa Shardey said she was touched to hear from her. She'd been having a bad week, and Melissa's words lifted her spirits. She texted back to ask Melissa if she'd be up for meeting in person once life slowed down a little, maybe someday. The Brits haven't given up on their fight to reform KPS, they even testified at the state capitol last year, but they have tried to move on. Dylan doesn't want to be afraid. He still wants his kids to be free, to run and fall and get hurt.


Melissa is still more cautious, more attentive, more of a warrior every day. Still have to come home from office because I just I couldn't function. It was just a I guess, a subconscious feeling of fear. And it could have been anything, you know, Mason turning a corner and slipping or, you know, being 18 months old and learning how to walk and just being wobbly and fell into something and out of nowhere, just this full on raging anxiety attack would come across.


As the days have gone on, they've been farther and fewer between and for the most part is pretty good. But every once in a while, they'll just be a day out of nowhere that the fear will just creep in and become overwhelming.


She carries the trauma with her always, even in the happy moments. In September, two years to the month after cops showed up to take her children, it was time for Melissa to say goodbye again.


Are you excited about your first day? Charlotte is four now, and this was her first day of preschool. Melissa recorded a video of her in the backseat before dropping her off.


And so. Sorry, baby. Mrs.. He's going to send you where you want to be when you grow up, the four year old pauses like everyone in 2020. Her mouth is covered behind a blue medical mask.


But you can tell from her eyes she's smiling when she says, in fact, take a good idea. I mean, I'm I'm trying to help you. That sounds like a good plan, baby.


Melissa's heart ached that morning watching her first child walking to school, lugging a blue backpack nearly as big as her. But it was a good heartache, a normal heart ache. Every other parent was feeling the same lump in their throats that morning.


And Melissa knew when this day was over, she would tuck her kids into their own beds and whisper her nightly prayer, thanking God her babies were home with the people who would do anything to keep them safe.


My hands can't hold you back from. Try to give you some time here to can. Keep you warm. Oh. The whole the sinur. From NBC News and wondering, this is the final episode of Do No Harm, a story about innocent children and the adults who are supposed to keep them safe, do no harm was written, reported and hosted by me, my kicks and Ball. A national investigative reporter for NBC News special thanks to my reporting partner, Carrie Blake, anchor, whose reporting made this podcast possible.


Special thanks to Elizabeth Connelly and Susan Carroll of the Houston Chronicle. If you want to help us spread the word, please give us a five star rating and review on Apple podcasts. And be sure to tell your friends, subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, the Wonder App or wherever you're listening right now. In the episode notes, you'll find some links and offers from our sponsors. Please support them. Another way you can support the show is by filling out a small survey at Wonderings Dotcom survey.


Associate producers are Chris Siegel and Alison Bailey. Story editor is Julie Shapiro. Additional production assistance from Daniel Gonzalez. Music Supervisor Scott Velasquez, managing producer Lata Pandya, sound design by Jeff Schmitt, Executive Producer for NBC News by Steve Liquify, Executive produced by George Lavender Marshmallowy and Hernan Lopez for wondering. Hey, everyone, it's MSNBC, Chris Hayes, host of Why Is This Happening? You're about to hear a preview of my conversation with Beth Macy, author of Dope Sick Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company That Addicted America, about what America's opioid epidemic looks like up close.


Maybe we can just sort of talk right now as I talk to you, like where things stand with this public health crisis. Yeah.


So we've lost 400000 Americans to this drug overdose crisis.


And we're still in a situation where most people don't have access to what science says is the best treatment, which is medication, assisted treatment for opioid use disorder with counseling and social supports. You know, got a lot of people struggling with this who are homeless.


They're estranged from their families because of behavior caused by their addiction.


And we need what one of my interviewees told me a couple of years ago, we need urgent care for the addicted.


What does that look like?


Well, you're starting to see it come together in various localities, even here in Roanoke where I live, when I was putting the finishing touches on the book in 2017, I had interviewed the head of the E.R. and he said, well, we don't believe in Matt.


That's not our job. And so what I was seeing was people like young Tuss Henry, who was the woman who made that quote about the urgent care for the addicted. She would come and she would overdose, get Narcan, be sent out, never be treated for her opioid use disorder.


And when she made that comment, I didn't really think much of it, other than the fact that she had initially been addicted because of being overprescribed at an urgent care.


But what I came to see as what she was saying was, hey, I'm a person, too.


I was addicted initially through no fault of my own, through bad marketing practices. And why isn't the medical system treating me like a person with the disease and I'm only being treated in the criminal justice venue like a criminal or a moral failure.


And so what it's starting to look now is the Eddys, where I live here, is now doing buprenorphine initiation in the E.R. There are some communities and I've been speaking all across the country about the book and doing a little reporting as I do that. And I'm starting to hear, you know, some some really heartening stories about people that are diverting folks from criminal justice and into really good treatment instead.


Is there when you met and buprenorphine, like, is there a kind of gold standard model evidence based for treatment that we know works fairly reliably?


Absolutely. And that's the magic I'm talking about. And take me through that. Sure. Absolutely.


So they're the weaker opioids. They are opioids, but they're used.


Methadone is one that grew out of after the Vietnam War when soldiers came back addicted to heroin. Many did.


That's been around for a long time and that's given through very regulated, federally regulated clinics that folks have to visit almost every day to get their dosage.


And Suboxone or buprenorphine is a drug that's more recent and that's generally given in an outpatient setting through a doctor's office.


So it's a little bit easier. You start off coming a week and then every two weeks, once you prove that you're taking it correctly.


I mean, the big problem is there's still a huge stigma that says if you're taking one of these lifesaving medications, you're treating a drug with another drug.


And I saw people over and over in my book die because of that outdated, unscientific attitude.


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