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It had been 20 hours since the CPS investigator, LeVar Jones showed up at dawn and Melissa Brighthouse and took their children, they had barely slept now on a Thursday afternoon. They sat in Dennis Slade's law office and waited and it went well past five o'clock and most of his office had already started to leave for the day.


Finally, Dennis, a former Army officer with short sandy blond hair, came out to the waiting area. He shook their hands and invited them back into his office.


And Melissa just started explaining our story. He interrupted a certain key points and asked certain questions.


He was very obviously sympathetic to our whole case.


Dennis listened closely because they were both almost unable to get through and tell me what's going on, because they were crying and disheveled and tired, looking at just the whole thing obviously was wearing on them.


Dylan played him the audio recording from the night before.


Right away, something did not seem right to Dennis. These kids were home, they were safe. They came and removed safe kids and they didn't do it immediately. They waited till late in the afternoon at nighttime when they couldn't overturn it, they couldn't contact a lawyer.


He asked Dylan and Melissa to show him the court order granting CPS authority to take their kids. But the VA hadn't left any paperwork. It literally came into our house, took our kids, and we knew nothing.


I was incredulous that I said, What do you mean they didn't give you any? They have to. I said, by law, I pulled up the book. I showed them in the code. It says it says right here they have to give you paperwork. Are you sure you didn't get paperwork?


He told the Brexit evening that he would do everything in his power to bring their kids home, but it would not be easy or cheap. His upfront fee to begin working on a case was ten thousand dollars and the cost would only grow from there.


I tell clients early on that I'm a I'm a really hard lawyer to hire because, look, I'm going to spend a lot of time to get your kids back.


Dylan and Melissa didn't have that kind of cash at that moment. We didn't care. We were going to do everything possible to get that money together, to immediately get it to Dennis.


After the Brights left that evening, Dennis stayed at his desk for another four hours past 11:00 p.m., studying Mason's medical records. The bright story and the sound of Melissa's sobs in the recording of CPS taking her children haunted Dennis. His own kids were already asleep. By the time he got home that night, he looked in on them safe in their own beds. The next day he would try to track down the bright children and begin fighting to bring them home.


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My two hands can't hold you back from.


From NBC News and Thundery, I'm Mike Xinbo and this is Do No Harm. This is episode five, The Fighter. Over the years, Dennis has earned a reputation among fellow lawyers who routinely handle CPS cases in Houston. Some describe him as hyper aggressive, combative, even.


I was going to describe Dennis as a dick, but in a good way.


Ryan Mitchell was the lawyer initially appointed on the spot to defend the rights at the emergency hearing. As soon as Ryan learned that they'd hired Dennis in his place, he knew CPS was in for a fight. Think about it. If you are a father and CPS is trying to rip your kid from your arms, do you want somebody who's going to be passive, who's going to roll over and just accept the status quo? Or do you want the guy that's going to go in there with guns blazing and you're going to hire a gunslinger?


And Dennis is a gunslinger.


Dennis is known for showing up on the day of a big hearing with carts full of tech equipment. He hires workers to run cables through the courtroom, connecting video screens and speakers with iPads loaded with case records like a performer staging a major production. That's the part of me that that enjoyed acting as a kid. You get to come in and put on a put on a show for everyone.


Then there's his questioning style. Dennis once grilled a medical expert so aggressively, the doctor eventually turned away in her seat in the witness stand, refusing to look at him. In the end, the judge tossed that CPS case and returned two babies to their parents after finding that the doctor and CPS were mistaken. Dennis doesn't care what anyone thinks about him. He believes CPS has an important job, but so does he. There's a line out there of what CPS should do and should not do.


It should be a very bright line that that essentially there are people who are raising their kids and the government shouldn't interfere with them, how they raise them unless they are actually harming children. And sometimes CPS comes over that that line and basically starts imposing their will on how people parent their kids when the kids aren't being harmed. I see my job is pushing back and trying to make sure that line stays very bright and not crossed.


A day after meeting the brights, Dennis went to work, firing off a flurry of texts and emails to his contacts at CPS and in the county attorney's office. One of them called back with the details of Charlotte and Mason's foster care placements, and that was when he learned that things were worse than he thought.


CPS took these two little babies in the middle of the night and one of them being pretty medically fragile and they split them up in two different foster carers.


Not only had Charlotte and Mason been separated from their parents, they had been separated from each other. So we had gone the previous thirty six hours, assuming they at least had each other. And that was not the case. And a new wave of emotion, of rage and anger and frustration overcame us because why did they do that to them?


Then Dennis called the county attorney assigned to represent CPS and the Bright's case. Dennis told him, You got big problems with this case. You need to do something and you're only going to make it worse if these kids stay in foster care. I've got a tape of your guy with family sitting there begging and he ignores family and goes and sticks them in two separate foster care. This is going to be a big problem. You've got to fix it now.


True to his word, Dennis delivered. Within hours, CPS agreed to release Charlotte and Mason from their foster homes and into the care of Dylan's aunt and uncle. The state still had custody of both children, but at least they would be with family and each other. The next day, a Saturday, the VA was supposed to drop the kids off with Dylan's aunt and uncle. The VA said he would be there around three p.m. as soon as he finished officiating a funeral.


His side job, Dylan and Melissa, arrived early, eager to see their kids again.


After two days apart, we were just all excited and anticipating the kids coming home. You know, you have this idealistic view whether it's going to be like, you know, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy and Mason's ear to ear grin with his chunky cheeks and his no neck.


And you just can't wait to see both of them and to experience that joy. Then LeVar finally turns into the driveway.


So the moment the car pulled up, of course. No, listen, I run outside and and instantly we knew something was wrong. And I opened one side of the car and Dylan goes around to the other side of the car to open it. And I opened the door to Charlotte side. And it was not anything that I had dreamt of all day. MASON You know, we get Mason out of the car first and his face is swollen from crying so much.


He he's hoarse.


He's so hoarse. He doesn't even have a voice. And so he's he's. Trying to cry, but he can't even get he can't even get any sound out, and I'm like, well, how long did he have to cry like that before I became that horse? Why was he horse, you know? Is he hungry? Has anybody tried to defeat Mama and and Charlotte? We get her out of the car. And here's my little girl. She's she's wearing somebody else's clothes, not the clothes that we packed or some some other kids clothes.


The dress that she's wearing is on backwards.


It's on inside out and backwards. She was almost yellowed in the face. And it's like she was so severely exhausted that she wasn't even cognitive of what was around her. There was there is no like even recollection that I was there or that I was mommy. And to make matters worse, Charlotte had a black eye. Melissa gasped when she noticed the injury, then lifted her daughter into her arms, and I immediately fling around and I look at a and I stare at him in the eyes and said, what happened to her?


What did you do? What why does she have this? It's puffy under her eye and there's a huge gash under it. I'm fuming at this point. My child is hurt and I don't know how or why he told me was there's an incident report for that. Apparently, Charlotte had fallen out of a bed at the foster home and hid her face on a dresser. LaVar explained, although he didn't have a copy of the report.


And I looked at him and I was like, well, why was she in a bed? She's only ever slept in the toddler bed. And why was she in a bed large enough? I mean, high enough to cause a black eye, the gash across her face. On top of all of that, one of their main instructions hadn't been followed. The night LaVar took the children, Dylan and Melissa had sent him with a list, including crucial information about Charlotte's dairy allergy.


But when they went to change her diaper, I mean, it was just a severe, severe depression. She had only been gone not even two full days later when they read the vase notes in Charlotte's case file, they learned that she'd been crying when he dropped her off at the foster home. And the only way the foster family could calm her down was by giving her a cup of milk. I mean, it was just crushing. We saw we were happy to have them back.


But to have your kids come back to you in that condition was just awful. I mean, now now we were I was really furious.


Dylan and Melissa struggled to keep their cool in front of the kids. At least their children were together again with family. They'd been reunited at Aunt Dolores's house for just a few minutes when they heard a knock on the door. The next thing we know, LaVar Knox back on the door. I thought he had already left. At this point, it's probably in his car for, you know, five or six minutes. I thought he was already gone, but he came back in to tell us that Dylan and I weren't allowed to stay at the house and not told LaVar that.


Oh, well, those kids are still under CPS custody because we haven't. We had the court order, so they're still in our custody. So Dylan and Melissa aren't allowed to be anywhere near them unless there's a CPS agent with them. And I just I had lost it at that point. I, I just I at some point in time, I have you begin to believe it's personal, like like there's some type of just vendetta against us. I just didn't understand how they could possibly keep hitting us with stuff.


Oh my gosh. That was feel to a raging fire. I'm like really all of the stuff you just made us experience, all the stuff that you put us through and now we can't even stay at the house. And so he had to escort us out of the house. Melissa asked LaVar to put Nisha Edwards, his supervisor at CPS, on the phone and children will be there.


And when Mr. and Jackson, the primary caregiver to the children regarding visitation, the visitation will take place at the house opposite. And so we are in court, in court dictate how the visitation or Dylan's aunt, Delores Gister started to argue.


So you will want to consider changing this nation.


I am asking you that. And that is not me just making a decision. You are telling.


Excuse me, I'm going to interrupt you. I'm so sorry. I'm very frustrated and I'm going to react in a frustrated manner. Are you telling me that you believe that at this point in this stage, in these children's development, that it is in the best interest of the children, that their mother and father can't see them except for CPS, and that this baby cannot breastfeed until the court says it? Because you're getting to make that decision. And I'm just saying this is a decision that does not appear to be in the best interest of these children's welfare to what I am telling you is there were already a place right now.


And until the courts dictate anything differently, mom and dad will have incidents at the office and then something that you are able to get your hands on. At that point, Dillon threw his hands up. We're going to comply when I no longer get on it. Fine. We're no more. We're done replying. Thank you. We'll go over this.


OK, thank you so much. Until a court said otherwise, they would only be allowed to see their children for one hour a week with a CPS worker supervising.


OK, well, I have my thought it was nice talking to you. OK, thank you. Thank you, Miss Ella.


LaVar, explain to the brights he didn't realize it was going to be this way.


So, you know, I didn't enjoy doing it, Tom. I didn't know about any different visitation. I didn't know, you know, throughout the day, talking to my supervisor regarding the situation in the circumstances, regarding the visits, he's the soldier that's following whatever commands he was given. But by no, listen to me. It doesn't. Because it was a scramble, fighter jets, they are here and out here. So and that's what we wanted.


And Dylan and Melissa got their things together and gave both kids a hug and a kiss. Having to say goodbye to their kids for the second time in three days broke Melissa's heart, but she was too angry to cry.


We were just beyond ourselves because we had waited all day, all day to finally have our kids back in our arms and we had to leave again. The only thing that made it better was knowing that they were with family and that they were safe and that I could FaceTime them all night.


And it just it's just crushing because you it didn't matter how hard you fight. You still your kids still come back and they're still hurting. And they're not just physically but emotionally, too.


And it's like, OK, well, what kind of damage that they're going to carry that night after Dylan and Melissa had left and Dolores got Charlotte undressed and into the bathtub while Uncle Bobby tended to Mason, the two year old seemed confused after spending two days with strangers, but she was too small to express it.


So she was so sad and hurting and scared and but she couldn't tell me things that first night.


And in the days that followed, Charlotte tensed up.


Whenever Delores teenage son or someone new came into the room, she was nervous around other people that she normally wouldn't be. And she adores my son. During all of that, I saw fears in her that were unfounded and heartbreaking.


It was a struggle getting the kids to sleep that night. What a scary whirlwind these past few days must have been for them. But eventually they both crashed. As a speech pathologist, Dolores works with small children. That night, she wondered, would these kids be carrying this trauma for the rest of their lives?


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As listener of our show, you can get 10 percent off your first month at better help dotcom slash no harm again. That's better help dotcoms. No harm for 10 percent off your first month. Dan Phee, when the son of Vietnamese immigrants had spent six years at the Harris County Attorney's Office, by the time the bright case landed on his desk, Dan's job was to give legal guidance to CPS, advising the agency on when it was or was not appropriate under the law to seek protective custody of children.


And when it was time for CPS to argue its case before a judge, it was Dan's responsibility to represent the agency. The work became his passion. It was the whole litigation aspect of it, the whole going to court, going to trial, the trial preparation, and then at the same time, the end goal, which was to protect the children. And so it was a meaningful and fulfilling job for me.


Over the years, Dan had helped get dozens of children out of dangerous homes and to the relative safety of foster care or to the homes of caring family members, it carried with it a very meaningful purpose to me. I have my daughter and my nieces and nephews who I guess look up to me as a as a superhero just because of what I do.


But the bright case wasn't like many of the others. For days leading up to doing a Melisa's court hearing scheduled for two weeks after the removal, Dennis had been calling Dan repeatedly asking him to drop the case. They going to settle? Do they want to settle?


Like most lawyers who argue cases in Harris County Family Court system, Dan knew Dennis well, both personally and from reputation. They'd squared off against each other in court several times and on a few occasions they'd even gotten together with colleagues to play poker outside of work.


I know he's a poker player and I know when he likes the. Hold it and fold it and that sort of thing with the right case. Dennis was showing all of his cards. He said your client is in a lot of trouble, your client meeting CPS. And I'm willing to let this slide if they're just willing to just dismiss this case and just walk away.


Now, you know, as much as I respect Dennis and everything, of course, obviously I can take just his word for Dan wasn't willing to show his cards, but the more he learned about the case, the more he hated the hand he'd been dealt than listen to the audio recording of the removal provided to him by Dennis. And he read the statement that LaVar had submitted in court saying he believed Mason and Charlotte were in imminent danger, even though he hadn't checked in on the children in three weeks.


It really concerned me that there were things that were mentioned in an emergency hearing that were a little inconsistent with the facts. And I'm like really concerned. Like I don't know how, especially with the limited time that I had to review the case, I could not exactly formulate, I guess, that quickly as to how I can get around that. Dan also studied the outside expert report written by Dr. Julie Mac, which seemed to cast serious doubt on the conclusion that all of Mason's injuries couldn't have been the result of a fall in the driveway.


After reviewing everything, Dan went to Nyasha, the CPS supervisor overseeing the case.


I basically told them it would be in their best interest to let this case go.


It wasn't the first time Dan had butted heads with CPS. I can't say that I've always been CPS favorite county attorney and representing them because I don't always see eye to eye regarding what is deemed necessary to protect the children.


An important aspect of Dan's job was to push back when he believed CPS crossed the line.


There have been caseworkers where we just go at it and they just don't want to listen to me.


And we do tend to get on screaming matches sometimes over the phone and such. But like I said, it's probably one of those reasons why I was not always their favorite, because I don't tell them what they want to hear.


I tell them what they need to hear and they don't always agree. This was one of those times.


Attorney client privilege prohibits Dan from discussing specific details from his confidential conversations with Nisha and her program director. But essentially, despite his concerns, the agency refused to change course. Even with everything that I've shown them, they still wouldn't, because I think when it comes to dealing with the press and things of that nature, they'd rather air on the side of caution. They don't want to be splashed on the news as being not protective. I guess they would just prefer to be more overly protective as opposed to be not as protective.


And then a child ends up dead. They start to operate like robots and they're not thinking like human beings outside the box, like really assessing the case as a human being. But everything is like a checkbox here, checkbox there. Dan could only advise CPS, not tell them what to do. He had little choice but to follow his client's lead when Dennis called him on the first day of October in twenty eighteen a few days before the Bright's court hearing, Dan gave him his final answer.


CPS had no intention of dropping the case. I'm sorry, my clients are just not willing. And so I just had to move forward and just really battle it out the best I can. By then, Dennis had called in Stephanie Prophet to help him out on the case. The two lawyers had teamed up in the past. Dennis said he picked me because I was the most difficult person he had ever dealt with. And so he thought that would be a good combination with CPS.


Four days they each studied the medical records and case file. Dennis at his Deer Park office east of Houston, Stephanie at Herr's downtown near the courthouse. They spent hours on the phone game planning their approach in court. So Dennis, as you know, is former military. And so there's a plan. Everything is very strategic. Dennis is prepared for war and not afraid to start one.


A few days before the hearing, Dennis even brought Melissa down to his office and spent a few hours lobbing mock questions at her in case the state called her to testify. The night before the hearing, Dennis was up late at his office reading and rereading records.


And I've got fourteen days to prepare for a full blown trial and I've got to do everything I can to be prepared for it. I'm not going to walk in there unprepared and it's not going to be my fault. And my clients don't get their kids back. I mean, my kid goes off to camp for seven days and I'm in freakout mode trying to find her on the pictures that the camp posts every day because I just want to see her.


You can't imagine what is worse than having your kid taken away. I mean, you better have anything else in your life take away. There's nothing worse. And so I, I completely empathize with clients when it goes on and when it's happening. And I tell them I'm not going to stop until we get them back. The morning of the rights hearing, Dennis drove home around 2:00 a.m. and tried to get a few hours of sleep. He was back up at six thirty to get ready for court.


Across town, Dylan and Melissa were up early two with four hours until the start of their hearing.


They were sitting at an IHOP a couple of miles from the courthouse.


Melissa ordered an omelet.


Dylan stared down at his coffee, thinking, We just sat there for a really long time, kind of pushing our food around the plate because our nerves were in knots and there's no possible way we could eat anything. And, you know, we were just praying over the day ahead and asking for a favor and for understanding and for things to to go our way because you don't know what is ahead.


Almost three months after they'd rush Mason to the hospital, nearly all of the people who had played a role in their case were finally going to gather in one room.


Finally, the evidence was going to be laid out in the open, all of it this time, and a judge would decide whether the brights were fit to care for their own children. I couldn't fight back the night LaVar came to take the kids and I couldn't fight the day he brought my kids home. And Charlotte had this gash under her eye. Mason was in the state that he was in. I couldn't I couldn't fight back when he said, oh, you're now under restricted visitation.


You can only see him once a week. So all of that. I held all of that in. And so that first day of court and I was I was ready. That was pure adrenaline for me because that was the day I was finally, finally fight back. We get support from at home hair color company, Madison Reed, we're doing a lot at home these days and a lot of it can feel repetitive chores, TV. But one of the things you can do at home that's pretty exciting is coloring your hair with Madison Reed.


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They entered the courthouse with the confidence of professional wrestlers strutting to the ring before a big match. They were flanked by an entourage of legal assistance, pulling carts filled with case documents and tech equipment.


When I walk into a courtroom and I'm getting ready to go to trial, when I'm when we're we're going to battle. We're going to put a witness on the stand. I hear that. Dun dun dun dun dun in the back of my head, like, you know, Rocky or whatever. And that's how I felt. Walking into court that day with Dennis.


They stepped into the elevator and rode it up to the seventh floor.


Other lawyers noticed the grand entrance and came up to ask what was happening. Soon, word began to spread through the courthouse. Any time I walk into the courthouse and I'm wheeling carts like other lawyers, notice it and they'll ask me, where are you going? What's happening today? How are you screwing with CPS? And I would tell people we're going to we got something going in Snider's court. It's going to be it's going to be pretty big. I mean, I think we all went in feeling extremely confident that we were going to be handing CPS well, that that it was not going to be a good day for CPS.


Dylan and Melissa were more subdued. They knew what was on the line. If the judge sided with CPS at the end of this hearing, it might be a year or longer before they would regain custody of their children, if ever. The Brits walked into the courtroom around eight, 30 and headed to the defense table. Soon, family members and friends began filling the rows of seats behind them.


And I mean, so to see that you have that level of support and that many people fighting with you was just huge for us as far as, you know, how hopeful we were. Because remember, we were after everything that had happened, there's still that fear that, well, maybe this case won't go the way we think it will. And we'll, you know, maybe we'll actually lose the kids to CPS.


A reporter from a local TV station quietly slipped in and sat near the back. Shortly after nine a.m., Judge Mike Schneider took his seat behind the bench and told the county attorney to call his first witness, Dan Phee. When stepped forward and called on Miss Melissa Bright, Dylan turned to his wife and whispered, You've got this.


Melissa, dressed in a Navy skirt, white blouse and maroon cardigan, shivered as she rose from her seat and stepped into the witness stand, a courtroom itself was pretty cold, but even more than that, it's like my body was hot, but my my fingers and my toes were cold and clammy. And I just I felt weak and, like, physically weak, walking up to the stand to sit down, you know, like my blood sugar had plummeted or something like that.


I sat down and, you know, they asked me to raise my right hand and to swear to tell the truth and all the stuff you see on law and order. But you never really expect it to be real life.


For the next several hours. Dan and Dennis took turns questioning her along with Charlotte in Mason's ad litem, a lawyer appointed by the state to represent the children.


Melissa talked about her relationship with Dylan, about the thrill and challenges of becoming a mom about that day in July, nearly three months earlier, when she made the mistake of leaving Mason for just a few seconds on that lawn chair. She also described each interaction with doctors and CPS.


Dylan watched with pride as his wife, confidently and at times tearfully recalled each detail. I mean, she was on fire. There wasn't any cracks in her story because it was all the truth, every word of it. It was all the truth. And so it wasn't it just it wasn't difficult for her to get it out. Based on his line of questioning, it soon became clear to everyone in the room that Dan's strategy was not to prove Melissa abused Mason, as CPS had initially alleged.


Instead, he was attempting to paint Melissa as negligent for leaving the baby on a lawn chair, he asked, Had you not placed that child on that chair, then he would not have been injured. Correct. And so this was preventable, wouldn't you agree? But deep down, Dan didn't believe the argument he was making. Parents make mistakes. Kids get hurt. Accidents happen. But it was his best chance at salvaging the case. I went with the theory that a lot of her actions, although unintentional, or still rose to the level of neglect, she did not make good choices when trying to care for the baby at the time and kind of let them in a seriously dangerous situation in which he sustained a skull fracture and an accidental one, but an accident which could have been avoided.


I tried to present it in a way to the judge that no reasonable parent would do the thing that she did that caused the child's injury the way that child got injured.


The new line of attack shook Melissa like it wasn't that I intentionally harmed him, but now I'm a poor mother and can't appropriately care for him. And now I have the entire state of Texas telling me how and which way I failed as a mom.


But Dennis and Stephanie knew what Dan's questions meant. His case was weak and he was grasping. By the afternoon, after four hours of testimony, Melissa was emotionally and physically exhausted. As she stepped off the stand, Dan called his next witness.


State calls Dr. Sarpong Dr. Kobana.


Sarpong was the Texas children's child abuse pediatrician who first told the Brights that Melissa's story couldn't explain both of Mason's skull fractures. He wore a black suit and took his turn in the witness box. After questioning him about his credentials, Dan asked Dr. Sarpong what explanation Melissa provided for the second skull fracture.


She was not aware. She did not have an explanation. Our conclusion was that the second injury, together with the bleeding in the brain, was concerning for inflicted injury. But when Dennis questioned him on cross-examination, Dr. Sarpong acknowledged that it was at least possible for a baby to suffer two skull fractures from a single fall, though he insisted it would not be likely after falling from the seat of a lawn chair. Ultimately, Sarpong said, it was Melissa's inability to give an explanation for the second fracture that made them concerned about abuse.


Dennis saw an opportunity.


I said, So you're telling us that if Melissa had just come in and lied to you at the hospital and gave you a different story about what happened to the child, she lies, then we wouldn't be here today. Right? Sarpong thought for a moment and then replied. Yes, people were kind of shocked that he would give us that answer. The doctor was saying that if Melissa had simply lied, if she'd made up a story and told doctors that Mason fell a second time or that he'd bumped his head earlier, CPS might never have taken their children.


And you can always tell when you've done a good job of pushing, you're not supposed to show it as a lawyer, but you can always tell how hard someone reach for their pin to take a note down and then fee. At that point, I could see out of the out of the corner of my eye immediately grab for that pen and started writing down this this note to try and come back and and explain that issue.


Dennis was right. Dan was upset. During a break, he approached Dr. Surapong outside the courtroom. So you mean to tell me that Texas children is going to rule every unexplained injury, unexplained child entry into this hospital as consistent with abuse solely on the mere fact that no explanation was provided to you?


He said yes. And so I was just blown away. I mean, but the brights, they were honest. If they didn't know, they didn't know. And I don't know how anyone can fault them for that. And that's what CPS I mean, as overworked as they are, they have not been trained to dig in deeper, to find a reasonable explanation, trying to remove any other doubt as to how those injuries occurred.


I asked to speak with Dr. Surapong and other members of the Texas Children's Child Abuse Team. I wanted to better understand the decisions they made in Mason's case, but they declined in a written statement. Hospital officials defended their doctors findings, writing that Mason's injuries, both in number and severity, were, quote, highly unlikely to result from such a minor fall. A high concern for child abuse is appropriate, as is fulfilling the legally mandated requirement to report to Child Protective Services.


As for the overall mission of its child abuse pediatricians, the hospital told me there are cases in which, despite a recommendation of separation by physicians where abuse was suspected, the children remained in their homes and are not alive today. These are the tragedies we seek to prevent.


It was late in the afternoon by the time Dr. Sambong stepped off the stand, but there were still more witnesses slated to testify, including LeVar Jones. Judge Schneider called a recess around 5:00 and directed everyone to return to court the following morning as they drove home. Dylan and Melissa felt more hopeful than they had in weeks. It felt like their nightmare was almost over, just another day or two in court, and then maybe their kids would finally come home for good this time.


But as Stephanie Prophet headed home that evening, her mind was somewhere else, she kept thinking about how similar the break case was to the other one she'd been working on. More than a year into their ordeal, Lance and Shardey Butler still weren't any closer to getting their kids back. And now Lance was facing prison time.


I'll tell you, I had really mixed emotions as the case was unfolding. I couldn't help but feel bad for the butlers because as I would leave court and we were just crushing these people and the brights are just so encouraged and they're starting to feel a little better about things. And Dennis and I high five. And, you know, we're we're so thrilled, really just moving and getting strides. And then I would get home and I would be thinking this is exactly what should have happened with the butlers.


There should have been a fight. There should have been a fight from day one. And it really my heart kind of hurt for them because I felt like it just wasn't right that they had had to go so long without having their children. A few days later, Lance was at home getting ready for bed when he noticed an email from Stephanie, there was a link to a news story only on Fox tonight.


A family court judge has done something that's never been done before by a judge here in Texas. He was so angry with Child Protective Services that Lance couldn't believe what he was seeing.


Well, my first thought was, OK, good. This happened exactly like our case. Now, what are they going to do about it? That's next time on Do No Harm. From NBC News and wondering, this is episode five of six of Do No Harm, a story about innocent children and the adults who are supposed to keep them safe. The next episode will be out in a week. But listen to it right now, ad free by joining one degree plus in The Wonder You 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.


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