A lawsuit filed against Del Norte County officials seeking a total of $54 million is the latest move made by a mother in a heated child custody battle.
Jennifer Brown and her father, Barry Brown, filed suit in U.S. Court against District Attorney Jon Alexander, Sheriff Dean Wilson, two Child Protection Service employees, a sheriff’s deputy, the county and Don Crockett, father of twin daughters shared with Jennifer Brown.
The Browns allege that Crockett wields control over local law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office as a result of his family’s lily bulb enterprise and financial contributions to the officials’ campaigns.
It claims the Crockett family exerted political and personal influence over the defendants, “whose careers rose and fell on the favor or disfavor of the Crockett family.”
Records show that neither Wilson nor Alexander have received campaign contributions from the Crocketts exceeding $100 (donors of lower amounts are not recorded).
The suit claims authorities destroyed interview footage regarding an allegation made by Brown that Crockett showed the children pornographic material in December 2011. It also claims they did not investigate sexual abuse allegations made by Brown in January 2012.
Crockett has denied the allegations.
The suit claims that because of Del Norte officials’ inaction, the daughters were taken to Humboldt County — where Barry Brown used to be a DA’s Office investigator — to have them examined. The Browns notified the Del Norte DA’s Office that the girls would be temporarily removed from the county, the suit states.
Alexander and Wilson provided false information to obtain an arrest warrant for Barry Brown and his daughter, alleging they kidnapped the children, the suit claims.
Barry Brown was subsequently arrested on Feb. 9 2012, and Jennifer Brown was arrested on March 10, 2012, on suspicion of child stealing. Charges were not filed.
The suit claims that two CPS workers failed to protect the children by returning them to their father after abuse allegations were reported in June 2012. It claims they returned the children to their father once again in March after the children did not speak to a Napa County detective about the abuse allegation. One of the workers lied and misled the court to have the children returned to Crockett, the suit states.
Sheriff Wilson responded to the lawsuit, saying, “We have done due diligence on every single investigation that has been requested or reported to us because of the nature of the case and the lawsuit as well as the allegations of suspected corruption or whatever you want to call it.”
“(We) used experts outside of the county in an effort to quell any kind of suspicions or misconduct by local influence they felt was being exerted and the results have always been, unfortunately, something they didn’t like or appreciate,”‚ÄąWilson said of the Browns. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t prevent someone from suing.”
Alexander, Director of Health and Human Services Gary Blatnick and a family member speaking on behalf of Crockett all declined comment.
Contentious from the start
Court documents from the child custody case present additional information.
In a statement filed by Judge William Follett responding to a motion from Jennifer Brown to disqualify him four years into the case, he stated it had been contentious from the outset and provided a timeline of events.The motion to disqualify was ultimately denied.
In 2009, a child custody hearing occurred in which Brown sought to change Crockett’s visitation rights after she alleged he abused one or both of the children, documents state.
After an exam was conducted and evidence presented, Brown’s allegation was determined to be unproven, court documents state.
As a precaution, Crockett’s visitations were ordered to be supervised in August 2009, court documents state.
The supervised mandate was lifted the following September at Jennifer Brown’s request after she reached an agreement regarding financial and other issues with Crockett, the documents state.
Crockett has paid several thousands of dollars of Brown’s attorneys fees, as well as $110,000 in child support from February 2009 to March 2012, court documents state.
Brown has made several requests for Crockett to pay her attorney fees, reporting she has no income, documents state.
In August 2011, Crocket requested another child custody hearing, which was held the following December. Crockett was awarded primary physical custody of his daughters.
At the time, a neutral child custody evaluator opined that Brown did not seem to be doing well emotionally and was suffering from depression, documents state. It was also reported that she was possibly abusing drugs and was possibly addicted to pain medication; and she was arrested for shoplifting twice, documents state.
The evaluator testified Crockett was more willing to share the children than Brown, documents state.
It was ordered in January 2012 that Crocket would have custody of the children during the week and Brown would have them on the weekends, documents state.
In February 2012, Crockett filed for sole legal and physical custody of the children on a temporary basis, stating Brown had not returned the children from a weekend visitation and had made new accusations that he abused them, documents state.
A protective custody warrant was then signed by the court to place the children into a neutral home at the request of DA Alexander.
But the whereabouts of Jennifer Brown and the children were unknown during a period when four hearings were held from February to March 9, documents state.
In the meantime, Brown filed a request seeking an order to have the children placed with her relatives in Humboldt County, sought attorney fees from Crockett and a new child custody evaluator, which was denied, court documents state.
When Brown was arrested in March 2012, the children were placed into foster care, court documents state.