John and Kathyrn Clark thought their lives were in danger when they were contacted, out of the blue, by their adopted son's biological mother.
The birth mother, Desiree Salazar, has a history of mental illness and violence. Last year, she pleaded no contest to charges that she had stabbed a man five times. More recently, she was arrested and accused of assaulting people at UC Davis Medical Center.
Salazar's anger about losing custody of her two boys one is in her father's custody is written on her body.
She has each of her children's names tattooed above her eyes, and the profanity "F--- CPS" tattooed on her chest, referring to Sacramento County Child Protective Services, the agency that removed both boys.
The Clarks knew about Salazar's violent tendencies because they went through custody proceedings with her in Sacramento Superior Court. While they were in court together some days, the Clarks' names were not announced, because they're supposed to remain confidential in an adoption.
So, the Clarks say, they were stunned and then afraid when Salazar started calling them at their Nevada County home in October 2010. Salazar indicated that she knew where they lived, had seen their home, and that she "wasn't afraid of the police," Kathryn Clark said.
The experience turned their lives upside down, the Clarks claim in a lawsuit filed against CPS, Salazar's attorney and others in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The Clarks accuse CPS and others involved in the custody case of failing to protect their identities, a violation of state and federal laws. They are asking for $500,000 in general damages.
The Clarks said the incident has forced them to move to a new home, install a security system, and put their children in new schools. They said they live in a state of hyper-awareness, always on the lookout for Salazar.
"Eventually she's going to find us," John Clark said.
Salazar admits contacting the Clarks, though the West Sacramento woman said it was only once and she did not threaten them. She said she didn't call again because her probation officer told her to stop.
"They don't deserve to have my child," Salazar said of the boy, now 5. "It's not fair."
Salazar said she got the Clarks' names and other information from a legal file sent to her by her attorney in the custody case, Teri Kanefield. She said she used that information on an Internet public records site to get the Clark's address and phone number.
Kanefield told The Bee that she is not aware of sending Salazar any information about the Clarks and declined further comment.
A CPS spokeswoman also declined to comment about the Clarks' allegations, and the agency has yet to formally reply to the lawsuit filed in December.
The choice about establishing contact between a biological parent and an adopted child is left to the adoptive parents, experts say.
David Karabinus, a Sacramento attorney specializing in family law, said the confidentiality of adoptive parents is rarely breached. When it happens, it's typically because an attorney in custody proceedings has mistakenly released documents containing the adoptive parents' identity, he said.
John Clark, an electrical engineer, and Kathryn, a stay-at-home mother, wanted to expand their family and thought adoption would be nice way to help someone in need. The adoption was finalized in February 2011, bringing their family to one boy and one girl.
In a separate case, the Clarks are suing CPS on the boy's behalf for failing to protect him after he was removed from Salazar's care. When they first received custody of their son, in July 2009, he had been severely burned on the lower part of his body, including his genitals.
The Clarks allege that his foster parents burned him by holding him in hot bath water as punishment for going to the bathroom in his diaper. Any proceeds from the case will go to the boy when he turns 18, as required by law, said their attorney, Richard Frishman.
Records show the boy had bounced around foster homes as his birth parents had troubles with the law. Salazar and the boy's father, Omar Repreza, were accused of assault while trying to steal a car from a Sacramento man in 2009.
The victim and Repreza got involved in a scuffle, when Salazar stabbed the man five times, police said.
A Superior Court judge initially found Salazar mentally incompetent to stand trial, after she had been ordered to a state hospital for diagnosis and medication. She was later found competent and pleaded no contest in 2011 to assault with a deadly weapon, receiving a sentence of probation.
Court records state Salazar violated her probation by threatening family members, who had protective orders against her. The boy's father, Repreza, also has sought protective orders against her.
Despite the probation violation, Salazar was again put on probation, because of credits she had accrued during her incarceration on the assault charge, said Shelly Orio, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office.
In December, Salazar was arrested again on suspicion of assaulting three people at UC Davis Medical Center.
Salazar said CPS took custody of the boy when she and Repreza were jailed on the earlier charge. The loss of the boy has consumed her thoughts ever since, she said.
"What would you do if they took your baby?" she asked.
Kathryn Clark said she was worried once Salazar started calling because she heard about her background in court and saw her tattoos. She said Salazar called several times, and that the conversations ranged from vaguely threatening to almost friendly, as Salazar inquired about the boy's burn injuries and welfare.
But Salazar's remarks about knowing where they live and not being afraid of the police stuck in their minds, Kathryn Clark said. The Clarks said they contacted the Nevada County Sheriff's Department, CPS and others.
"CPS' response was, 'You can move to another state. You can give him back,' " Kathryn Clark said. "He's not a toaster. We couldn't give him back. He's our son."
The Clarks went through "a lengthy process of trying to erase ourselves," John Clark said.
They moved, changed their phone numbers and started getting all their mail through a postal box. They have petitioned Nevada County to make all their public records private, and they've requested that an Internet "People Search" site keep their information private, too.