July 25, 2012

Sacramento County wants to force mom to give details on 'Baby Dwight'

Sacramento County officials are seeking an order to force the mother of Dwight Stallings, the missing 2-year-old who has not been seen in more than a year, to be removed from her jail cell and brought to dependency court to tell what she knows.

Sacramento County officials are seeking an order to force the mother of Dwight Stallings, the missing 2-year-old who has not been seen in more than a year, to be removed from her jail cell and brought to dependency court to tell what she knows.

In a hearing Tuesday that was opened to The Bee after the newspaper requested access, Deputy County Counsel Michelle Ben-Hur said Tanisha Edwards has refused to attend court sessions that have been scheduled in an effort to locate "Baby Dwight."

As a result, Ben-Hur asked Juvenile Court Judge Jerilyn L. Borack to approve an "extraction order" that would allow sheriff's deputies to forcibly bring the woman to the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse on Power Inn Road to face questions about her son's whereabouts.

Edwards, who is being held in the Main Jail downtown, has shown up for proceedings in Sacramento Superior Court, where she faces charges of violating her probation. None of the criminal charges is related to Dwight's disappearance.

Borack deferred deciding on the extraction order Tuesday, instructing the county to submit a written motion.

Such orders are extremely rare in Sacramento County, Sheriff's Deputy Jason Ramos said. "Most inmates just go to court," he said.

But in cases in which extraction orders are authorized, Ramos said it is noted on inmates' records and they are informed they must report to court. If they continue to refuse, deputies "start at the lowest level of force" and physically remove them from their cell and transport them to court.

Also on Tuesday, Borack agreed to release to The Bee court files and transcripts involving the case.

The bizarre saga has perplexed family members and law enforcement officials, who say they have no idea what happened to Dwight after he was last seen alive in April 2011, when he was 11 months old.

Edwards, officials say, has provided little assistance.

"The mother has refused to be transported to these hearings," Ben-Hur told the judge, who has been overseeing the case.

The hearings in dependency court have been closed to the media and public because they involve a juvenile and Child Protective Services.

The judge agreed to open the hearings and records to The Bee after the newspaper filed declarations of support from former Sheriff John McGinness and Robert Fellmeth, a former prosecutor and executive director of the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law.

Both McGinness and Fellmeth argued that such access and the ensuing publicity could generate leads to the child.

The county initially had opposed allowing The Bee access, saying that both the district attorney and the Sheriff's Department believed publicity would undermine the criminal investigation. Ben-Hur also argued that The Bee's coverage has portrayed the judge, some attorneys and the county in "a less than favorable light."

"This historical coverage is likely to cause attorneys to engage in unnecessary and possibly unhelpful, but not unauthorized or frivolous, legal tactics," the county argued. "Such a reaction, whether conscious or unconscious, could cause hearings to be excessively adversarial ."

The county dropped its objections after the Sheriff's Department took no position on the matter, and District Attorney Jan Scully's office did not oppose it, court documents indicate.

In its legal filings, The Bee suggested – and the court agreed – that reporters would be excluded from proceedings if new circumstances indicated there was a "reasonable likelihood" the child might be harmed.

Borack had agreed earlier to release some records in the case to the newspaper, citing "the needs of the community and the protection of the child."

Edwards was arrested June 4, 2011, after CPS and sheriff's deputies made four efforts to locate her for questioning about her son's whereabouts.

The documents Borack released last month show that the judge held a closed hearing on June 8, 2011, questioning Edwards closely about what happened to the child.

Transcripts show that the 36-year-old drug addict insisted she had not sold the child. Instead, she claimed that she gave Dwight away in a Motel 6 parking lot in Nevada to two women dressed in burqas whom she had never met before.

She claimed she had received a cellphone call from the women saying they were relatives of the boy's father and wanted to help her.

She added that she didn't know who they were and handed the boy over without questioning them, an assertion that left the judge incredulous.

Despite Edwards' inability to lead authorities to Dwight, she was released from custody.

Because of the confidentiality restrictions that surround juvenile cases, the fact that a child was missing was not made public for months.

The case finally broke into the public eye last March, when sheriff's officials announced they had just learned the child was missing. The first missing person's report in the case was then filed.

Edwards has been in jail since then on probation violations, but her inability or refusal to reveal what happened to the boy has stymied investigators' efforts to locate him.

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