MOORHEAD — Joshua Jurado and Jill Pease’s first family photo with their son, Oliver Jurado, was taken in the hospital in October 2018 when he was born.
Their second family photo happened a few months later at the house where Clay County Social Services (CCSS) placed their son into foster care in January after medical professionals concluded Oliver suffered a brain bleed that was likely caused from head trauma, raising the possibility that the trauma may have been abusive. But whether there was any abuse has not been proven.
Pease and Jurado have since been working with CCSS to reunify with their child, and they took the case to a two-day trial in Clay County Court arguing that the state’s position that their child needs continued protective services is unfounded and requested Judge Michelle Lawson put Oliver back in their care.
Pease and Jurado haven’t made any formal accusations against CCSS regarding anti-LGBTQ bias, but they worry that the process may have started and been prolonged because of their sexual orientation.
Pease, 38, identifies as a lesbian, and Jurado, 27, identifies as a gay man, yet they are in a platonic, non-romantic relationship. They conceived their child through artificial insemination.
“By traditional sense, we’re not married, but we’re as close to married as you can get,” Jurado said in an interview with The Forum on Monday, July 15.
Pamela Foss, chief assistant Clay County attorney, denied any bias on the state’s part in the case.
“The sexual orientation of the mother and father had nothing to do with how this case was handled by our office or social services,” Foss said.
Different for us
Pease and Jurado brought Oliver to Essentia Health in Moorhead on Dec. 28, 2018, when Oliver experienced twitching in his left side.
Doctors at Essentia, and later at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Sanford Health, found that Oliver suffered from a subdural hematoma, or a brain bleed, and had a retinal hemorrhage.
The doctors involved with Oliver’s care concluded and later testified that, after ruling out possible medical or genetic conditions, such a brain bleed is most likely caused by abusive or accidental trauma to the head.
Pease and Jurado told authorities that they had not observed Oliver fall or injure himself, and both denied hurting him.
On Jan. 3, the state took custody of Oliver after questions remained as to how Oliver suffered a brain bleed and on the possibility that the injury may have been abusive. Oliver was later put into foster care before being placed into the relative care of Pease’s parents in May.
Jurado and Pease have had supervised visitation since January and have been working with CCSS to complete the necessary evaluations to reunify with their son, but remain concerned that their sexual orientation played a role in how long the reunification process has taken and the limited time they have with their son.
“It was pretty apparent that because we were different, there were already ideas out there that pretty much we weren’t worthy of being parents,” Jurado said in the interview, adding that authorities seemed to have come to their case with predisposed ideas.
Pease and Jurado said they completed all the necessary evaluations and steps laid out by CCSS by mid-June, with social services to set up the remaining requirements.
Results from the evaluations were favorable to both Pease and Jurado and showed that there was a low-risk of neglect or abuse in their household, according to trial testimony.
A test that looks into child abuse potential came back invalid for both, which means that the score cannot be interpreted, according to information provided during the trial.
Crystal Johnson, the CCSS case manager assigned to Pease and Jurado’s case, testified that the invalid score was concerning given the possibility of abusive trauma in the case.
Pease and Jurado noted that they reached out to the doctor involved with the child abuse potential test and said they were notified the results often come back invalid, according to an email response on Wednesday, July 17.
Johnson testified that during the time spent with Pease and Jurado, she did not notice any concerning behavior about their parenting, something that was also noted by other witnesses.
Pease and Jurado said they are still waiting for approval from social services regarding unsupervised visitation and overnight stays with Oliver despite completing what they can.
“It’s not that we’re trying to slam on the state or anything like that,” Jurado said. “We just have questions as to why . . . why is it different for us or why it takes so long when it comes to us, because is just seems like something’s off and nobody will tell us.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, there have not been any changes in Pease and Jurado's supervision rules.
Pease and Jurado's sexual orientation came to the forefront of the court trial a few times.
Eva Wood, Pease’s attorney, pointing to Pease and Jurado’s sexual orientation and their relationship, questioned why it has taken about seven months to move forward with the reunification process. She also questioned why the parents don’t yet have overnight or unsupervised visitation despite completing the requirements they could on their own.
Nicole Tabbut, Jurado’s attorney, asked Pease during the trial if she thinks there are some people who don’t view her “as a normal parent.”
Pease replied that she does. When Tabbut asked why, Pease responded, “Because I’m gay.”
Wood, the anti-violence program director with OutFront Minnesota, said she worked on the case pro-bono because OutFront Minnesota, an LGBTQ advocacy group, had concerns of possible bias. Tabbut is a lawyer with Pemberton Law in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and is on the board of the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association, a group of attorneys supporting the LGBTQ community.
Kathleen Stock, assistant Cass County attorney, asked three witness — Johnson, Sean Mork, a Clay County Sheriff’s Office investigator who was involved with the case, and Dr. Arne Graff, a family physician with Mayo Clinic who consults with Sanford and helped with Oliver’s care — if sexual orientation plays a role in how they handle cases or investigations. All of them replied that it does not.
Stroke or trauma?
Questions linger as to what happened to Oliver for him to suffer a brain bleed, with attorneys for Pease and Jurado saying authorities reached the conclusion of abuse “haphazardly.”
While medical professionals from Essentia and Sanford who took care of Oliver testified that the bleed was a subdural hematoma commonly caused by a trauma to the head, they could not discern if the cause was accidental or otherwise.
But with no genetic or medical condition found, or a report of accidental trauma, doctors arrived at the likelihood the injury was a non-accidental trauma.
Pease and Jurado’s attorneys pointed to Oliver’s X-rays that showed no skull fractures, or any other bone fractures or deformities. But Graff testified a lack of injuries or broken bones does not rule out trauma.
Pease and Jurado’s attorneys argued that the brain bleed could have been caused by a stroke or seizure, as suggested by a medical expert they recruited. But the state’s witness disagreed with that position, saying that strokes haven’t been known to cause subdural hematomas.
The medical expert did not testify in open court upon the state’s objections that his position a brain bleed can be caused by a stroke is not something widely held in the medical community.
Lawson, however, will review the deposition and deem its merit as she reviews the case.
Stock closed the trial maintaining that Oliver is need of continued protective services given the fact that concerns of abuse remain.
Bruce Ringstrom Sr., another attorney for the parents, reiterated in his closing statement that the doctors rushed to the conclusion of possible abusive trauma.
Emily Schaffer, the guardian ad litem present during the trial, said during her testimony that concerns remain with what happened to Oliver and that his safety is of the utmost importance. The guardian ad litem is an independent party brought into review child protection cases.
Schaffer said that she believes the state should move forward with overnight visitation and slowly recede from supervision, adding that reunification should come in increments.
The reunification date is slated for early August. Johnson said in court that there has been "progress in the reunification plan but there's still some work to be done."
Lawson has until June 29 to decide the matter, but can request additional time if she wishes to.
Moving forward, Pease and Jurado said they hope to get Oliver the medical care he needs. If Lawson decides in their favor, both said they wish to get back to the way things were.
“It’s just getting back to being a family,” Jurado said.