Woman Who Hid Grandson Hopes To Regain Custody

Thursday, April 12th 2007, 6:06 am
By: News On 6

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) -- A woman said Thursday that she regrets illegally taking her 6-year-old grandson from Illinois and hopes "playing cat-and-mouse" with authorities for more than two years doesn't keep her from regaining custody of the boy.

"I'm hoping I'll get a merciful judge," Doris Garretson said Thursday after a court hearing was delayed on custody of young Jonathan Smalley, who is in temporary custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Garretson, 68, says she panicked and fled after disagreements over her developmentally disabled grandson's medical treatment made her fear DCFS would take him away from her. She concedes the move likely will make it tougher to regain custody.

"I think I will be able to get him back. I pray it won't be too long ... I think they're going to fight me pretty hard because of me playing cat-and-mouse for 2 1/2 years," Garretson said.

Authorities have said Garretson had legal custody when the Peoria boy disappeared more than two years ago. When she later missed a court appearance relating to custody in 2005, a judge awarded temporary custody to DCFS and a warrant was issued for Garretson's arrest.

Garretson was arrested April 3 after a tip sparked by a missing person flier led police to a small apartment where she was living with her grandson in Tulsa. She was released two days later and Illinois officials say they will not prosecute her on a warrant of failing to return the child to DCFS.

DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said Thursday that Jonathan has been returned to Illinois and is with a foster family, but declined further comment.

Peoria County Judge Albert Purham Jr. appointed a public defender Wednesday to represent Garretson, delaying a hearing on her grandson's custody until May 17. The judge also postponed ruling on Garretson's request for weekly visits with her grandson while the case is being settled.

Garretson said she has taken care of the boy since birth, excluding six weeks when he was taken by DCFS in a dispute over medical care. Garretson says her daughter gave her temporary guardianship of the boy because she has emotional problems and is unable to care for him.

She says she left Peoria in 2004 without permission from DCFS and moved to Tennessee, so the boy could be closer to his mother. When a warrant was issued for her arrest after she failed to show up for a March 2005 custody hearing in Illinois, Garretson said she panicked and fled to Tulsa.

"I didn't think it would get this far out of proportion, that they'd put us on the Internet and put fliers in the mail. I thought that eventually it would burn itself out," Garretson said.

Garretson says social service workers have accused her of neglecting Jonathan and blame her for weight loss and other health problems. Garretson says she hasn't seen her grandson since they were taken into custody, but thinks he is likely suffering pains of separation.

"He's pulled away from his routine and the only person he really knows, just abruptly like that, and he's walking around in a daze," Garretson said.

Garretson contends DCFS shouldn't take children when there are capable relatives who love them and are willing to care for them.

"I would like to get us back together and live where we want to live," Garretson said. "I'd like it to just be me and my grandson until I'm old and maybe he'll take care of me."

Related stories:

4/4/2007 - Missing Illinois Boy Found In Tulsa

4/5/2007 - Grandmother Accused Of Kidnapping Speaks Of Her Life On The Run

To view a video of that interview, click here.

4/7/2007 - Grandmother Won't Face Charges In Illinois Abduction