by Asra Q. Nomani and Debra Tisler
STAFFORD, VA — “They are not taking my baby girl!” cries Sean Jackson, the black father of a beautiful girl, Amoria Adams, 10 months old, holding his beloved daughter.
This week, a school board member from Fairfax County, Va., Karen Keys-Gamarra, put in motion a judge’s order that tonight took a beautiful baby girl from the home of her doting father and paternal grandparents. At this moment. At 8:33 PM.
“You guys are taking my child,” says Jackson, distraught.
“No!” cries the paternal grandmother, Kimberly Jackson-Makle.
Three Stafford County sheriff’s officers moved tonight — Monday night, to seize this baby, nicknamed “Mori,” because of a judge’s order put in place by Keys-Gamarra on Monday without the father’s or paternal grandparents’ awareness.
Then, in the darkness of the night, little Amoria was strapped into a car seat in a white car and driven away by a stranger. Her father and grandparents have no clue where she is tonight.
How did this miscarriage of justice happen?
The writing on the wall was written on May 4, on the fourth floor of the Arlington Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, a bailiff held Amoria as a three-month-old baby girl and shouted, “Father? Where’s the father?”
Jackson, 28, a paramedic in nearby Stafford, Va., stepped forward and declared, “I’m the father.”
The bailiff thrust the baby into his arms.
Ever since Jackson had learned through a paternity test that he was Amoria’s father, he had been trying to win visitation. It seemed his case might have suddenly been strengthened. A few feet away, Arlington police led away the baby’s mother, 21, in handcuffs, arrested on an outstanding warrant for alleged assault and battery involving abuse of another of her daughters.
What are you? Retarded?
In the confusion, Jackson wondered what happened next.
But when he sought advice from the person who would know, Karen Keys-Gamarra, Amoria’s court-appointed attorney, he got a shocking answer – one that he says telegraphed her bias against him.
“What are you?” Keys-Gamarra snapped: “Retarded?”
While Keys-Gamarra denies using the term, it wouldn’t be the first time the lawyer, a Black activist and Fairfax County School Board member who ran as a “voice for the voiceless,” used the slur. On Thursday, Oct. 20, at a public meeting of the school board of Fairfax County Public Schools, Keys-Gamarra blurted out at one point during a dispute, “We cannot be this retarded,” in a hot-mic moment. The next day, disturbed by the use of the word, school board chair Rachna Sizemore Heizer told a local WUSA9 TV reporter, “That is actually the third time she’s used it.” Little did Sizemore Heizer know that a young father had also heard the word used to demean him. And according to someone close to Amoria’s mother, Keys-Gamarra refused to give Amoria to Jackson once when the baby was sick, saying: “He is retarded.”
For Jackson and his parents, the case illustrates the biases of a system rigged against fathers even by so-called progressives. Amoria’s mother, who is also Black, was three months pregnant with her when she was jailed in July 2021 for felony charges of possession of controlled substances and “gross, wanton or reckless care of a child.”
She was released six months pregnant, having lost custody of two children.
Yet, according to court records we studied as part of a weeks-long investigation at Independent Women’s Network, Keys-Gamarra, whose role is technically known as a guardian ad litem (GAL) didn’t enter these facts into Amoria’s custody case – a lapse that would be all the more shocking given later revelations.
We started as parent advocates and journalists. After seeing some of the most egregious abuse of power in our careers, we are now 100% Team Amoria.
‘Hypocrisy on the ground’
“At a time when activists are seeking to uplift black men and stop the cycle of poverty in black families, this case reveals the hypocrisy on the ground,” says Harry Jackson (no relation), a Black father and parent advocate who went into debt fighting for custody of his daughter in the Arlington system.
This case raises the question of oversight of the “GAL” system when a GAL’s actions become suspect. Critics of the system say it needs reform. A spokeswoman for the Virginia Supreme Court, which oversees GALs, declined comment. The mother also couldn’t be reached for comment.
“There is an illusion that these agencies are promoting child welfare but they are not,” says Kandise Lucas, a special education advocate in Richmond, Va.. “They are promoting their own interests. It’s cash for kids. The G-A-L is not G-O-D.”
The rocky start for Jackson in court in May would not improve. He naïvely believed his clean record – crime-free, drug-free and gainfully employed – would stand him in good stead. He also had the enthusiastic support of his parents, Kimberly Jackson-Makle, a registered nurse, and Carlos Makle, a retired UPS driver.
Instead, he got little sympathy from Judge Michael Chick Jr., a former contestant on American Ninja Warrior. (Yes, you read that right.)
At a Sept. 16 hearing, Chick just gave Jackson visitation from Friday 3 p.m. to Sunday 12 p.m. Jackson wept. Keys-Gamarra high-fived a social services worker, Joanne Hamilton. The judge’s assistant declined comment. The Virginia Department of Social Services declined comment. Hamilton couldn’t be reached for comment. The baby’s mother couldn’t be reached for comment.
From the start, Key-Gamarra filed reports antagonistic to the Makles despite their much-honored foster-care history. In one report, she observed Mrs. Makle stood with her “hands on her hips,” in an alleged “threatening” manner during a conversation. Another time, she criticized the grandmother for saying she “doesn’t play” on the issues of babies.
“I’m a strong mama bear,” says Mrs. Makle. “That’s not a crime.”
“PLEASE HELP MY BABY!!!”
Jackson filed motions to remove his baby from exposure to drugs, including one plea: “PLEASE HELP MY BABY!!!” But Keys-Gamarra indicated to him, during a tense meeting, that his quest was fruitless. “I always win. Fathers always lose,” she said, he recalls.
Events turned ominous on Thanksgiving, when Arlington police visited the baby’s mother, after her aunt called Jackson in alarm. “Her mother is high,” the aunt said. “Come get your baby.”
Jackson rushed over. After a night with Amoria, unable to sleep, agitated, her eyes glassy, Jackson took her to the Stafford Hospital emergency room. An ER physician delivered shocking news after a urine test: “Your daughter tested positive for cocaine.”
The test triggered the first positive development for Jackson. A Stafford County Child Protective Services staffer arrived at the Jackson-Makle house and sketched out a “safety plan.” The staffer saw a shocking Thanksgiving video Amoria’s maternal uncle posted on Instagram with smoke billowing in the baby’s face. “Baby exposed to illegal substances by the mother,” the staffer wrote. The uncle said on Instagram the smoke was “from a humidifier.”
The report didn’t move Keys-Gamarra. On the evening of Nov. 28, she sent a court filing to Jackson and the mother, stating “the child faces imminent harm” – including from the father and his family. She cast aspersions on the cocaine test: “The test revealed a presumptive positive but inconclusive result.” But hospital records never called the results “inconclusive.” She also obsessed about TikTok videos posted by the father, lamenting cocaine in his baby’s body.
In most cases, the positive cocaine test would’ve automatically awarded custody to Jackson, with a plan that would allow the mother – after successful drug rehab – to regain some rights. Keys-Gamarra’s advocacy had its desired intention.
On Friday, Dec. 2, Jackson got a safety plan from Arlington CPS. There is some solace: the plan gives his once-demonized parents temporary custody. But he could only see Amoria in supervised visits, while subjected to drug screenings. In the presence of witnesses, a CPS officer told Jackson that if he didn’t sign the document CPS would start proceedings to put Amoria in foster care.
Jackson agreed to the drug test but had to work on Monday as a paramedic. “I am fighting for my baby – and every baby,” he says. “My baby is not going into the system.”
Suddenly — without warning — Stafford County deputies on Monday night arrived with Arlington CPS to take the baby. A stranger — the CPS officer — walked out with baby Amoria.
Let’s be very clear: this is the theft of a black baby by a self-proclaimed progressive school board member. It’s a miscarriage of justice. It is no different than when police were used to take babies away from Native American families. Now it’s being done by a so-called progressive attorney in the name of “social justice.”
The order now issued contains a gag order against Jackson, his mother and their family. This happened after we contacted Keys-Gamarra, the judge, Child Protective Services and others for comment.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED:
The Department’s petition for ex parte PPO is denied and scheduled for status on 12/9/2022 at 1pm.
Visitation shall be in the discretion of the Department in consultation with the GAL.
The parents shall timely undergo any and all drug screens required by the Department. The Department shall file the results screens with the Court and shall provide copies to all parties and the CASA.
Discovery is authorized at the Department’s request. Safe Havens is directed to share their records with the Department.
The parents and the paternal grandmother shall preserve all images, videos, audio recordings, text messages, phone call histories, email traffic, social media postings (TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) or other evidence of communications they have had with anyone pertaining to the circumstances described in the Department’s affidavit; and they shall provide complete access to these items immediately upon demand by the Department for inspection/coping/upload to the County Attorney’s Dropbox account.
The parents shall sign all releases necessary for the Department / GAL / CASA to obtain information about prior / present / future services received by the parents, including information covered by 42 CFR Part 2. This information may be shared with the Court as needed, and copies may be provided to all parties and the CASA.
The parents shall appear in person for all proceedings unless the Court specifically directs otherwise.
All proceedings in this matter shall be closed to the public and non-parties unless the Court specifically directs otherwise. this Court….The parents and other family members shall not further disseminate any records of the substance thereof, to anyone other than their legal counsel.
What is Keys-Gamarra and Chick so scared about they are now demanding a father’s, a grandmother’s and a grandfather’s “social media postings”? Special education parent and child advocate Pete Wright calls this the “retaliation triangle,” the levels of retaliation that the system goes through to attack families who stand up for their rights and the rights of their children. “Retaliation is the act of using official resources to punish parents,” he writes.
It is the judge and Keys-Gamarra who are the ones who most certainly have something to hide.
At home, Jackson doubles over, devastated, as Amoria wails in fright. In the home, a quiet fell over the house as Jackson wept. “They took my baby.”
A friend told him: “Y’all need to gird up. Wipe your tears and fight. You are going to fight. The main goal now is to get your child back.”
“Yes m’am,” said Jackson.
Asra Nomani is a senior contributor at The Federalist and a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Network. This column has been republished with permission from Asra Investigates.