Teen parents fighting over whether their shaken baby daughter should be removed from life support have taken their case to Ohio's courts and exposed a potential loophole in state law.
Six-month-old Jada Ruiz has been on life support at Akron's Children Hospital since early March when police officers, responding to a 911 call, found the baby unresponsive and not breathing in the arms of her 17-year-old father John Jones.
Doctors diagnosed Jada with broken bones, detached retinas and brain damage consistent with shaken baby syndrome, child services authorities said. The doctors said the little girl has little hope for life beyond the tubes and machines currently sustaining her, according to lawyers for both parents.
Police records confirm the severity of Jada's injuries, noting "her recovery is unlikely." Her twin, Jasmine, also was found with severe, but non-life threatening injuries.
Jada's mother, 18-year-old Deja Ruiz, wants her daughter removed from life support. But Jones, who was charged with assault and child endagerment in the case and who could face murder charges if Jada dies, quickly filed court papers to keep his daughter on life support.
The case is now in Summit County Probate Court where it has morphed into a series of complicated legal battles over who has the right to make such a decision, which court has jurisdiction over the case and who should have custody over Jada and the couple's other two children, Jada's twin sister and a 2-year-old boy.
Ruiz, who has not been charged in Jada's assault, spends most of her days at the hospital with her daughter. She is also working toward regaining custody of her other two children, who were removed by authorities after Jones' 911 call.
"She's having a hard time dealing with it," Ruiz's attorney Mary Ellen Leslie said, adding that Ruiz believes Jada "is already in the hands of God."
"She doesn't want to see that baby laying in bed, day after day after day," Leslie said.
Jones, who was enrolled in public school and is now being held in a juvenile detention center, is angry, depressed and frustrated, his lawyer Pam Hawkins said. Jones denies he caused the twins' injuries, but Hawkins declined to offer another explanation of the girls' injuries.
According to the police report, Jones was at Ruiz's home while she was at school. He told police, according to the report, that he found Jada limp and unresponsive when he went to change her diaper. He also told police that the girls were born four months premature and have a history of respiratory problems.
Akron Police Lt. Rick Edwards said the department is still investigating the abuse of the children.
Some have questioned Jones' motive questions for keeping his daughter alive.
"I would question his suitability as a parent to make a decision based up on the charges," Leslie said.
Hawkins said the possibility of murder charges did not play a role in Jones decision. She said the teen is planning to file paperwork soon to challenge Ruiz for custody.
"He made this decision before he was ever arrested," she said. "He has wanted her to get all the treatment she can to have the best chance for recovery."
But even Hawkins admitted she has been told that Jada's condition is "grave."
A spokeswoman for Akron's Children Hospital said it could not comment on Jada's condition or injuries, citing confidentiality laws.
Legal Precedent Tangles Case of Baby on Life Support
Jada's case is now snarled because the courts can't decide which has jurisdiction to intervene between the fueding parents.
Leslie said a loophole was created from of a 2004 Ohio Supreme Court decision that ruled the very same probate court overstepped its boundaries when it intervened in the case of another infant, Aiden Stein, by appointing a guardian to remove the child from life support against the wishes of the boy's parents. The decision was quickly reversed and Aiden remains to this day on life support.
That left future cases, such as Jada's, open to question over which courts have the right to intervene in such cases involving a child, Leslie said.
Leslie said the probate court judge in Jada's case -- ironically, the same judge that presided over the Aiden Stein case -- is expected to make a decision on jurisdiction by the end of the week.
Only then can the rest of the legal wrangling begin, including what rights Jada's court-appointed guardian has and what rights Jones has considering he's a minor himself and the baby's mother is an adult.
"The jurisdictional issue is only the beginning," Leslie said, adding that between the custody dispute, criminal proceedings and and the life support battle, Jada's fate could hang in the balance for months, if not longer.
"It just seems to me that the court's not protecting the youngest and most innocent and most unable to stick up for their rights," she said. "It could go on for years and she could end up being like Aiden Stein."
Hawkins said she'd like to see the juvenile court settle the dispute, especially considering other legal disputes over Jada, including custody, will be handled there.
Though the county has custody of all three children, it does not have the authority to decide whether or not Jada should be removed from life support. Summit County Children's Services Executive Director John Saros said it is their belief that Jada's parents should be empowered to make that decision.
Children Showed 'Extreme' Abuse
Whether John Jones will be allowed to make decisions on behalf of his critically ill daughter has yet to be seen.
Because of his age, Hawkins said, he is unable to enter into legal contracts though he retains rights as a biological parent. Jones' legal guardian is his grandmother, but Hawkins said she has not approached her about signing legal documents pertaining to the children on her grandson's behalf.
"His mother and his grandmother are very supportive of his decision," Hawkins said, "and they believe he didn't do this."