In April 2014, Josh and Brenda Burns’ daughter, Naomi, was taken from their home by Child Protective Services (CPS) of Livingston County, Michigan. This is their story.
Josh and Brenda Burns are in the midst of a battle that most Americans would never think possible. Their story began with the birth of their daughter, Naomi, in January 2014. Naomi’s birth was traumatic, beginning with four hours of pushing followed by several failed vacuum extraction attempts. It ended with an emergency C-section. Naomi was later discovered to have chronic bleeding in her brain, which all experts believed to have been caused by birth trauma. Naomi had minor health issues to overcome, but began to thrive.
March 15, 2014, started as a normal day. Late that morning, Brenda left home for an appointment. Josh was off of work that day and able to stay home with Naomi. As Josh finished feeding and burping her, he got a call from Brenda. While hanging up the phone, Naomi started to slip from his lap. Instinctively, he reached out to prevent her from falling. Thankfully, Naomi seemed fine, other than a slight scratch on her face where he caught her. Shortly thereafter, Brenda returned home and Naomi appeared fine.
A Turn for the Worse
The next morning was Naomi’s baptism at church. It was also the day that Naomi became ill and began projectile vomiting. Over the next two days, multiple trips were made back and forth to the ER and doctor’s office. Many calls were made to the family’s on-call pediatric service. Naomi’s symptoms continued to worsen and eventually became so dire that her parents had to call 911. Naomi was transported via ambulance to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Naomi was hospitalized for two weeks, during which time numerous tests were performed to diagnose her illness. A serious gastrointestinal virus was suspected to be the cause of her symptoms.
Ten days into her hospitalization, Naomi’s medical nightmare took an earth- shattering turn when a doctor informed Josh and Brenda that she suspected Naomi had been physically abused. The doctor contacted Children’s Protective Services (CPS) and local law enforcement. A petition was filed with the court and Naomi was taken from her parents by CPS and placed in foster care with strangers.
Naomi remained in foster care for over seven months. Brenda was granted three one-hour visits per week with Naomi at the Livingston County Department of Human Services office. Josh was not allowed to see Naomi at all. A civil abuse and neglect case was opened by the Livingston County Prosecutor’s office with the ultimate goal of terminating both Josh and Brenda’s parental rights. The prosecutor’s office also had Josh arrested and charged with second degree felony child abuse.
Going to Trial
The civil case went to trial before a jury. The jury was tasked with deciding if the court should retain jurisdiction over Naomi. The jury determined that no statutory grounds in the petition had been met for the court to keep jurisdiction over Naomi through Brenda. The jury did, however, determine that at least one of the statutory grounds had been met for the court to keep jurisdiction over Naomi through Josh. They were instructed to base their verdict on a 51% preponderance of evidence. The prosecutor urged the jury to “err on the side of caution” since Naomi could not tell them what happened.
After the verdict, the judge ordered that Naomi be immediately returned to Brenda. Josh had one hour to pack a few belongings and move out of the family home. Since he had also been charged criminally, there was a no-contact order in place, which meant he still could not have contact with Naomi.
With the civil trial verdict, the prosecutor now had the momentum to move forward with their criminal case against Josh. The prosecutor’s case was based primarily on the testimony of a child abuse pediatrician who relied on science that is considered outdated by current medical research. This child abuse pediatrician diagnosed Naomi with Abusive Head Trauma (a.k.a Shaken Baby Syndrome).
The criminal case went to jury trial. The prosecutor, with the approval of the judge, successfully blocked new scientific research and peer-reviewed medical journal articles from being brought into evidence or testimony. These current, peer-reviewed medical journal articles call into question the old “junk science.” This was a crucial blow to Josh’s case. At the end of the trial, the jury declared Josh guilty of second degree felony child abuse. The prosecutor and the doctor who accused the Burns family were ultimately allowed by the court to contradict themselves and provide two conflicting possibilities. They were allowed to argue that the fall from Josh’s knee could not cause Naomi’s health issues but then, in the same breath, they argued that the fall from the knee was a reckless act and enough to convict Josh of child abuse.
What the Future Holds
In March 2015, Josh was sentenced to one year in jail and three years of probation. Now that Josh has completed his sentence, the Burns family is back together, having completed a family reunification program through the Department of Human Services. Naomi is happy and healthy.
Josh is represented in the appeal of his criminal conviction by the Michigan Innocence Clinic, part of the University of Michigan Law School. They hope to set new court precedents that will prevent this nightmare happening to other families.
You can follow their story on this website. Updates will also be provided on the Torn Family Facebook page.
Surely twelve jurors could not make such a big mistake. Surely Josh is guilty. Unless something went terribly wrong in the courtroom . . .
The Burns family is not alone. Doctors and CPS are ignoring the flaws in the science and tearing families apart.
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