The case of the missing Milwaukee baby, and the mother who chose eight months of jail over joint custody, came to a sad end late last week. The baby, malnourished and with two broken bones, has been found, and the mother, 29-year-old April Griffin, is back in jail, only this time she's facing felony charges that could keep here there for four years or more.
Griffin attracted a legion of supporters last year with her desperate refusal to accept a judge's order that her son's father be given a chance to share custody. She sent the boy into hiding in May 2007 and showed up at the Milwaukee County courthouse and told District Judge Michael Goulee to go ahead and put her in jail. He did just that and sent deputies searching her family members' homes, threatening to arrest anyone found helping hide the child. But as the months passed, nothing changed. Griffin remained in jail, and her son, Jesse Moses Griffin-Sebuliba, remained missing.
When Goulee released Griffin earlier this year, citing her fast-deteriorating health in jail, he did so with a warning. The child, he said, "will be found. And he will be found with someone, and that someone will be charged with a crime." The patience of the law won out in the end. Last Friday night, Milwaukee police, acting on a tip about the location of 2-year-old Jesse, entered an apartment on North Richards Street. They found the boy in his mother's arms.
It's not clear whether she had been living with her son or was only visiting when police arrived. But when they showed up, officers asked Griffin if the boy she was holding was her missing son. She refused to answer, according to a formal complaint filed by the Milwaukee County District Attorney. "The defendant refused to respond or identify the baby boy," according to an affidavit from Milwaukee police detective Christopher Moews. "As he and other officers engaged Griffin in conversation, she began putting clothes on the boy and stated she was going to leave with the child," the complaint reads. She told the detective, "Don't you [expletive deleted] touch me," and attempted to walk past him. "Don't you [expletive deleted] touch my baby."
Police say Griffin then wrapped her arms about Jesse so tightly that they feared for the toddler's safety. "She pulled the baby into her chest like a bear hug. She then turned away from officers while bending over at the waist, turning her body in an attempt to prevent the officers from taking the child." When another officer stepped in, Griffin began swinging back and forth urgently, causing Jesse to begin to cry and his head to lurch violently back and forth, the complaint reads. "The detective was concerned that the baby would not be able to breathe. Using force, he and another officer were able to get the child away from the defendant." At that point, police say, Griffin reached for her purse, and police used a Taser gun and a pepper-spray-like weapon to subdue her.
Almost immediately after her arrest Friday, rumors began to circulate in Milwaukee that Griffin had been shot and paralyzed by the police. An e-mail message calling for justice, sent from firstname.lastname@example.org, made the rounds. But some of Griffin's previous supporters expressed only sadness. "I had been organizing to get April to have folks help her straighten things out as well as helping to keep her son with her family," supporter Laura Manriquez told TIME. "Things did not work out when she and her family became distant and decided to not follow through with me." Griffin's former attorney, Narcisso Aleman, told TIME he no longer represents Griffin and could add nothing about her condition over the past several months.
Most troubling of all, however, were the statements from doctors included in the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors earlier this week. "Upon the statement of Dr. Angela Bier at Children's Hospital that [the boy Jesse] suffers severely from failure to thrive, is considered short and underweight for his age, is diagnosed with osteopenia (lack of density in the bones), which is likely rickets caused by a dietary deficiency, and fractures to the right tibia and fibula, and a fracture to the left ulna." Another doctor explained that the fractures appear old and had never been treated.
The boy remains under doctor's care, but his father, Matthew Sebuliba, is anxious for a reunion that has been nearly two years in the making, his attorneys say. "[We] are very hopeful that he will recover soon and that the court order granting sole legal custody and physical placement to the father will finally be followed and enforced," said Deedee D. Rongstad of the Legal Services of Milwaukee.