Appeals court affirms decision in Brownsdale CHIPS case

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld Mower County District Court’s decision to require a Brownsdale couple to regularly show human services they are administering HIV antiretroviral treatments to their infant son.

The appeals court released its decision in the case on Monday, which states “the record amply supports the district court’s finding that, absent the threat of county intervention, parents will not continue to provide the required treatment.”

Parents Lindsey Nagel and John Martinez were scrutinized shortly after their son, Rico, was born in December 2012.

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Much of their case involved controversy over an antiretroviral drug called AZT. Lindsey was on the drug until age 2, as she tested positive for HIV when her parents, Steve and Cheryl Nagel, adopted her from Romania about 23 years ago. Steve and Cheryl stopped using the drug because they said it was slowly killing Lindsey, causing severe cramps and pain.

This January, Mower County Health and Human Services received a court order to take custody of Rico after a petition mentioned Rico’s parents missed two doctor’s appointments. The parents testified they thought the appointments were optional, that they sought a second opinion from someone in Seattle and tried to reschedule. However, the district court’s decision indicated the parents never tried to reschedule in Minnesota and didn’t return doctors’ phone calls.

Doctors also testified Lindsey didn’t take prenatal medications that could have reduced her child’s risk of getting HIV to less than 2 percent. Lindsey said doctors never discussed such medications with her.

When authorities served the court order to place Rico in a foster home on Jan. 18, the foster parent immediately moved Rico to the hospital because of wheezing and weight loss, according to the court records. He remained in the hospital until March 7 before going home again. After returning home, his family said Rico’s condition began improving. After hearing testimony from doctors, human services and the family in April, Mower County District Court Judge Fred Wellmann issued his decision on May 6 to continue human services monitoring.

“Their statements that they wish to discontinue the antiretroviral medication and will continue to provide treatment only as long as it is legally required give the Court little choice but to retain jurisdiction in this matter to protect the child,” Wellmann wrote in his decision.

A month later, the parents filed their appeal. In the appeals case, the parents argued the district court didn’t apply the appropriate legal standard for determining if a child is in need of protective services; the court misinterpreted the statutes regarding such matters; and the original findings of facts were erroneous.

Yet the appeals court judges agreed with the district court’s findings that, without supervision, the parents would discontinue treatments.

Under the district court’s May 6 ruling, Rico may remain at home with his parents, but human services will monitor the treatments until the court decides supervision is no longer needed.

On Tuesday, Cheryl said Rico is still doing well and growing. However, she and her family did not want to discuss details about the court’s most recent decision.