Story Summary

Justina Pelletier Custody Case

FOX CT’s Beau Berman has been following the case of Justina Pelletier, a West Hartford teen who has been held from her parents since they admitted her to Boston Children’s Hospital in February 2013 with flu-like symptoms. Justina had previously been diagnosed with mitochondrial disease at Tufts Medical Center in 2011. Doctors at Boston Children’s questioned the diagnosis and said they believed her symptoms — including weakness, headaches and abdominal pain — were psychologically induced. They diagnosed her with somatoform disorder, a mental disorder. Justina’s parents disagreed with that diagnosis, and have been in a custody dispute with the State of Massachusetts ever since. She remains in Massachusetts custody.

Story Timeline
Previous Next
This story has 10 updates
Local News
04/02/14

Pelletier Family Not Done Fighting

After a recent judicial decision gave Massachusetts custody of their child, the Pelletier family continues to fight. FOX CT’s Beau Berman has more.

Local News
04/02/14

Pelletier Family Speaks Out

Lou Pelletier and his daughter Jennifer discuss the latest updates on the status of his younger daughter, Justina, who has been in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families since February 2013.

Read more about the case at courant.com.

Massachusetts State Representative James Lyons (R-Andover) has joined Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) in re-issuing their resolution to release Justina Pelletier from Mass. DCF custody.

Judge Joseph Johnston issued permanent custody of the Connecticut teen to Mass. DCF in a decision on Tuesday.

But in an email sent to the Mass. House of Representatives Wednesday,  Rep. Lyons is urging his colleagues in the Mass. legislature to publicly express disdain for the decision and call for a change.

“As you will see, Justina’s court appointed attorney, Nancy Hathaway, and the attorneys for Justina Pelletier filed a motion that would have awarded custodial custody of Justina to her parents. The faceless bureaucracy of DCF opposed the plan. Also find attached a copy of the Judge’s disposition order. It appears from our reading of the disposition order that the focus has shifted from what was once an allegation of medical abuse to the Massachusetts court system attempting to force the Connecticut DCF to get involved in this case,” said Lyons in his email to fellow lawmakers.

A previously circulated resolution was supported by about 20 Mass. lawmakers but did not gain further traction.

“We understand and respect that there are opposing views on this issue, however, seldom is there an opportunity for us as legislators to actually save a child’s life. We are once again circulating our resolution, and would urge the membership to consider signing on,” said Lyons, referring to himself and Rep. Lombardo.

A small set of Connecticut lawmakers led by Rep. Joe Markley petitioned Connecticut Department of Children and Families Commissioner, Joette Katz, to make efforts to release Justina Pelletier to her parents.

Those efforts appear to have fallen flat.

Connecticut DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt released the following statement to Connecticut’s Newsroom Tuesday:

“The Connecticut Department of Children and Families will continue our efforts to support the family and arrange for any services recommended by professionals involved with Justina and her family. This matter remains under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, and we will continue to assist Massachusetts as well as the family.”

Massachusetts DCF spokeswoman Mary-Leah Assad, released the following statmement to Fox CT Tuesday:

“DCF’s primary goal has always been the health and wellbeing of Justina, and finding a solution that would allow her to return to Connecticut. That has not changed in the face of this ruling. The Department is exploring all options that will allow Justina to return to her home state where she has the support of her friends, family, school and community.”

A copy of the proposed resolution can be found here: Pelletier Resolution As Filed

Local News
03/26/14

Raw: Lou Pelletier Interview

Justina Pelletier’s father, Lou, talks about the recent court decision keeping his daughter in the custody of the state of Massachusetts.

Justina Pelletier will remain in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families after the Boston Judge Presiding over the case granted the state what’s called “permanent custody” Tuesday.

That ruling, however, is subject to review on May 20, which happens to be four days before Justina’s 16th birthday.

The custody battle began nearly 14 months ago in February 2013, when doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital diagnosed the 15 year old West Hartford girl with a mental disorder, disagreeing with a previous diagnosis from Tufts Medical Center, for mitochondrial disease.

In Tuesday’s 5 page ruling, Judge Joseph Johnston said the behavior of Justina’s parents hindered efforts to return her to Connecticut.

Johnston said Lou and Linda Pelletier were “verbally abusive,” citing an instance when “they called hospital personnel Nazis,” and another when the judge said a state social worker had to be removed from the case due to allegations that Lou Pelletier threatened the worker.

But the judge was also critical of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and the Connecticut courts, writing that the agencies also hindered efforts to return Justina.

He wrote that Connecticut DCF and Connecticut courts repeatedly declined to take the case even though Connecticut is Justina’s home state.

Watch the extended interview with Justina Pelletier’s father, Lou, here.

Gary Kleeblatt, a spokesman for Connecticut DCF, said Tuesday that the department’s response to the judge’s ruling and to questions about its part in the Massachusetts case would be limited to this statement:

“The Connecticut Department of Children and Families will continue our efforts to support the family and arrange for any services recommended by professionals involved with Justina and her family. This matter remains under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, and we will continue to assist Massachusetts as well as the family.”

Fox CT spoke with the Pelletiers at their home Tuesday after the ruling, where Justina’s sisters said recent photographs show serious swelling, a receding hairline and other medical concerns.

Father, Lou Pelletier, says they’ll keep fighting for custody, filing another appeal in court and upping the ante in the court of public opinion.

“Watching your daughter suffer needlessly for this length of time, will push any human to brink of… how much more can you take,” said Pelletier.

Beau Berman: “That treatment of your daughter going through pain for 14 months- did that drive you to make statements that were aggressive or they’re faulting your for?”

Lou Pelletier: “Probably… I’m a father trying to protect my daughter.”

At the end of his ruling, Judge Johnston did write that “heightened efforst must be taken by Mass. DCF to place Justina in Connecticut” and that “the court will stand ready to assist that return”.

“As long as I have a living breath there will be a fight and my daughter will not die in the hands of this corruption and incompetence that is happening in the city of Boston,” said Justina’s father.

The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families released a statement Tuesday as well via spokeswoman Mary-Leah Assad.

“DCF’s primary goal has always been the health and wellbeing of Justina, and finding a solution that would allow her to return to Connecticut. That has not changed in the face of this ruling. The Department is exploring all options that will allow Justina to return to her home state where she has the support of her friends, family, school and community.”

The Pelletiers note that none of the criticisms against them in the judge’s decision Tuesday relate to their conduct prior to February 2013, when Justina was first admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital with the flu.

Justina remains at the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network Center in Framingham, Massachusetts, for now.

A juvenile court judge Tuesday awarded permanent custody of Justina Pelletier, a 15-year-oldWest Hartford teenager, to the state of Massachusetts.

Lou Pelletier, father of Justina, confirmed a report from the Boston Globe that Judge Joseph Johnston awarded custody of the girl to Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

“It’s very, very bad news,” Pelletier said.

He said he would have more to say more about the decision later Tuesday.

The Pelletiers had been hoping to win back custody of Justina. There was also some discussion that Connecticut Department of Children and Families would take over the case, which the Pelletiers also opposed.

Gary Kleeblatt, a spokesman for Connecticut’s DCF sent this statement:

“The Connecticut Department of Children and Families will continue our efforts to support the family and arrange for any services recommended by professionals involved with Justina and her family. This matter remains under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, and we will continue to assist Massachusetts as well as the family.”

Justina has been in Massachusetts’ custody since February 2013.

She was sent to Boston Children’s Hospital that month when she exhibited symptoms that the family said were related to mitochondrial disease, a diagnosis she received at Tufts Medical Center in 2011.

Doctors at Boston Children’s questioned the diagnosis and said they believed her symptoms — including weakness, headaches and abdominal pain – were psychologically induced. They diagnosed her with somatoform disorder, a mental disorder.

The state has refused to release Justina to her parents after Boston Children’s officials reported their suspicions of medical child abuse.

By William Weir, Hartford Courant.

As a West Hartford family fights for their daughter’s return from Massachusetts State custody, they now fear her medical condition is deteriorating.

Justina Pelletier’s sister, Jennifer, sat down with Fox CT Saturday for an exclusive one on one interview.

Despite the expectation of a custody ruling by Friday March 21, which had been suggested at a court hearing on Monday March 17, the Boston judge presiding over the Justina Pelletier case pushed his decision deadline to Tuesday March 25.

The move further frustrated the 15-year-old West Hartford teen’s family, who have been battling for her custody in court for nearly 14 months.

Justina’s oldest sister, Jennifer, visited with Justina during a scheduled weekly one-hour visit Friday, and says she has never seen her in worse condition.

“Her physical appearance, just from seeing her, it’s scary.  Her legs are more swollen. They’re cold to the touch. She has no feeling in her feet,” Jennifer said Saturday.

Justina was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease by doctors at Tufts Medical Center years ago, a condition causing muscle pain and weakness, but when she was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital with the flu last year, doctors said she had somatoform disorder, a mental condition.

The Massachusetts child welfare agency took custody of Justina and has retained it ever since.

“They’re saying one thing and not following through.  I just don’t think it’s fair anymore at this point to keep prolonging it,” Jennifer Pelletier told Fox CT on Saturday.

The judge recently ordered Tufts Medical Center to handle all future medical care, but the Pelletiers say that so far, Justina hasn’t been seen by any Tufts physicians.

Jennifer Pelletier says that she has brought her concerns about Justina’s medical condition to the attention of Massachusetts DCF workers to no avail.

Justina is currently living at the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network in Framingham, Mass., but the Mass. DCF recently expressed a willingness to place her in Connecticut.

Judge Joseph Johnston told the family’s Massachusetts counsel, Philp Moran, on Friday, that he will fax his ruling out before the close of business on Tuesday.

A West Hartford family will have to wait a few more days for a Boston judge to make a custody ruling about their daughter.

Judge Joseph Johnston was expected to decide on the custody of 15-year-old Justina Pelletier by Friday March 21.

Instead, the family’s attorney told Fox CT that the judge’s decision was postponed once again.

Now, he says the Johnston will fax his decision to the attorneys before the close of business on Tuesday.

Justina has been in Massachusetts state custody since a diagnostic dispute at Boston Children’s Hospital more than a year ago.

A group of Connecticut legislators is pushing for the immediate return of West Hartford teen, Justina Pelletier, directly to her family.

The family’s spokesman, Rev. Patrick Mahoney, says he’ll meet with Congressmen in Washington, DC, next week, discussing whether any federal laws have been violated.

Her family says her “individual education plan” (IEP) that she had in West Hartford at the Ben Bronze Academy was not kept in place while she’s been hospitalized in Boston. They also say she’s missed Christmas Eve, Christmas and Easter masses and been denied access to a Priest.

Connecticut State Senator Joe Markley (R- Waterbury), held a press conference at the Capitol Wednesday morning, announcing a letter he’s drafted to the Connecticut Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz, calling for the return of Justina Pelletier directly to her parents.

“Massachusetts DCF has been under tremendous pressure on this case and they’ve come forward with nothing to indict this family,” said Markley.

He addressed the letter more specifically as well.

“Encouraging Commissioner Katz at the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, not to repeat the long bureaucratic process that the Pelletier family just went through in Massachusetts but to turn custody of this young back to her parents in West Hartford.”

Amid increasing media coverage of the case, Massachusetts DCF last week, expressed a willingness to return Pelletier to Connecticut, but did not specify exactly what that would entail.

The 15-year-old West Hartford girl was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital in February 2013, where a disagreement about medical diagnoses led to accusations of abuse against her parents, who lost custody of Justina within four days and haven’t had it since then.

“I’m going to be meeting with members of Congress to consider oversight hearings because clearly federal laws have been broken in the treatment and care of Justina,” said Rev. Patrick Mahoney.

Rev. Mahoney, who started the newly formed “Free Justina” campaign with Keith Mason, of “Personhood USA”, says the teen’s federal rights have been violated when it comes to education and religion.

He also addressed the lingering concerns that many still have about what details may be missing from the story.

“It’s easier for us to want to believe or wrap our brains around the fact that a family is mistreating their child than the alternative to that… and the alternative to that is what has happened in this case…and that is with impunity, government agencies and courts have removed a child from the loving care of their parents,” said Rev. Mahoney.

Meanwhile, Rep. Markley said a dozen legislators are backing his letter, which he will present to Connecticut’s DCF Commissioner on Friday.

“Some good progress was made this past Monday, but we’re a long way to go to get across the finish line,” said Justina’s father, Lou Pelletier.

Pelletier also addressed Fox CT’s coverage of the case, which began on Nov. 18th 2013, with the first report on the matter.

“I want to God Bless Beau Berman here in the audience, because if it wasn’t for him breaking this story, my daughter today, could be deceased. It started the groundswell to pick up.”

Connecticut’s DCF sent Fox CT a statement Wednesday after the press conference.

“The Department of Children and Families understands the great pain and anguish that the Pelletier family has gone through over the course of their long ordeal. Our hearts go out to Justina, her parents, and the entire family.  We too believe that children belong with their families whenever it is in the child’s best interest.  Connecticut DCF has had communication with the Pelletier family and will continue to make efforts to be of assistance as Massachusetts authorities go through their process of deciding if Justina can return home. We also are assisting the Massachusetts authorities in gathering information in support of that decision making process,” wrote Spokesman Gary Kleeblatt.

Lou Pelletier will speak before the Massachusetts House of Representatives Thursday at 3:30pm.

In that state, 23 legislators are now supporting a resolution to release Justina Pelletier to her family immediately.

The next courtroom custody hearing is March 17th in Boston.

A Connecticut senator has written a letter of support saying Justina should be reunited with her family, not with Massachussetts DCF.

Advertisement