A Louisiana judge has reversed his previous decision and temporarily removed a teenager from the custody of her biological father after her mother went public with accusations that the girl had been conceived from rape.
Judge Jeffrey Ashe on Tuesday issued an ordered placing the teen with guardians and giving her parents, Crysta Abelseth and John Barnes, supervised custody on alternating weekends until a trial next month settles the matter.
The girl is with a trusted third party, agreed upon by both parents, who have remained “neutral” throughout the messy custody battle, said criminal defense trial attorneyJarrett Ambeau, who is representing Ms Abelseth.
“Crysta was actually very happy about it, because she feels like her daughter’s safe,” Mr Ambeau told The Independent. He said that, while the outcome may not yet be “exactly” what his client hoped for, “it’s a big step in the right direction in terms of getting her [daughter] out of what she feels like was a dangerous situation.”
He said Ms Abelseth was able to talk to her daughter yesterday for the first time in weeks; she had only been allowed supervised visits with the teen since a judge in March granted Mr Barnes temporary full custody.
“Crysta tells me she was happy about not being in the father’s home anymore, and these are people that she trusts that she’s with,” he said.
Last week, the Tangipahoa County Sheriff’s Office announced that it had “dropped the ball” in 2015 when Ms Abelseth reported that her daughter had been conceived ten years earlier during a one-night encounter with Mr Barnes – when she was just 16 and he was 30.
Officers failed to investigate for seven years.
“In tracing this case back to the time the initial complaint was filed on July 1, 2015, it was discovered that the report never made it through the proper channels within the department to be assigned for investigation,” the sheriff’s office said Thursday in a statement.
“Therefore, our department absolutely dropped the ball, and we simply must own our mistake, Sheriff Daniel Edwards said in the release, which went on to note that Ms Abelseth “did not follow up on this matter until April of 2022.
“Upon receiving notice, a team of investigators were assigned to and worked diligently to delve deep into the facts surrounding the case. Due to the complex nature of their findings, the case was turned over to the District Attorney’s Office.”
Mr Barnes, a veteran who owns a successful business in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, called Gumbeaux Digital Branding – which has listed the local police as clients – has not been charged with a crime and denies the rape allegation.
Ms Abelseth told The Independent that she had been drinking at a bar with friends in December 2005 when Mr Barnes offered her a lift home. She says he took her to his house instead and raped her on the couch.
She gave birth to her daughter the following August; another man was listed on the girl’s birth certificate. When the child was about five, however, Mr Barnes somehow found out that he might be her father and contacted Ms Abelseth.
“He wanted to meet up; he wanted me to talk,” she told The Independent. “He wanted to basically gauge me, I guess, and see where I was at. We hadn’t spoken since that night.”
Ms Abelseth felt “terrified” and “nervous,” she said.
“I didn’t know him, and I didn’t exactly know what his plan [was]”, she added.
A paternity test established that Mr Barnes was, in fact, the father. He and Ms Abelseth began sharing custody of their daughter and he paid child support; in 2015, a split-custody agreement was established by the courts and she began making him partial payments, too.
That same year, after seeing a trauma counsellor, she went to authorities with her rape allegation dating to 2005; in Louisiana, sex with a minor under 17 constitutes rape, regardless of consent – which Ms Abelseth contends she did not give.
In the meantime, following the initial custody agreement, various parenting disputes ensued between the child’s biological mother and father, with allegations on both sides. They fought about issues ranging from the child’s phone access and therapy to parental overnight guests in the presence of the teenager.
Throughout their increasingly contentious custody battles, Ms Abelseth’s 2015 assault report filed with Tangipahoa authorities was sitting uninvestigated. No mention was ever made in court of her rape allegations against Mr Barnes until this year.
In February, Ms Abelseth filed for a temporary restraining order against Mr Barnes for herself and her daughter. For the first time in court proceedings, she detailed allegations that he had raped her when she was 16.
Mr Barnes countered that Ms Abelseth was instigating investigations into false allegations to obstruct his custody efforts.
The court decided in his favour and granted him temporary full custody. In his reasons for judgement, Judge Cashe noted that Ms Abelseth didn’t make her allegations until Mr Barnes accused her of “promoting inappropriate behaviour” in regards to the daughter’s cellphone use.
“Moreover, there was direct evidence previously submitted in the case supporting the need for immediate protection of the child considering the failure to comply with the Court’s order to allow the father to review the child’s cellphone contents. ... Therefore, due to the allegations set forth in his Petition for Ex Parte custody, the court found sufficient evidence to show that a minor child would suffer certain harm, unless the Court issues an ex parte temporary custody order.”
On Tuesday, however, Judge Cashe reversed his decision and placed the girl with guardians in advance of a trial date on 15 July.
Mr Barnes did not speak to reporters after the hearing, according to WBRZ, which initially broke the story. His lawyer has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Independent.