BROOKLYN, N.Y. (PIX11) — Nathaniel Booker said he was working in Baltimore when he got the call from his ex-girlfriend that their toddler daughter had an injury.
“She said my daughter hurt her arm, and she didn’t take her to the hospital because she had an ‘open’ ACS case,” Booker recalled.
ACS refers to the Administration for Children’s Services, the city agency that oversees abuse complaints and makes decisions about parental custody.
Booker has two biological daughters under the age of 2 years old with his ex-girlfriend and said he also developed a close bond with her 5- and 8-year-old daughters. Booker immediately left Baltimore and drove to Brooklyn with his grandmother, after he learned his 18-month-old daughter had the injury.
“They said my daughter sustained a dislocated elbow,” Booker said of hospital doctors.
The grandmother, Virginia Jones, remembered the little girl’s anguish in the emergency room.
“That little girl was screaming,” Jones said. “She was in pain.”
Booker said the older girls’ school made a complaint to ACS shortly before the toddler sustained the arm injury, so the agency moved to take all four girls out of the mother’s household. All of them initially went to the Brooklyn apartment of the mom’s aunt.
“I’ve seen him interact with those girls,” Helena Leavy, the mother’s biological aunt said, “and I feel he is the better parent.”
When the aunt realized her home was too small for all four girls, Booker said he was ready and willing to raise them. But he lives in Baltimore, and he said the mother claimed that his living situation was unstable.
“I was there the day they were born, and I’ve been here for them, despite what’s going on with their mother,” Booker said.
He told Family Court he wanted to raise the girls, with help from his large family.
Derek Sells, managing director of The Cochran Firm in New York City, said too many fathers are not getting a fair shake in the Family Court system when there’s trouble in the maternal household.
“We can’t ignore the elephant in the room,” Sells said. “Often, the fathers who are denied custody of their children by ACS are fathers of color.”
Sells recently filed a lawsuit against the agency, after a 4-year-old boy ended up dead in the custody of his mother and her boyfriend.
The boyfriend was charged with the murder of the boy, Jace Eubanks, after an autopsy showed “that he had skull fractures, that he had rib fractures,” according to Sells.
Sells said the father, Jamal Eubanks — who visited two of his sons weekly — was never advised of “credible” prior abuse complaints leveled against the mother’s boyfriend.
“If he had known about the complaints, he would have immediately moved to take the children out of that household,” Sells said.
The Office of Court Administration sent statistics to PIX11 News showing that 4,316 fathers filed petitions of custody between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2022. In 1,091 cases, the dads won custody 25% of the time.
Nathaniel Booker said he doesn’t want to respond to a tragedy. He cited the Coney Island case from September, when a mother allegedly drowned her three children.
The father of the oldest boy had raised a “red flag” about the mom’s household and was seeking custody of his son.
Another heartbreaking case involved the brutal death of 7-year-old Julissia Batties in her mother’s Bronx apartment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The little girl had been living with her paternal grandmother since she was 5 days old, but ACS allowed Julissia to stay for extended period in the Bronx with her mother in 2021. Nearly a year after the girl’s death, her teenaged half-brother and her mother were charged with the murder.
Nathaniel Booker’s two baby daughters are now living with the stepmother of their biological mom in Far Rockaway, Queens. The two oldest girls remain with their mother’s aunt in Brooklyn.
Booker will return to Family Court next week.