Abandoned girl, woman claiming to be mother to meet briefly

Lawyers say client seeks to regain custody of child

May 22, 2004|By Allison Klein and John Woestendiek | Allison Klein and John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

The 3-year-old abandoned child from Brooklyn, Baltimore whose face was broadcast across the nation this week, will briefly reunite Tuesday with a woman claiming to be the mother she hasn't seen in two years, lawyers said yesterday.

Lawyers for Patricia Harper, who lives in Washington, said she began the process yesterday in Baltimore Juvenile Court of trying to regain custody of Akasha. Harper's attorneys allege that the child had been kidnapped in 2002 by Robert Persons, who contends that he is the girl's father.

"We're really excited about what happened today," said Gary H. Gerstenfield, one of the lawyers representing Harper. "Mother and daughter will finally see each other next week."

The meeting is likely to last an hour and be supervised by counselors.

After a news conference this week in which Akasha tearfully pleaded for her "mommy," television networks showed her face several times a day and identified her as Courtney from Brooklyn, New York.

Sue Fitzsimmons, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Department of Social Services, said her agency gave out incorrect information about Akasha based on what the little girl had told them.

This week, Harper and Persons separately brought birth certificates to Social Services trying to claim the little girl.

Social Services officials have kept the child in state custody as they investigate the claims and try to determine what is best for her, Fitzsimmons said.

"Potential family members have come forward," she said but would not elaborate.

Akasha was taken to the department on May 5 by a woman who said the girl's father had dropped her off and not returned.

Persons was arrested May 7 on charges of possession and distribution of cocaine, court records show. He was released from jail Thursday, after posting $250 bail.

Yesterday, Persons denied kidnapping the girl through his lawyer, J. Wyndal Gordon.

"That is absolutely false," Gordon said.

The lawyer declined to comment further but asked why Harper "has been absent from the child's life for the past two years."

Harper's lawyers said she has been looking for her daughter for two years and asked the courts for help in finding her.

Sheriff's deputies in Prince George's and Montgomery counties have been looking for Persons on a material witness warrant in connection with this case, said Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for the Prince George's County state's attorney's office.

Akasha has been in state custody, living in a foster home since she was brought to Social Services. She appeared healthy with no signs of physical abuse.

In court yesterday, Harper's lawyers attended a meeting in the chambers of Juvenile Judge Martin P. Welch, along with caseworkers from the Department of Social Services and a lawyer for Akasha.

Social Services workers are planning to investigate Harper, her home, her background and her lifestyle to assess whether she would be a fit mother for the child, Gerstenfield said.

Persons and Harper began dating in 1997, when he was 30 years old and she was 14, her lawyer said. That year, he was convicted of statutory rape and sentenced to a year in prison.

After he was released, the two dated again, and she became pregnant in 1999. Akasha was born in July 2000, and the two later split up, the lawyer said.

The woman who brought Akasha to Social Services two weeks ago is Sherry A. Loudermilk, 38, an exotic dancer known as "Scary Sherry" on The Block, Baltimore's adult entertainment district, where she has worked off and on for nearly 20 years.

She said in an interview yesterday that she agreed to keep the girl one night after Persons, who was considering renting a unit in her building, told her that he and the girl were living in an abandoned warehouse.

"I don't want to see a child living in an abandoned warehouse, for God's sake, or even spend a night in an abandoned building. I said I'd let the child stay, but you got to go," Loudermilk said she told Persons.

Persons left almost immediately, she said, and didn't come back.

Loudermilk, who lives in the city's Brooklyn section, met Persons while walking to a nearby 7-Eleven for some fresh flowers for her second-floor apartment.

Loudermilk said Persons identified himself only as "Rough" and said he was from New York, had a daughter, and was looking for a place to rent. He suggested that his daughter and Loudermilk's son - she has a 5-year-old - get together to play.

The next day, she said, he came back for another visit, this time with his girlfriend. Loudermilk said he expressed interest in a vacant basement apartment she had told him about in her building, and made arrangements to meet the landlord and put down a deposit.

"He seemed sincere," she said.

He came back a third time, she said, to see the apartment. That time he brought his daughter.

"She was a sweetheart, very well-mannered. Two minutes after she walked in the door she called me `Mommy,'" said Loudermilk, who most recently worked at the Mousetrap, a nightclub on The Block.

Persons told her that he didn't have the money to put a deposit down, but that he was to be paid the next day, said Loudermilk. He didn't say where he was working, she said. When he told her that he and the girl were sleeping in an abandoned building, Loudermilk said, she offered to let the girl spend one night.

Three days later, on May 5, having heard nothing from Persons, she called the city Department of Social Services, and the girl was picked up that day.

Loudermilk said that Thursday, the day Persons was released, he thanked her for helping his daughter and told her he wanted her to be the child's mother. She said Persons told her that the girl's mother had disappeared.

"It just disgusts me that someone could leave their child like that," she said.

Loudermilk said the girl slept in an unused bunk in her son's room, was pleasant and well-behaved and called her "Mommy" the whole time she was there.

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