Father of 3-year-old girl found in Brooklyn seeks sole custody

He claims `wonderful' relationship with daughter he's accused of leaving

May 25, 2004|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The father of little Akasha, whose face flashed across millions of television screens after she was allegedly abandoned in Baltimore's Brooklyn section, begged for sole custody of the child he called his "best friend" at a news conference in his lawyer's office yesterday.

In his first public appearance since the 3-year-old was reported abandoned, Robert Andrew Persons, 37, and his lawyer told how he had cared for the girl after, by his account, her mother, Patricia Harper, gave up a quiet family existence for a wild life of drugs and prostitution.

Persons denied abandoning his daughter or kidnapping her, as has been alleged by Harper. He said he left the girl with a friend before going to work and became caught up in legal problems that prevented his return.

"My relationship with my daughter is wonderful," he said. "My daughter is my best friend. ... I would never abandon my daughter."

Persons' attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, said his client deserves full custody because Akasha's mother is incapable of caring for her. Gordon also said Persons has agreed to a DNA test to prove he is Akasha's father.

A hearing is scheduled today at the Juvenile Justice Center on custody of the girl, now under the protection of the city Department of Social Services.

"It tears you apart," Persons said of being separated from his child for nearly a month.

An attorney for Harper said last night that Persons should not be allowed to keep the girl.

"He is an individual who doesn't take responsibility for some of the actions in his life," said lawyer Gary Gerstenfield. Harper "was 14 when she ran away with him. This man destroyed her childhood."

As for accusations of prostitution and drug use, Gerstenfield said Harper has made decisions she now regrets. He said she has turned her life around and is living in Washington with her husband and 4-week-old daughter.

"Akasha would be going home to a wonderful place," he said.

Much of the news conference was spent detailing Persons' life. According to his cousin, Kashi Chavis, 34, of Brooklyn, Persons never knew his parents, was raised in foster homes, from New York to Virginia, and as an adult has had a hard time keeping jobs and maintaining relationships.

The birth of Akasha on June 2, 2000, was a turning point, lawyer Gordon said, contending that Persons has worked hard to earn enough money to support her. Electrical training in the Navy helped him get a job with a satellite dish installation company.

After the birth of their daughter, Persons and Harper lived together for about 15 months, Gordon said. But then Harper started work as a stripper in Prince George's County and turned to drugs and prostitution. Persons asked Harper to get help for her drug addiction, but she refused and eventually left the family, the attorney said.

"She deserted the family and she left them all alone," Gordon said of Harper. "She left the child alone with him so all he could do was take care of her."

The Rev. Jean Robinson-Casey, who has counseled Persons through a church outreach program, said he was a doting father, "an excellent father."

"Akasha was always smelling like a rose," said Robinson-Casey, associate pastor for community outreach at University Baptist Church in College Park.

The minister said she helped Persons obtain medical aid after he said he was beaten by some of Harper's friends. In November 2002, Persons obtained a protective order against Harper and was given temporary custody by a Prince George's judge, Gordon said.

Harper's attorney said she regained custody of the girl that December. It is unclear which parent has legal custody.

Persons said he was forced to leave Akasha with Sherry A. Loudermilk, 38, an exotic dancer and close friend, on May 5 before heading to work as a satellite dish installer. Persons said he was working overtime to save money for a new apartment in Brooklyn in South Baltimore. But when the job went on for more than 24 hours, he couldn't reach Loudermilk.

When he returned home on May 7, Persons stopped at a neighbor's house to pick up some hand-me-down clothes for Akasha, Gordon said. While he was there, police raided the house and Persons was arrested and charged with possession and distribution of drugs. Persons denied yesterday ever using or selling drugs.

After the arrest, he was held for several days at Central Booking and Intake Center in Baltimore before being released on bail. During his time in jail, he was not allowed access to a telephone, Gordon said. Desperate to reach Loudermilk, he added, Persons bartered food and drink for an envelope, stamp and paper.

It wasn't until May 17 that Persons succeded in alerting Social Services officials that the abandoned daughter was his own. The wait - and anxiety over Akasha's safety - distressed him, Persons said.

"I lost it," he said.

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