Custody fight for abandoned child starts

Parents appear at hearing

both say they want girl, 3, father left with stranger

May 26, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The mother and father of Akasha Persons, the 3-year-old who was abandoned this month, were face-to-face yesterday for the first time in two years at a preliminary custody hearing in Baltimore's Juvenile Justice Center.

Patricia Harper and Robert Persons appeared relaxed as they walked into the 90-minute hearing, which is one of the first steps in the process of placing Akasha in a permanent home.

"They didn't have any interaction," said Rebecca Cosca, one of Harper's lawyers.

Both parents say they want custody of the girl, who became famous last week when her face was broadcast across the nation as an abandoned child. Social workers erroneously thought her name was Courtney and that she was from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Akasha is in the care of the state, living in a foster home in Baltimore.

Lawyers for Harper and Persons would not speak about what happened at the hearing, saying Judge Martin P. Welch warned them that the proceedings are not open to the public because they involve a child.

Lawyers on both sides said they are confident the judge will reunite their client with Akasha.

Harper was allowed to observe Akasha through a one-way mirror Monday night as the child played, Cosca said. The lawyer said she expects the Department of Social Services will allow Persons to do the same thing.

"DSS will treat both parties fairly while they decide," Cosca said.

Akasha was brought to Social Services on May 5 by Sherry A. Loudermilk, who said the girl's father left her and didn't come back. On May 7, Persons was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine and intent to distribute the drug. He has since said that he is innocent and was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When Akasha was brought to the department, she said her name was Courtney and she lived in Brooklyn.

In fact, her name is Akasha and she lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Baltimore.

Cosca said Persons had kidnapped the child from Harper, who at the time lived in Prince George's County. He then moved to Baltimore and told Akasha that her name was Courtney, Cosca said.

But Persons has said that he was a good father to Akasha and that he never kidnapped her. He said Harper had abandoned the girl and that he was taking care of her. He also said she is his "best friend."

Cosca said yesterday that Akasha still believes her name is Courtney. When asked why the child calls herself that, Persons said she is just "fantasizing."

"Her name is not Courtney, it is Akasha," Persons said yesterday. "Anyone who is a parent knows all kids fantasize and pretend they're someone else."

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