Chicago Sun-Times

Father's ordeal points to benefit of marriage

April 18, 1999
BY MARY MITCHELL SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

Marry your baby's mama while you have a chance. If marriage isn't possible, at least go to court and establish paternity.

If you don't and something happens to the mother, you could end up fighting her parents to keep your child. That kind of battle could destroy the village.

Ask Shawn Staples, 25. He just went through an ordeal that wouldn't have happened if he had been married. He signed the birth certificate giving his daughter his name. He supported her financially. Still, his rights have been trampled on as if fatherhood doesn't matter.

Staples' troubles started in February when his fiancee, Melanie Green, died from injuries sustained in a car accident. The couple had a 2-year-old daughter, Ashley, shared an apartment in south suburban Dolton and planned to be married in July. Green was the daughter of Deborah Green who is the wife of Illinois Sen. William Shaw, who also is the mayor of Dolton.

It was a heartbreaking tragedy.

Last Sunday, the tragedy seemed to unfold all over again. Before going to work, Staples dropped Ashley off at her maternal grandmother's house, as usual. It took a court order to get her back three days later.

"Those three days were filled with tragedy and destruction," Staples told me. "They [Green and Shaw] finally got scared and came over [Wednesday] night and dropped my child off. What I had to go through was just ridiculous."

I called Shaw for his side of the story, but he wouldn't answer any questions. He referred me to Green's lawyer. The lawyer, however, couldn't answer any questions because she had just been retained.

Staples said his trouble began when he went to pick up his daughter and Green told him Ashley wasn't there.

"When I got there at 5:30 p.m., Mr. Shaw had police officers out there in front of his home," Staples said. "I didn't know what was going on."

Apparently, there was friction between Green and Staples over visitation. Although Ashley was at Green's and Shaw's home every Friday, Saturday and Sunday while Staples worked as a corrections officer, Green wanted to see her granddaughter every day, Staples said.

"Ms. Green told me she gave me numerous chances to bring Ashley over all the time, and she feels it would be best to let a judge make a decision," Staples said. "I immediately got up and said, `I think this conversation is over.' I went to the door and grabbed my coat. I said I wanted to come back to get my child. She said, `The best thing you can do is leave.'

"I came back a couple of hours later to get my child, and I couldn't make it to the door of the house," he said.

According to Staples, a police officer stationed outside the home told him he had "direct orders from Mayor Shaw" that Staples couldn't wait outside the home until his daughter showed up.

"If you get out [of the car] and go to the door, within the next two minutes there will be five squad cars here," Staples said he was told.

Even so, Staples said he went to the police station seeking help.

"They told me they were in a situation because Shaw is their boss," Staples said. The next day, Staples said he went back to the police department and tried to file a kidnapping report.

"They let me fill out an incident report, but they refused to put William Shaw's name on it. They still refused to do anything for me."

My calls to Dolton Police Chief Howard Patterson were not returned. On Tuesday, Staples went to see a lawyer. I asked his lawyer how a father's rights could be disregarded in this situation.

"Well, it happens fairly easily when you have two people who aren't married," Helen Barrett Fanning said.

"The mother is the legal custodian of the child. So when mom dies, there isn't a legal custodian unless the father's paternity has been established in court. It never dawned on Mr. Staples that he had to go to court until April 11, when the grandmother decided she wanted to keep the child."

A circuit judge ruled on Wednesday morning that Ashley Staples be returned to her father immediately. Still, the child wasn't returned until about 9:30 that evening, Staples said.

He now is worried he will be harassed by Dolton police. The skirmish with Green and Shaw already has cost him a lot of money and caused him a lot of stress. He believes Shaw abused his power.

"It was a big man stepping on a little guy, and that was morally wrong," Staples said. "I am not an unfit parent. I work for the Illinois Department of Corrections. I have my own place, and my mom and family live right down the street. I love my child with all my heart."

"Everybody says I should sue the police department, but I don't want no lawsuit. I just want my child."

It is terribly sad little Ashley has to go through this drama. She has already lost a mother. The last thing she needs is to lose her father or be estranged from a grandmother.

For your child's sake, marry your baby's mama.

E-mail: marym@suntimes.com