The responses to The Joplin Globe's article on Brandie McLean's outrage over the Jasper County prosecuting attorney's decision not to file charges against an Alba couple whose teenage son shot her son, Braxton Wooden, 8, to death are predictable and understandable.
While I'm certain that having their son taken away from them for the next few years for the fatal shooting of the eight-year-old during a game of cops and robbers, the simple fact is the gun should never have been where children had access to it.
The Division of Family Services also bears some responsibility. It appears the agency did not do a thorough check of these foster parents. And Ms. McLean and the readers are absolutely correct that this is far worse than the incident which prompted authorities to take away Ms. McLean's five children...when she fell asleep and her two-year-old ended up on the roof of her Webb City home.
That being said, today's Globe article neglects the mention of prior incidents in Ms. McLean's background that might have contributed to the decision to remove the children.
Ms. McLean had already pleaded guilty...not only to the endangering the welfare of a child charge that was filed against her as a result of the incident that led to the removal of her children...but also to two forgery charges. She has since withdrawn those guilty pleas and hired a lawyer, which she has every right to do. And two forgery charges does not make Ms. McLean a bad mother by any means.
But as the June 4 Turner Report mentioned, those are not the only brushes Ms. McLean has had with the law. First, take into consideration the Globe's own reporting on the removal of Ms. McLean's children. "Police found McLean and a 16-year-old female friend asleep in the living room of the home. McLean had acknowledged that the situation was dangerous for her son. But she said she had been put on the antipsychotic drug, Seroquel, by a doctor about a week before the incident to treat her depression and stress, and that the drug made her sleepy all the time."
The endangerment charge and the forgery charges came only two years after Ms. McLean pleaded guilty in Jasper County Circuit Court to a charge of unlawful use of drug paraphernalia. She was sentenced to one year in the county jail, the sentence was suspended, and she was placed on unsupervised probation for one year, according to court records.
The June 4 Turner Report also noted that she has had a problem with showing up for scheduled court hearings. Court records indicate she failed to appear five times for hearings on the forgery charges.
On April 7, 2004, Braxton Wooden's father, Braxton Wooden Sr., 29, Joplin, convicted felon with a long record, was charged with domestic assault after being arrested by the Webb City Police Department. On that same day, Ms. McLean filed for a protection order against him. She was granted a temporary restraining order, but when the time came for the hearing for a full order of protection, Ms. McLean did not show up. Wooden was sentenced to three years in prison for the assault and is currently at the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron.
Ms. McLean was also picked up by Joplin police officers at 3:30 a.m. Monday morning for driving while revoked. While none of these actions excuses anything that happened when Braxton Wooden was living with the foster parents, they do indicate that the little boy had the deck stacked against him from the start.
Should the heat be turned up on public officials for how they handle this case? Absolutely. Should we feel sympathy for a woman who will never see her child again? Of course, we should. I can't even imagine what she must be going through.
But please do not play up the sympathy angle to the point where we forget what actually happened in this case. The Division of Family Services may have made mistakes in this case, but the decision to remove Braxton Wooden and his siblings from Ms. McLean's custody, whether you agree with it or not, was justifiable.