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A Father's Quest

The case of Arianas Campos-Reese and his son Tyberius illustrates what's wrong with family court.



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Sacks believes that what Arianas really needed was a good attorney who could go in and kick some butt. "One of the things we want to do with Fathers & Families is set up a legal fund for fathers in situations like this," he said. "What we need are funds to help people like Arianas, but those funds just don't exist yet."

Russell agrees that such a need exists. "Eighty percent of litigants in California are self-represented," Russell said. "It's a huge crisis that people are having to conduct their own trials and become law students to seek justice. Many of those who can afford attorneys are preyed upon by the system. I speak with parents every day who have spent thousands, and hundreds of thousands, of dollars in court fighting for their child. And, for whatever reason, the parent that is more of a danger is the one that the child most often ends up with."

And so, Arianas once again represented himself on December 8 as he stood in front of Commissioner Hendrickson. The judge told him that threatening to bring charges against him had been a way to get his attention. She then reinstated her previous ruling, but granted Self custody of Tyberius five days per week. Arianas was assigned the other two days.

"It felt like they were punishing me for being a vigilante," Arianas said. "They told me that I couldn't use the shooting as a reason to keep my son. But it's the shooting that made me fear for my son's life. It was the shooting that they were still failing to investigate."

January 25, 2009

Richmond Detective Timothy Gray appeared in court and stated that despite several interviews with Self about the shooting, she had not been honest with him. In fact, she stated that she was unaware of any shooting or incident on May 13. But the police report stated that Dixon had confirmed his relationship with Self, which directly contradicted her statement. It was revealed that Dixon had recently been convicted of unrelated firearm and drug charges, and was serving time in jail.

Arianas was finally allowed to testify about the shooting in April 2009. He picked Dixon out of a police lineup, and statements were taken from Arianas' mother and a neighbor who had witnessed the shooting. Twelve months after the fact, Dixon was charged with and convicted of shooting at an inhabited dwelling — not attempted murder, not child endangerment. Self was never questioned or asked to testify about the investigation. Meanwhile, in August 2009, Dixon was released on time served.

Dixon maintains that he has had no contact with Self, Arianas, or their son since that time. "Everything is over and done with between me and him," Dixon said. "I've stayed away from her and her kid since I got out of jail. Every time he says something about me, I've got my probation officer calling me and asking what's going on. There's nothing going on anymore, period."

As for Self, she has never made an effort to obtain full custody of Tyberius. During multiple requests for an interview for this story, she declined to discuss her custody case or arrest record. Her sole comment was "Fuck you and your newspaper. You, your newspaper, and my child's father can kiss my ass and go to hell!"

October 15, 2009

While looking for information to support his court case that fall, Arianas discovered in public records that Self had been picked up in Stanislaus County and cited for loitering with intent of prostitution on May 19, 2009. Her only other citation on record before that date was a ticket for driving with Tyberius unsecured in a car seat. But those points counted solely as circumstantial evidence until October, when Arianas found more evidence documenting the mother's history of prostitution: the October 10 arrest in Hayward for prostitution.

After Arianas' emergency motion for full custody was denied on October 15, a hearing date of November 24 was scheduled. He and Self were meant to attend a mediation session on the day of the hearing but, with no mediators available, the couple went straight into court.

A frustrated atmosphere pervaded Commissioner Hendrickson's courtroom as Arianas and Self waited to be heard. Arianas had Self's arrest record in hand, which documented the two prostitution-related charges. He had documentation of her lying in court. Her unemployment had stretched on over a year. She had a proven association with a known felon. Her address was unknown. Meanwhile, Arianas was ready to repeat that he had steady employment, a clean criminal record, and a stable home to provide for his son.

But after a cursory look at the paperwork, Commissioner Hendrickson told Arianas and Self that she sees mothers and fathers every day who do things that she doesn't think are morally right, but that alone wouldn't make her change their custody agreement. She informed Arianas that, if he didn't like her decision, he could leave.

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