The Short of It
Brandon and Cynthia Ross have been reunited with their son and daughter 18 months after the state of Maine took them away under false child abuse allegations.
Ryder Ross was born in April 2014. Around two months later, his parents Cynthia, 25, and Brandon, 26, noticed some swelling in his leg, so they took him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a broken leg and other bone fractures. The doctors called in Dr. Lawrence Ricci, head of Spurwink's Child Abuse Program, for a consult, and Ricci said that Ryder was the victim of child abuse.
Cynthia was shocked. She knew Brandon was loving and gentle and was convinced Ricci had gotten it wrong. "We had a home birth with Ryder and were practicing attachment parenting," she told the Portland Press Herald. "so he never left my side."
It didn't matter. Maine's Department of Health and Human Services took custody of Ryder and the couple's 3-year-old daughter Rozalynn, and placed them with Cynthia's father and stepmother, who are licensed foster parents. The couple was only allowed to visit their kids under strict conditions.
"The hardest thing was telling my daughter that she couldn't come home with Mommy and Daddy," Cynthia said.
Then two months later came the next blow: Based on Ricci's diagnosis, Brandon was arrested and charged with six counts of aggravated assault, three counts of simple assault and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Cynthia said this made her go "into fight mode": "I sort of made defending my family a full-time job."
After several months of unsuccessfully petitioning the court for changes to Brandon's bail conditions while also trying to figure out why Ryder had gotten hurt in the first place, Cynthia was able to convince Dr. Michael Holick to see the boy. Holick, who is a researcher at Boston University Medical Center and director of the Bone Health Care Clinic at Boston Medical Center, diagnosed him with a genetic metabolic disorder called Ehlers Danlos syndrome, which he said contributed to the leg fracture.
The state, however, wasn't buying it. Even when Cynthia's father and stepmother revealed that Ryder had suffered a wrist fracture while in their care, Ricci, in court documents, said the new fracture, "in no way alters my opinion that the initial constellation of injuries was abusive."
So in September, Brandon swallowed his pride and pleaded to a crime he didn't commit so the state would drop the felony charges. He would pay a fine but not serve jail time. Brandon's attorney, Amy Fairfield, says she never doubted her client was innocent and he was conflicted about pleading, but he believed it was the only way for his family to move forward. If he fought the charges and lost, it might jeopardize the parents' custody of their children.
Last month, state caseworkers approved a trial placement for Ryder and Rozalynn—they could live with their parents but were subjected to unannounced visits. Then last week, a judge dismissed the child protection case, and for the first time in more than a year and a half, Brandon and Cynthia got to be alone with their children.
Cynthia says the 18 months has been hard on her family, and they still have a lot of work to do to get back what they lost.
"The hardest part is that the (doctors) still don't think they were wrong," she said.
She says Brandon plans to petition for a pardon to get his assault charges expunged.