This article was published in collaboration with the Houston Chronicle.
HOUSTON – More than a year after Texas child protection authorities mistakenly took Melissa and Dillion Bright's children and temporarily placed them in foster care, the agency has officially announced to the family that it has completed its investigation after there was no evidence that parents abused their parents children.
The October 31 letter from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services was delivered to Bright's home this weekend, just days after the family's trial was the subject of an investigation by NBC News and the Houston Chronicle.
"Honestly, I was pissed when I opened it," Melissa Bright said. "After all this time, they say there was no evidence of abuse. And yet they put us to hell. "
Bright's story was the fourth in a series of reports by NBC News and the Chronicle investigating the work of pediatric pediatricians, a growing subspecialty of physicians helping authorities with child protection investigations. Doctors' opinions can have an extraordinary influence on the decisions of state child welfare agencies, sometimes triggering questionable family separations and criminal charges, the series found.
Let our news hit your inbox. The news and stories that are important delivered tomorrows on weekdays.
Child Protective Services, a Texas branch, opened its investigation into Brights in July 201
Based on the doctor's report – and despite a divergent medical opinion and evidence that Mason suffered from a condition that may have explained his excessive bleeding – the Child Protection Agency received an emergency permit in September 2018 to take him and his 2-year-old sister, Charlotte , and place them in fetal care.
The next time the Brights saw their children, a few days later, Charlotte had a gash in her face and a black eye, and Mason's cry was hoarse.
A few weeks later, a Harris County judge ordered the children to return to Brights and punished Child Protective Services for unnecessarily traumatizing the family despite having "credible evidence" of abuse. The judge also ordered the agency to retrain its investigators and pay $ 127,000 in penalties to cover Wright's legal fees.
But this is the first time the state acknowledges that Melissa Bright did not abuse her child. (Although the state removed the children from both parents, the letter did not write Dillon as a subject for the investigation.)
Dennis Slate, a Houston attorney representing Brights, said he believes the letter was issued as a result of NBC reporting News and the Chronicle.
"I had been trying to get the agency to make a discovery for the past year and got nothing from them," Slate said.
But Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Family and Protection Services Department, said the letter was the result of "a simple oversight."  Office officials recently discovered that they never formally closed the case, Crimmins said in a text message, and it was what triggered the letter.
"It's nothing new," he said. "Only the formalized and documented case was closed."
In a previous statement, Texas Children's officials defended their handling of the case, noting that the hospital's physicians are required by law to report suspected injuries and that "a reference to the CPS is not absolute confirmation of abuse, nor a determination of guilt or innocence. with the parents. "