This case involves Shelby Ford, living in Lake Tahoe, who has custody visitation of her son (6) and daughter (9), two times a year, at the end of summer and Christmas time. Twice a year for several years now, the father has flown the children from Atlanta to Sacramento, CA., so that the children can visit their mother. As court mandated, at the end of the two week visitation/vacation period the children are driven to the Sacramento airport by their mother. Shelby is suppose to purchase one-way tickets for the children making sure they get on their returning home flight to Atlanta, GA. These children live with their father and step-mother for the rest of the year as he has full custody.
The problem is each time the mother, Shelby, returns the children to the Sacramento airport, various insane actions occur. Such as the father never knows what airline the children are flying on, or what flight number or arrival time. Shelby never tells the father, Steve or step-mother, Karen, when or how the children are returning home. She sometimes doesn’t buy them a ticket, just drops them off at the front door of Southwest, then leaves and drives back to Lake Tahoe. One time she put the children on a one way flight to Dallas and another time Shelby bought one way tickets to St. Louis. But in these two instances the children are stuck at the airports while the father is frantic calling airlines searching for his children. Once Steve and Karen locate the children, he buys high premium tickets from wherever to Atlanta. These scenarios have been going on for a few years now, and since repeated court documents (to knock off this behavior) have gone unanswered by Shelby Ford, new legal documents are now calling for contempt citations against her.
Here’s the real kicker: The father of these children, Steve Ford, having to worry about his children and wondering where they are, is an Army Captain on the front lines in IRAQ, dealing with this while fighting a war.
So here we are, end of summer, the children are suppose to be at the Sacramento airport, Southwest airlines, @ 2 PM, with tickets in hand and on a flight to Atlanta. On this particular trip, Shelby told the father she will buy the tickets, one–way direct flight to Atlanta agreeing that the children will be there on time, will check them in and actually see them off at the gate.
Also, Shelby Ford now needs to be served with these contempt papers and an order to show cause (court hearing that is mandatory she appear to determine why she is being an idiot). The main court documents states: “At the end of the mother’s summer visit, the children shall be returned to the Atlanta Airport for their return trip. The Atlanta Airport is designated the return trip destination for the conclusion of the mothers visits”. These orders also include the mother buying one way plane tickets for her children and accompany them to the departing gate.
My assignment was to enforce this court order by meeting Shelby Ford and her minor children, @ 12 noon, July 31, 2008, Southwest Airlines, Sacramento International Airport, ensuring the minor children have tickets, boarding passes and are scheduled to be put on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia.
Upon arriving at the airport @ 9:00 AM, the first stop was at the airport Sheriff’s Division, to meet with them explaining the entire nature of the legal papers, what my purpose was and informing them that civil standbys will be needed. We spoke about who has jurisdiction, where the state laws start regarding state vs. federal laws on airport property. It was determine the airport Sheriff’s Division have jurisdiction up to the security checkpoints governed by the Federal Transportation Security Administration. Once the children are pass the checkpoint, then Homeland Security is the governing agency.
After the Sheriff’s Division meeting, I needed to find a Southwest Airlines executive who was going to back me up, more importantly find out if the children were reserved on any Southwest flights and if the tickets were paid for in advance. Since this information is extremely confidential I contacted an inside source I have in the airline industry.
I arrived at the office of my inside source, @ 10 AM, and was informed that Southwest Airlines is the only airline not part of the flight network so she could not check their flights for the children names or reservations, however, I had her check all the other airlines anyway, and found no reservations were made and no tickets were bought for Stacie and Jimmy Ford. My contact called the supervisor at Southwest Airlines, and explained the situation. I was then informed Southwest would help and to meet them at the Operations Dept. of Southwest.
Around 11:00 AM, I met with the supervisor’s assistant, who checked all their Southwest flights finding out the children had no reservations and no tickets had even been purchased. I informed her that tickets will be purchased today and asked her to check her flights going to Atlanta and to reserve seats for the children. I gave her the names and birthdates of Stacie and Jimmy.
With no tickets or even reservations made by Shelby Ford, I now knew it was safe to assume Shelby Ford was going to bring the children to Southwest Airlines or any one of the Sacramento airport airlines and dump them - again.
I then contacted the airport Sheriff’s asking them to come to the Southwest Airlines terminal, explaining we have a possible parental abandonment issue and I wanted Shelby Ford arrested or detained until these court orders are met.
By 11:30 AM, there were at least two Sheriff’s at the terminal reading all of the legal papers and orders, making phone calls to their supervisors, then other Sheriff’s would come by, they would have short meetings, (I gave them their privacy), then they would leave except for the original two Sheriff’s. An associate of mine stayed near the inside the terminal with the Sheriff’s while I stayed outside to watch Shelby Ford and the children pull up to the curb, ensuring the children were not just dropped off and abandoned outside the terminal.
By 12:15 PM, while watching the entrance to Southwest airlines, I saw Stacie and Jimmy Ford walking from the parking structure near the terminal, not with their mother but instead, with their feeble grandmother. The two children were helping the grandmother walk. With two airport Sheriff’s at my side, I introduced myself to the children, had them take a seat nearby, and then when the children were out of ear shot, explained to the grandmother the specifics of the court orders. It did not take long to realize that she was incoherent, combative and a bit senile. She then tried to leave the airport with the children and was stopped by the Sheriff’s who told her that she and the children are officially being detained.
This is where the trouble started - the grandmother would not turn the children over to me and continually argued with the sheriff’s, also refusing to tell us specifically where Shelby Ford was parked. We knew she was hiding in her blue SUV in one of several airport parking lots. The grandmother immediately wanted to know where Karen Ford (step-mother) was, that she was supposed to be here and fly back with the children. Crazy. She was informed that Karen was never suppose to be here, that Shelby needs to come in, buy the tickets and see the children off. The Grandmother then yelled she was leaving with the children and the Sheriff’s stopped her again. The Grandmother immediately called Shelby from her cell phone and spoke to her, but would not let us overhear the conversation.
From 12:30 PM to 2:30 PM, an additional four Sheriff’s came on the scene including the Lt. Commander and additional Sergeant’s. They were all reading the legal papers together, having meetings with each other, making a lot of phone calls on their cell phones (to whom is unknown but assuming by the conversations these calls were to Commanders at the Sheriff’s Office and Homeland Security). Officers also made phone calls to the attorney for Steve Ford.
One of the Sergeant’s, Jody, was the main officer in charge who kept talking to the Grandmother and trying several times to get her to call Shelby Ford on her cell phone and have her come into the terminal. Finally, the Sergeant told the Grandmother the children will be taken away from her and sent to the children’s receiving home if she does not co-operate. I immediately told the Sergeant that Karen Ford gave me temporary custody of the children until this sorted out. I then called Karen and arranged for her to buy the children their tickets via Southwest airlines.
The Grandmother continued to spew out statements such as “make Steve’s lawyer come here”, “Shelby’s lawyer says she doesn’t have to comply”, and “make Karen come here”, on and on which caused the children to be upset. One of the Sergeants’ finally got the Grandmother to call Shelby and confirm she would come into the terminal. We waited an hour and Shelby never showed. The Grandmother also kept calling an “attorney” speaking to her but not letting us hear the conversation. Finally, the Grandmother got through to Shelby’s attorney and one of the Sergeant’s spoke to this attorney. After explaining the court orders, the Sergeant asked this attorney when she was hired. After some discussion, Jody basically stated to the Attorney she had no authority to intervene as she never filed an Attorney of Record document until after the court orders were signed by the Judge. That was the end of this.
During this wait period, we bought the children some food and drinks while the Grandmother kept spewing different statements to the Sheriff’s driving these guys crazy, like saying the children might get stolen off the plane etc. Again, one of the Sheriff’s told her to be quiet while they sort this out. At one point Jimmy was crying and we comforted him.
According to the acting-in-charge Sergeant, Jody, the Grandmother was making statements in front of or to the children about them being molested back home by their father, that they will not be properly fed or they will be left along and scared at their father’s home. I saw Jody go over to the Grandmother telling her to knock it off, shut up and sit.
Still during this time, other Sheriff’s were making phone calls; even one Sheriff faxed all our legal documents to the District Attorney’s office. I think they were waiting for word from their superiors on what action they can take. One of the Sheriff’s then informed me after speaking to the DA’s office, that they can only hold the Grandmother and children for 4 hours, and then they have to let them go.
Previously around 2:00 PM, I confirmed with a Southwest supervisor the tickets were bought for the children by Karen Ford. He was getting all their ticket information, itinerary and boarding passes ready, as well as security passes for me so I could go through the checkpoint with the children and up to Gate 15.
It was apparent Shelby was never going to appear. Sheriff’s spent time going through parking lots looking for her and her vehicle with no result. We believe she left the airport until the Grandmother told her it was safe to come to the terminal and pick her up.
The Lt. Commander, a Sergeant and another Sheriff received a phone call, and then had a meeting. The next thing I know is the Sergeant is screaming at Shelby Ford on her cell phone, telling her this was disgusting behavior for a mother, and is deplorable. Shelby Ford continued refusing to come into the terminal and speak with the Sheriff’s.
A little while later and after more discussion, @ 2:45 PM, it was time for the children to go through TSA and to the gate. The grandmother insisted she come to the gate too, to “make sure the children are not stolen by anyone”. One of the Southwest supervisors gave the grandmother a security pass and a wheelchair. The Sheriff’s stayed behind the security line watching us. Their jurisdiction ends at the security point and Homeland Security takes over.
The grandmother was still behind us at the security checkpoint, I didn’t care.
From 2:45 PM to 4:15 PM, we watched the children along with a Southwest supervisor at the departing gate. The supervisor continually had to intervene as the Grandmother was upsetting them with statements about molestation from their father, and Stacie was crying. The supervisor and I took the children near the actual gate ramp, and stayed there with them. A few minutes later we got Stacie to stop crying, and then flight attendant opened the door, introduced herself to the children taking them down the ramp onto the plane.
I left the Grandmother sitting in her wheelchair and left the security area.
To recap - after several hours, Stacie and Jimmy Ford received their tickets and boarding passes, then escorted by us, along with four Sheriff’s and two Southwest supervisors up to homeland security. We then went to Gate 15 for departure @ 4:35 pm to
Oklahoma City, with a layover in
I arranged for a Southwest Airline supervisor in Phoenix to meet the children ensuring
they were fed and to assist them in making their connecting flight home, which
they did landing at 12:05 AM in Atlanta, GA. Phoenix, AZ.
The next day, I received a phone call from IRAQ. I could hear the bone-chilling sounds of tanks and soldiers talking, and feeling like I was right there on the battlefield. It was Captain Ford expressing his gratitude and thanking me for getting his children home safely. He kept calling me “Ma’am”. I always hate it when people call me Ma’am but coming from this Captain, it had a whole different feel.
In Lake Tahoe, two days later, the mother was served by the Sheriff’s and arrested charging her with abandonment and obstruction of justice. A few months later, through the courts, Shelby Ford lost her parental rights permanently.
As Captain Ford would say, BOORAH!!!