Indian Takers

A war for custody of 4-year-old Raven Laws includes a spurious Alabama tribe

Steve Bison of Alabama's Cherokee River Indian Community says the war over 4-year-old Raven Laws may be traced back to the legendary Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

"It's a long story," he says.

Fought during the War of 1812, it pitted soldiers under the leadership of General Andrew Jackson and their Cherokee Indian allies against the Creeks. After his victory, Jackson forced the Creeks to cede about half of Alabama and part of Georgia. The Cherokees claimed a chunk of that land, for a time.

The connection between a cute little Apache Junction girl and the seventh president of the United States does require a certain leap of logic, or illogic.

But the issues aren't nearly so obscure to most everyone else involved in one of Maricopa County's more unusual custody battles.

To Superior Court Judge Lisa Daniel Flores, it would come down to this:

Yes, Raven's mother, Rochelle Walters, had a record of committing crimes and abusing methamphetamine. Police had arrested Walters on forgery and identity theft charges while she was pregnant with Raven, and returned her to jail from a Valley hospital bed soon after she gave birth.

Raven's father, Marty Laws, also a convicted felon and a tweaker, couldn't take care of himself, much less a small child.

And, yes, the judge would conclude, Jack and Aneta Bessinger, a Cave Creek couple who had assumed surrogate parenting duties of Raven, had done a fine job (and without financial compensation).

The Bessingers operate Embrace, a home for at-risk children in the desert north of Phoenix. Raven had lived there since shortly after her birth, except for eight months that ended in April 2005, when Shelly Walters was jailed on a probation violation for continuing to do meth and a shoplifting conviction.

But to the Bessingers' dismay, Flores ruled last November 14 that Walters, apparently drug-free for almost a year by then, had earned a shot at being a real mother to Raven, who was two weeks short of her fourth birthday.

Earlier, the judge had given everyone a good idea of where she was headed.

"I don't question the good motivation that you have to help people and trying to help Ms. Walters," Flores told the Bessingers in June 2006, six months after the couple won temporary legal custody of Raven.

"But you need to understand that she is Mom, and she is going to get the child back as soon as her life is together . . . If Ms. Walters does have her act together — and Child Protective Services clearly thinks she does — there is absolutely no basis for her to be with you."

In other words, natural parents legally hold sway in custody cases, even over folks who may have done a better job with a child than the biological parents.

In this instance, the Bessingers had bonded with Raven as if she were their own.

"No one paid a dime to these people, including the mom," says their attorney, Greg Riebesehl. "As a society, we should feel blessed to have people out there like them. It's very sad what happened."

Trouble was, according to the ample public records produced during this case, the Bessingers took desperate measures to ensure that Raven never again would live under her mother's roof.

Those measures began a few months after Walters was released from prison in early 2004, when the couple filed court documents accusing her of abandoning Raven. That first legal attempt to convince a judge that Walters' parental rights should be terminated didn't work.

But the Bessingers remained steadfast, often with good reason, that they could better provide for Raven than her mother.

They upped the ante in late 2005, alleging that Walters had sexually abused Raven during a Christmas Day visit. However, a forensic examiner at ChildHelp failed to substantiate the claims.

Unfortunately, allegations (true or not) of abuse are commonplace in Family Court and rarely become newsworthy. The Raven Laws custody battle would have stayed out of the media but for a bizarre turn of events in late January.

It hit the news on January 23, after two Native American women, somehow connected with Alabama's Cherokee River Indian Community (CRIC), kidnapped Raven from her mother's home in Apache Junction.

The women took Raven while Shelly Walters was in a Mesa courtroom trying to persuade Judge Flores to end visitation privileges approved for the Bessingers after the couple grudgingly had returned the child in November.

Accompanied by a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy, the women flashed papers at Walters' 14-year-old daughter, who was home alone with her half-sister Raven.

Signed by an alleged "juvenile judge pro tem" with the Cherokee River Indian Community, the paperwork said the group was assuming control over Raven's case under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

Enacted in 1978, that law allows tribes to assume control over certain custody matters involving Native American kids. Congress created the Act after alarmingly high numbers of Indian children were taken from their families and placed into non-tribal foster and adoptive homes, where they often lost touch with their cultural heritage.

The law covers only children who belong to any of the 562 tribes officially recognized by the U.S. government, or those eligible for membership in one of those tribes.

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11 comments
Shocked
Shocked

Since this article ran, Marty Laws has been serving time at ASP Kingman for a class 3 felony theft charge from 2006 and is listed with another charge of danger/repetitive/enhanced due to his previous charge from 2002 of class 4 dangerous drug violation. Laws sentence expires 10/2012 or can take the flat sentence for 08/2013.

Since this article ran, Rochelle Walters served probation for a criminal shoplifting charge in 2008, has had two 2008 traffic violations, one resulting from no license plate or registration, and the other for driving without lap belts. Was she driving her children around without restraints and no plate or registration? Rochelle/Shelly's latest violation occurred in Kingman as a local traffic charge in June of 2011. She has racked up five traffic charges, one forgery charge, and eight criminal charges since 2002. I am amazed how many times she has gotten away with only probation and anyone with a track record like hers usually has records going back to when they were eighteen. She was 36 years old in 2002. This mother has not changed her spots and probably will go to great lengths to point the finger in the other direction in future predicaments. Who really fooled who in this case?

Shsalways
Shsalways

Its funny how people can pass judgement on others when they don't know anything about the people involved or the whole story, they act like they've never made mistakes, that people can't change, "once a druggie always a druggie". So when a persons life is open to the public especially in a case such as this its easy for all those "perfect" people to give all thier negative imput. These people can't see past the surface so it's a good thing they don't hold jobs in CPS or making decisions as a Judge. Charolette Driver and Judge Flores did a great job seeing things for what they really are, not being blindsided by the Bessingers. What the public didn't know was that Jack was a BAD alcoholic, Anita's own daughter Carrie was a heavy drug user, in and out of jail. People can change. I want to thank Judge Flores and Charolette Driver for everything they did.It's been almost four years, it's amazing they all got away with it. But this beautiful 8 1/2 yr old little girl doesn't remember Jack. Aneta or anything from then, she's very happy having with her mom, dad,brother and sister

Krystal_haag
Krystal_haag

Okay once again this is krystal haag three years later from my comment I made a while ago. Check this out. I am now 18 my mom has done the best she could ever do. We live in a nice house she has all three kids living with her. And the thing is she is doing this all on her own with no one to help. And also the thing with the bessingers or I should say jack and annita. They sexualy molested my sister. Why the fuck would we appreciate them doing that to her. My sister never wanted to be with them she would scream and cry when they had cuxtody n we were on a visit. She didn't want to go with them. But reading these comments none of you have room to say who a bad mother is. Cuz u all can fuck off. My mom is an excellent mother so get ur guyss story straight before you critisize!

Arizona Observer
Arizona Observer

As to the 2 women who kidnapped Raven -- they have still not been charged with kidnapping -- they are still out there.

Arizona  Mom
Arizona Mom

Yes, I too had a custody case going on with Judge Anderson, who, by the way, is the only decent and smart judge I have come across in family court, its a shame he left. Judge Flores came into my case not knowing a darned thing about what she was supposed to do but they go ahead and let these "judges" cut their teeth on complicated family law issues. What a joke! She is completely ignornant and spent most of her time saying "I've never seen this situation before", "It's never come across my desk." "I haven't really experienced this."...excuse after excuse like that's supposed to make you feel better. How about checking with the former judge and get a professional's opinion instead of blindly making WRONG decisions and ruining children's lives. I feel sorry for this child who was taken from the only "real" parents she knew. DNA is just DNA, why do you think there are adoptions, Judge Flores should know that. Take a child from a caring home and give her to drug users and former convicts? Arizona, and the family court system here is disgusting...I've experienced it first hand, but stories like this one really make me sick, but mostly sad.....sad for the kids that Arizona claims to look out for the "best interests of". That's the only blanket statement they ever make, why? Because it covers up a multitude of sins and these judges NEVER have to explain their actions...they just go home at night to their cozy homes and families. I don't care how much this mother "allegedly" (which I don't buy for a minute) cleaned up her life, it was too little, too late.

krystal haag
krystal haag

well i think what the bessingers did is fucked up not what shelly did...the two ladies who came and got raven are devils to me...this is krystal haag and i am the daughter of rochelle walters and i was the one who was there when raven got kidnaped...everyone who was invovled stinks because my mom is a great mother and she always will be...she changed her life to make ours better so stop critisizing my mom it is very rude...thank you by by

Janie Snowden
Janie Snowden

This was a good one. I heard about it from the TV and wondered what was going on here. What was going on was very complicated, but Paul Rubin, whose stories I love, put it together. The problem is, I'm still not sure where I stand on the case. Nothing is easy in life, I guess. You can print this if you want, or just forward it to Mr. Rubin.

Janie SnowdenTempe AZ

Ralph Ontiveros
Ralph Ontiveros

That was a really interesting story that I read from the start to the end. I started off thinking that the old couple was getting screwed by the system, but then they hired the Indian tribe to keep the mother from getting that little girl. In the end, I guess Raven is going to have a hell of a time making it in life. Nice job. Ralph Ontiveros

Sharon
Sharon

The Bessingers didn't spend their personal money caring for Raven or for any of the children they have; they obtain donated funds from a number of sources and use these funds to run the unlicensed home they have. Some genuine, good things were done -- and so were so truly horrific things like kidnapping and false accusations. They aren't exactly innocent in this whole matter.

Bonnie
Bonnie

I'm just wondering how long it will be before the Bessingers' decide that they need to be compensated for all their time spent carrying for Raven. Honestly, it doesn't sound like her mother has been too grateful of the fact that they've raised and cared for her daughter. I wouldn't hold it against the Bessingers' for wanting to be reimbursed their time and money.

And I completely agree, CPS is a joke. Anyone trying to do right by a child knows that CPS is completely incapable of doing what's in the best interest of a child and worries more about the rights of their shitty parents.

John
John

This is one fucked up saga, and while its great that everything is working out for little Raven I got to point out a few things. One the Bessingers went overboard, no matter their motivation they went about it the wrong way, lying about cops showing up at your house to harrass you? come on. And if there was indeed abuse why did they take so long to report it? Two Walters seems very ungratful for the 3 years of free child care she got. Not to mention half the damn statments shed made contradict the rest of her claims, seems neither side is a shining beacon of truth.

And THREE this story just goes to show you how fucking incompotent the morons at CPS really are, this witch Driver found it disturbing that the "drug felon" father was staying at the Bessingers' house with his daughter(Never mind the fact that moomy is a druggie too). She uses the "drug felons" presence as partial justification to remove the girl from the Bessingers' care, and then goes on to endorse him as the childs primary care giver while mom is at work? WTF?!?!?! The guy keeps skipping out on his drug tests. I hate CPS with every fiber of my being. And if this woman is such a good mom why is she letting a child(her teenage daughter) decide whether or not she will babysit her litle sister?

And what is up with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office? They can indict children as adults in child porn cases but they cant make a case againts two self admited kidnappers?

 

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