Indian Takers

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

Driver said it now troubled CPS that Embrace is unlicensed and unregulated, and that its owners had failed to promptly report the allegations of abuse toward Raven. She also said CPS was unhappy that the Bessingers had allowed drug felon Marty Laws to live at the home for a time in late 2005.

"Right now, we're going to try reunifying the child with the mother," the caseworker testified, sounding far more favorably disposed toward Walters than she had just two weeks earlier.

"We strongly recommend that Raven not be returned to the Bessingers. I know the Bessingers have placed a lot of judgments, which is completely natural, toward the natural mother and father. But that doesn't nix the parents from getting a right to parent their child."

David Hollenbach
Superior Court Judge Lisa Daniel Flores ruled in favor of Raven’s mother.
Superior Court Judge Lisa Daniel Flores ruled in favor of Raven’s mother.

Greg Riebesehl argued that Shelly Walters had lost her authority to sign Raven into foster care when the judge granted custody of Raven to the Bessingers, an intriguing point.

"Bottom line, they are the only parents that this child has ever known," the attorney said of his clients.

Judge Anderson noted that "the only people who've ever stepped up in this child's life [were the Bessingers]."

He then ordered CPS to return Raven to Embrace within 24 hours.

Shelly Walters wouldn't see her little girl for another six months.


Lisa Daniel Flores reported to Family Court in March 2006 after Governor Janet Napolitano appointed her to the bench.

The new judge was well-suited to the assignment, having spent two years of a decade-long stint with the Arizona Attorney General's Office representing CPS in dependency cases.

On June 19, Flores heard testimony for the first time about Raven's custody case, which she had taken over from Judge Anderson.

By then, CPS caseworker Driver had become an outright fan of Shelly Walters, who was living with her two teenagers and an older couple at the couple's home in Apache Junction.

Driver told the judge that she had been visiting Walters, had done background checks on the elderly couple and couldn't be happier with the woman's attitude and progress.

"Your Honor, we have a problem," she testified, "because Mom's done [drug tests]. Mom's been clean, Mom's got a stable job, Mom's got a stable home . . . I strongly feel that Rochelle deserves the chance to be a parent to her child. And this whole thing has turned into quite a mess."

The judge expressed deep displeasure that Walters had been denied access to Raven for months.

"Parents have a fundamental right to parent their own children," Flores told attorney Riebesehl. "And as well-meaning and bonded as your clients may be to this child, and they may have provided a wonderful service and taken good care of her for a significant period of time, as long as the child's mother is able to parent her, the child's mother has absolute preference over anybody else — mother or father . . . The only way [the child's] better off in [the Bessingers'] care is if [the mother is] unable to parent."

Riebesehl responded that "it seems like you're prejudging the matter, that it's an automatic [that] the child is going to be back with Mother, without hearing evidence."

Flores ignored the jibe, and set the case for a full evidentiary hearing on October 4.

Though the judge decided not to immediately remove Raven from the Bessingers' custody, she approved weekly visitations and daily phone calls between mother and daughter.

"The longer Raven goes without seeing Mom, the more difficult the transition will be," Flores said.

Walters' weekly three-hour visitations with her daughter occurred at CPS offices in northwest Phoenix, about 40 miles from her home in Apache Junction. Her only mode of transportation was a series of city buses, but she got there faithfully and on time.

But the Bessingers proved less than accommodating, often showing up late with Raven and making things generally unpleasant, according to CPS accounts.

"This whole case is confusing to me," Charlotte Driver wrote in an e-mail that later became part of the court record. "I can't imagine what little Raven feels like!"

Driver also wrote that Aneta Bessinger had asked her during one visitation, "How could we let a child molester have a three-hour visit with a 3-year-old child?"

That alleged "molester" was Shelly Walters, against whom no charges had been filed nor any wrongdoing substantiated.

In another e-mail, Driver said that "Aneta is saying things to confuse Raven a lot. I think at this point she is trying to pull out all the stops to keep Raven."

During a visitation that July, Aneta Bessinger introduced the CPS workers to Brenda Byers, a Native American woman from Phoenix.

Byers apparently informed them that Raven's DNA was going to be tested to see if the little girl had Indian blood and was eligible for benefits from an unspecified tribe.

"They strongly believe that if the [Indian Child Welfare Act] gets involved, then this whole thing will go away," Driver wrote at the time.

Raven's neophyte Native American connection threw a new wrinkle into the already-complex custody case.

"Oh, yes, the Indians," says Greg Riebesehl, in a way that suggests they aren't his favorite subject.

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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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