CPS Loses Lawsuit Over Girl Who Died in Hot Van; Dad Who Fought System in Custody Battle for Surviving Kids
John Gray has fought for years to hold the state's Child Protective Agency accountable for the 2005 death of his young daughter and honor the girl's memory.
The Ahwatukee man became an activist after his 4-year-old daughter, Haley (pictured), became locked accidently in a sweltering minivan and died while her drunk mother was passed out in an apartment.
Because of Gray's efforts, state legislators passed Haley's Law, which requires CPS workers to check out records from other states where parents under investigation might have lived.
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. San Antonio Spurs
TicketsMon., Oct. 3, 7:00pm
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. Utah Jazz
TicketsWed., Oct. 5, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsFri., Oct. 7, 7:00pm
TicketsSat., Oct. 8, 7:00pm
And just last week, Gray won a lawsuit against CPS that requires the agency to pay $446,000.
Ironically, though, Gray lost custody of his two surviving sons, aged 8 and 10, just three weeks before the trial started. He says he was screwed over by the state Attorney General Terry Goddard's office, which represented CPS and used his sons as "sacrificial lambs" in a failed attempt to win the case.
The AG's office denies that charge.
Just prior to the start of the trial, Gray says, the judge in the case ruled that a psychological report on Gray could not be admitted as evidence. Gray says the state paid an expert psychology witness $100,000 to help with the trial and evaluate Gray. She found that Gray has a "personality disorder" and was exaggerating the effects of his grief over Haley's death. Worse, her report concluded Gray -- who once served prison time in Florida -- had the potential to hurt his children.
Gray claims the state violated his right to privacy when prosecutor Daniel O'Connor faxed the report to his ex-wife, Celene.
"It was done with malicious intent," Gray says.
[UPDATE 4 p.m. -- The AG's office tells New Times that O'Connor, a private attorney hired to prosecute the case, did nothing unethical. A spokesman e-mailed a court record showing that Gray pressed the judge to sanction O'Connor in the incident. The judge disagreed with Gray's theory and denied the sanctions].
Celene, who lives in Scottsdale, used the faxed report to convince another judge to grant her temporary custody of the two boys.
That's the same Celene, of course, who was too drunk to realize her daughter was dying, and who had been busted a few months prior to the tragedy for crashing her car, while drunk, moments after picking up the kids from daycare.
John Gray says his wife's boyfriend, is taking care of the boys because Celene can only see them during CPS-supervised visits.
A hearing is scheduled for May 5 to return the boys to John Gray's custody, he says.
"I'm going to have a doctor testify to say I'm not a danger to my kids, and hopefully I'll get my kids back," Gray says.
Assuming that goes okay, Gray says he'll continue his activism. After paying his legal fees, the jury award will put about $100,000 into his bank account, he says.
He's found a writer to tell his life story in a book, which he'll use as a platform at speaking engagements. He hopes to empower people with his tale of overcoming tragedy and fighting the system.
Gray says he's also found investors for a project called Haley's House, which will be a home for displaced families.
For a girl who died so young, Haley has made quite a difference in the world.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.