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Cleveland Co. DA office explains why emergency custody request declined in Amber Alert case

NORMAN, Okla. — The Cleveland County District Attorney’s Office is explaining their reasoning why a temporary emergency custody request was declined during efforts to find a missing baby.

An Amber Alert was issued for 7-month-old Jody Minjarez this week after police in Norman say the baby’s father, Victor Minjarez, took off with him in February.

Minjarez is currently facing a first-degree murder charge after the child was found dead inside of a trashcan at the Oklahoma City home.

According to the Norman Police Department, Minjarez violently assaulted the baby’s mother on February 19 and then fled with their child that same day. Sarah Jensen with the Norman Police Department confirms they requested the Department of Human Services (‘DHS’) petition the courts for a temporary emergency custody (‘TEC’) on March 1.

However, Cleveland County assistant District Attorney Travis White said a TEC meant the baby would have gone into DHS custody. From a legal perspective, he said actions by their office were limited.

“The first preference by the law is to have a legal caregiver, a family member or a parent to take custody,” said White. “Because there was an available legal caregiver involved, somebody other than DHS to care for the child, DHS was instructed to tell them [police] you have the opportunity to take that child into custody and you should do so.”

Jensen said if the TEC was issued, an Amber Alert could have possibly been issued on March 1 rather than March 7.

“Basically what the TEC would have done would have been it have ordered that child into state custody,” said Jensen. “If that would not have not been completed by the father, that would have somewhat constituted as a kidnapping or abduction state.”

In order for an Amber Alert to be issued, Jensen said five qualifications must be met:

  • Reasonable belief that an abduction occurred
  • Law enforcement belief that that child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death
  • Enough descriptive information about the victim and possible suspects to ensure that if issued an Amber Alert, it will assist in the recovery of the child
  • The victim is 17 years old or younger
  • The child and other critical elements have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system

White says in cases like this, police can act without a court order.

“Where there’s a reasonable suspicion and it’s a pretty low threshold that a child is at risk for imminent or safety threat, any peace officer in Oklahoma with jurisdiction has authority to take custody of that child,” he explained to News 4.

Jensen said the problem with a standard pick-up order in this case was due to the fact that they were unable to find Minjarez despite multiple attempts.

As a whole, she said this case included many factors from state laws to parents’ rights.

“Unfortunately, there are laws and people’s rights in place that do not allow us to just go and take a child or elevate things to a level of an Amber Alert when we want that to happen. We have to meet certain criteria,” she said. "It’s extremely difficult in a case like this when both parents have rights to a child and when there’s information being provided to investigators that the child is safe, that they don’t believe there is any harm that’s going to be done to the child."

Police add even if the TEC was issued on March 1, whether the outcome would be different is complete speculation.

The Norman Police Department released a timeline of the events Thursday evening:

February 19, 2018: The victim, the mother of 7-month-old Jody Minjarez, reports to the Norman Police Department that she was assaulted by 31-year-old Victor Minjarez and left the residence with the child. The victim reported that she expected Victor Minjarez to return with Jody like he did the last time an incident of this nature occurred.

February 20, 2018: The case regarding this incident was assigned to a detective in the Criminal Investigations Division. The detective contacted the victim and encouraged her to obtain a Victim Protective Order (VPO).

February 23, 2018: Detectives conduct an interview of the victim. The victim informs the detective that she has obtained a VPO. A Cleveland County Judge ordered the return of the child to the victim on the VPO. During the interview, the victim stated that she did not believe Jody to be in danger, and that Minjarez had taken him in the past for approximately five days before returning him. Detectives made several attempts to locate Minjarez and Jody without success.

February 28, 2018: A friend of the victim received a text message that they assumed to be from Minjarez stating the victim would never see Jody again.

March 1, 2018: Detectives requested DHS petition the courts for a temporary emergency custody for the victim. The Cleveland County District Attorney’s office declined this request. Detectives continued to work to locate Minjarez and Jody without success.

March 6, 2018: Detectives determined that based upon all of the information received during the investigation, the unknown whereabouts of Victor Minjarez and Jody, and the concerning text message that they would request the assistance of the public. A press release requesting assistance along with listing Jody as a missing and endangered child was sent to the media. Multiple tips were followed up on throughout the night but Minjarez and Jody were not located.

March 7, 2018: Detectives determined that Minjarez should have been aware that both he and Jody were being sought due to the overwhelming media coverage. When neither Minjarez nor Jody was located, detectives determined that the criteria for an Amber Alert were met including the required element of abduction. Detectives also learned that Minjarez had stolen a vehicle, which further heightened the concern. At this point an Amber Alert was requested. After reviewing the information, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) determined that this information met the criteria and an Amber Alert was issued. Several hours later, Minjarez was located and taken into custody. The body of a child believed to be 7-month-old Jody Minjarez was also located at the residence in Oklahoma City where Victor Minjarez was taken into custody.