Prentiss custody battle raises questions

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

BOONEVILLE – Steve and Jackie Beard can’t understand why their yearlong efforts to adopt his twin grandsons went so wrong.
A chancery judge agreed to reconsider their turned-down legal efforts, and 46-year-old Steve Beard tries to be optimistic.
“We love these boys,” the plumber told the Daily Journal. “We’re trying to stay hopeful.”
In the meantime, the court granted the children’s adoption to their great-grandparents, Eugene and Patsy Berryman, who are the parents of Steve Beard’s ex-wife.
That decision comes after the Beards satisfied a variety of adoption requirements and the Berrymans announced they only wanted custody, not to adopt the boys.
Steve Beard says he can’t help but wonder if their current situation isn’t because he is white and his 48-year-old wife is black.
But Patsy Berryman, 64, insists race has nothing to do with their desire to keep the children.
“We just love these little boys,” she says. “We’ve taken care of them since they were born.”
Under law, details about adoptions are kept secret by the court. But Beard brought his questions to the Daily Journal in hopes he can find out what happened.
This story begins on Oct. 3, 2011, when two sons were born to Beard’s son and his son’s girlfriend. A month later, the two gave up their parental rights and placed the children in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
Documents show that on Nov. 10, 2011, Youth Court Judge Bradley D. Tennison ordered a background check of the Berrymans.
Tennison ordered the children placed with them after MDHS reported no negative information about them, although the Berrymans apparently were not seeking to be licensed as a foster or adoptive home. Their attorney, Chris Jones, reportedly told MDHS the Berrymans “would be seeking legal custody and not adoption.”
Four days later, MDHS social worker Nancy Butler’s letter to Tennison states that the Prentiss County agency “does not feel that it is within the best interest” of the twins to be placed in the Berryman home “because they are not willing to abide by” the agency’s licensure requirement and told MDHS they did not plan to adopt.
Butler recommended the children stay with the Beards, who completed the licensure paperwork, promised to follow all agency rules and wanted to adopt.
This week, MDHS declined to comment on the situation.
On Nov. 16, 2011, the Beards petitioned to adopt the twins, and five days later, the Berrymans did the same.
Lisa A. Koon, an Iuka attorney, was appointed the children’s guardian ad litem to represent them in court. Koon reported to the court on July 30, 2012, that initially the twins’ parents said they didn’t want family to have the babies but later changed their minds in favor of Steve and Jackie Beard.
Also a twin, Koon said she favored adoption by the Beards over the Berrymans chiefly because the Berrymans are already in their mid-60s and will be in their 80s by the time the boys are teenagers.
Her only concern about the Beards was that Steve is white and Jackie is black.
“We live in a very conservative county in Mississippi with some unfortunate prejudices,” Koon wrote in her report. “Some people may have problems with their mixed-race marriage, which could cause future prejudices of these children.”
In a closed hearing, Chancellor Jacqueline Mask listened to all the issues July 23 in Booneville.
She ruled on Aug. 29 that the ages of the Berrymans “should not outweigh the other favorable factors” and granted them adoption with specified visitation for the Beards.
She also ordered the children’s last names changed from Beard to Berryman.
Tuesday, Koon said she could not talk about this case or any other because of the confidential nature of adoptions.
But Patsy Berryman said she and her husband, 66, are “so attached” to the twins that “we feel like they are our own.”
She also insists that their health is good and they’re not concerned about their ages as time goes by raising the boys.
The Beards’ attorney, Rhett Wise of Tupelo, asked the court to reconsider or grant a new trial.
He cites several issues to re-evaluate, especially the Berrymans’ ages and what he wrote were misstatements to the court in the Berrymans’ favor.
Monday, Steve Beard looked at a stack of papers, which cost him nearly $1,000.
It was the official transcript of the July adoption hearing.
“We hope the judge can take another look at what was said and all the issues, and perhaps change her mind,” he said after their regular weekend visit with the now-active 14-month-olds.
“They are our real joy.”
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com