A Spotsylvania County couple is fighting to regain custody of their baby in a case that appears to hinge on diverging medical philosophies and the safety of the child.
The scene around the Spotsylvania Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Aug. 3 was indicative of the case. About 100 people, many carrying signs, gathered in the late morning to support the Buckley family, but the case played out behind closed courtroom doors.
John and Alma Buckley were there for a review hearing related to the care of their son, Juan Antonio Buckley, now 2 ½-years-old and living with a foster family. Juan is the youngest of the family's nine children; the rest of whom still live with their parents.
John Buckley later said in an email that the hearing didn’t go well and that they are hoping another hearing in the fall goes better.
The Buckleys, along with family, dozens of friends and fellow church-goers, have been outspoken in their efforts to have Juan returned to his home. There is a Facebook page, a gofundme page, and at least one blog detailing the situation, which was approved by John and Alma Buckley.
While the parents declined to speak about the case, on the advice of their attorneys, John Buckley described it in one email as “blatant injustice.” But judges have so far refused to return the boy to the parents.
Dressed in his camouflage U.S. Navy uniform, John Buckley has spoken at several Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors meetings asking for someone to look into how the Department of Social Services has handled the case. Others also have regularly spoken for the family at supervisor meetings.
Supervisor David Ross has spoken out in support of the family, during meetings and outside of official business.
"I think there's been a mistake made and instead of looking at it they're sticking to their guns," he said prior to the Buckleys' Aug. 3 hearing.
The common refrain from supporters has been shock that the Buckleys could have one of their nine children taken away.
The couple homeschools their children. Their medical beliefs appear to be contrary to commonly followed practices, according to court documents.
Supporters say the couple cares for their children.
“They have no reason to take the child,” one family friend, Janice Gardner, said in an interview. “We just don’t understand how this could happen in America.”
Temple Baptist Pastor Michael Reid Sr. was among the crowd of supporters Friday at court and said he couldn’t understand what was happening or why, asserting there was no neglect.
“They have convictions and beliefs, but they’re not presumptive,” the pastor said of John and Alma Buckley, who attend the church in southern Stafford.
Information from public officials is difficult to obtain, since the case involves a juvenile. Local Social Services Director Gail Crooks said her office isn't allowed to talk about cases involving juveniles.
But court records, social media and public meetings provide at least part of the story involving the Buckley family.
The blog notes the alternative medical approach by the couple, something corroborated in a criminal neglect trial against the Buckleys. The couple was indicted on abuse and neglect charges in February 2017 and a trial was held a year later.
Judge Ricardo Rigual struck the charges after prosecutors presented the neglect case in Spotsylvania Circuit Court in February. He said in striking the charges that “the parents questioned forcefully, but did not refuse any medical treatment for their child,” according to a partial transcript.
The criminal transcript detailed the baby’s medical problems and the various hospital visits and doctors that became involved. Among various health issues, the baby struggled to hold weight and was put on a formula by doctors. Alma Buckley wanted to return to breastfeeding the baby, an issue that repeatedly came up during the boy’s treatment.
As the boy’s health declined, the parents in December 2016 took the boy to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The parents questioned the approach by doctors, including the use of antibiotics.
Alma Buckley, according to a juvenile hearing transcript, testified that she told the Walter Reed doctors that “if anything was done that would worsen his condition,” she would remove the boy from the hospital “because I had other options.”
At some point, doctors reported the case to social services, which took custody of the child.
The medical saga culminated in surgery for the baby at the medical center, although records do not provide a clear diagnosis of the boy's illness.
A Juvenile and Domestic Relations judge in January 2017 ruled in favor of social services retaining custody of the boy. He was subsequently put in foster care, where he apparently is doing fine with treatment.
The couple has another custody hearing set for October.