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Baby returned to Epsom couple

Last modified: 10/15/2010 12:00:00 AM
The Epsom couple forced to turn their newborn over to foster care last week, prompting a group formed to defend the U.S. Constitution to throw its muscle behind the young parents, were reunited with the infant yesterday after a hearing by a judge at Rochester Family Division Court.

Johnathon Irish, 24, and Stephanie Taylor, 22, were handed 8-day-old Cheyenne in a McDonald's parking lot in Rochester by the baby's grandmother, Nancy Haskell of Northwood.

Haskell had been given Cheyenne, wrapped in a blanket and wearing a pink bonnet, minutes earlier in the Rochester Police Department parking lot by an official from the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families.

The family declined comment, citing a gag order by the judge. No details from the hearing were made public.

But shortly after they walked out of court following the 1½-hour hearing, Haskell, Irish's mother and owner of the Saddleback Campground in Northwood, said, "This restores my faith in the justice system. I'm ecstatic."

The battle between the state and the couple had more twists and turns than the old streets that wind through downtown Rochester, culminating yesterday with shouting matches in front of dozens of onlookers.

The drama began at the courthouse in Dover, where members of the Oath Keepers, a group that pledges to oppose government tyranny, held signs in protest of DCYF's decision to take Cheyenne away from her parents.

According to an affidavit, a judge determined in 2009 that evidence pointed to Irish as "the main suspect" in an assault of his fiancee's oldest son, now 3. Taylor also has a 2-year-old son and is still married to the boys' father. The children were subsequently placed in a foster home in Farmington, Irish said.

That judge's ruling led DCYF to seize Cheyenne last week, hours after her birth. 

The affidavit also mentioned Irish's association with the Oath Keepers, setting off a chain reaction that reached its zenith yesterday. After a week of nationwide chatter in the online libertarian community, Oath Keepers from several New England states, group founder Stewart Rhodes and people unaffiliated with the group stood outside the courthouse during the hearing.

Some were upset the Oath Keepers had been called a militia, which members said is not true. Others, including Chauncey Normandin of Massachusetts, protested what they saw as unfair government intervention.

"We're here because the investigator used (Irish's) affiliation with Oath Keepers as one of the reasons in the affidavit for taking custody of that baby," said Normandin, East Coast vice president of the Oath Keepers and a retired police officer. "There's no reason his political affiliation should have anything to do with his ability to take care of a child. That's offensive to us."

Meanwhile, Garrett Lear of Wakefield, the national chaplain of the Oath Keepers, complained that Irish misrepresented himself, falsely leading people to believe he was a member of the group.

"He unfairly aligned himself with our organization," said Lear, a cross on the front of his baseball cap.

Tensions rose when Johnathon Irish's father, John Irish, told a reporter within earshot of Johnathon Irish that his son had spent a portion of his childhood in facilities for juveniles and had gotten in trouble with the law. He added that Johnathon Irish deserved to be scrutinized by the state.

"DCYF was acting properly to protect that child," said John Irish, who said he's been estranged from his son for at least five years. "There were two other children who were also taken from their home."

Johnathon Irish, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, then approached his father, standing inches from his face.

"You were nothing. You were worthless," Johnathon Irish said, trying to control his temper.

Later, Johnathon Irish and Haskell pulled documents from a folder showing that John Irish pleaded guilty in 1999 to misdemeanor counts of violation of a protective order and simple assault. John Irish acknowledged he had pleaded guilty to those charges.

Later, in full view of TV cameras, sheriff's deputies and the crowd of about 50 protesters, another shouting match broke out, this one between John Irish and Doug Millar, who said he was a private investigator from Santa Rosa, Calif., working for Johnathon Irish and Taylor.

Taylor and Irish said they are still fighting to regain custody of the two boys.

Meanwhile, the couple will begin raising their daughter. They sat in McDonald's eating burgers and fries while waiting for 4 p.m., the time Haskell was due to pick Cheyenne up at the police department.

Haskell and her friend, Roscoe Whitney, drove to the station and entered right on time, followed minutes later by a case worker cradling Cheyenne, who was wrapped in a blanket.

Haskell then walked down the front stairs and strapped Cheyenne into a car seat in the back of Whitney's car.

"My beautiful baby," Haskell said. "Her parents held her a week ago, but Mommy and Daddy will have her in their arms soon."

At McDonald's, Irish and Taylor were reunited with Cheyenne, hugging and kissing her. Two vehicles then carried the entourage out of the lot, headed for a family celebration at Saddleback Campground.

CORRECTION: The orginial version of this story misstated the substance of the judge's 2009 ruling.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com.)


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