Serbian couple in Calif. regain child custody

AP News
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Posted: Feb 24, 2011 5:41 PM
Serbian couple in Calif. regain child custody

A California couple has been reunited with their two young children, more than eight months after losing custody when naked pictures of the youngsters were found on the father's laptop, their attorney said.

Now, the family is planning to sue the child welfare agency.

The father and his wife were arrested briefly in June on suspicion of child pornography and related charges after a technician at his employer found the pictures among digital family photographs.

Prosecutors reviewed the case, determined the son took the photographs and did not file charges.

The case sparked an uproar in the couple's native Serbia when the child protection agency did not return the children, ages 8 and 5, after prosecutors cleared the parents of criminal wrongdoing.

Serbian officials contacted the State Department, and the Serbian government funded their defense.

The parents said some photographs might look inappropriate to some people, but had maintained all along that they were taken by the couple's 8-year-old son while playing with the camera.

The San Joaquin County Child Protective Service's Agency, which makes decisions about custody independent of criminal investigations, refused to return the children for months.

The agency said the couple's daughter said she was sexually abused by her father.

On Feb. 14, the children were allowed to return home. Janine Molgaard, an attorney for the agency who handled the case, did not return a call seeking comment.

The family members are not named in this story because The Associated Press does not directly or indirectly identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

The father, a 20-year U.S. resident living in Stockton, released a statement through his attorney.

"We had the means and the support of an entire country (Serbia) to help us," he said. "But I have to wonder how many families are given the same 'guilty until proven innocent' kind of treatment."

Desko Nikitovic, Serbia's consul general in Chicago, said the family is planning to file a lawsuit. They are seeking repayment of legal bills and damages.

"I think this family deserves to be reimbursed for every dollar lost or spent and the immeasurable pain this has caused," Nikitovic said. "This should serve as a message for a runaway agency."

Among the issues to be address in the couple's lawsuit are civil rights allegations.

The children were also separated and denied access to the family's Serbian Orthodox Christian priest, unless the priest spoke to them in English, said Nikitovic and the father's attorney, Robert Powell.