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Lemonade Abuse

April 29, 2008 permalink

A Michigan father took his seven-year-old son, Leo Ratte, to a Detroit Tigers game and bought him a lemonade without reading the fine print. The lemonade was five percent alcohol. The boy spent two days in foster care and was separated from his dad for a week.



Ann Arbor man gives 7-year-old son alcoholic beverage during Tigers game

Posted by The Associated Press April 28, 2008 11:31AM

DETROIT (AP) -- A son's thirst and a father's oversight at the ballpark turned an otherwise fun outing into an ordeal for one family.

Christopher Ratte of Ann Arbor recently took his 7-year-old son, Leo, to a Detroit Tigers game and stopped at a Comerica Park concession stand to buy him some lemonade. But it wasn't until the top of the ninth inning, when a security guard asked the University of Michigan classical archaeology professor about the bottle in his son's hand, that Ratte learned what puts the hard in Mike's Hard Lemonade.

"I'd never drunk it, never purchased it, never heard of it," Christopher Ratte told Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson for a story published Monday.

Ratte said he told the guard he had no idea that the $7 lemonade contained alcohol. But when he tried to look at the bottle, the security guard snatched it -- and his son was taken to a ballpark's medical clinic. The mistake three weeks ago began a two-day stay for Leo in state custody and nearly a week before his father would be able to move back into his home.

Leo was taken by ambulance to Detroit's Children Hospital because clinic officials said he reported feeling a little nauseated after drinking about 12 ounces of the drink with a 5 percent alcohol content. But a blood sample taken at the hospital detected no trace of it.

Ratte said the workers from the state's Child Protective Services unit told him that day the intervention was unnecessary but they were just following orders.

Child protection officials cannot by law discuss a specific investigation. But Mike Patterson, Child and Family Services director for the Wayne County district that includes Comerica Park, said his agency's discretion is limited once police obtain a court order to remove a child from the home.

An assistant state attorney general said the state had no interest in aggressively pursuing the case, so a juvenile referee on April 7 agreed to release Leo to his mother as long as his father relocated to a hotel. Three days later, the complaint was dismissed and Christopher Ratte was allowed to go home.

Ratte and his wife have filed a formal complaint with the Child Protective Services ombudsman's office.

Ratte wrote in his complaint that he has apologized to his son "for the silly mistake that got him into this mess."

"But I have also told him that what happened afterward was an even bigger error, and I would like to be able to say to him that institutions, like people, can learn from their mistakes."

Source: newspaper group

Addendum: Three years later the ACLU helps son Leo Ratte sue for compensation.



ACLU sues state over dad's custody loss after hard lemonade mix-up

Christopher Ratte
Christopher Ratte, 47, of Ann Arbor says he had no idea that the lemonade he bought for son Leo, 7, at Comerica Park three years ago, contained alcohol. A guard noticed Leo drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade. Leo was taken to a hospital, then to a foster home.
2008 photo by ERIC SEALS/Detroit Free Press

The ACLU of Michigan today sued the Michigan Department of Human Services for taking away a 7-year-old boy whose father unknowingly gave him an alcohol-laced Mike’s Hard Lemonade at a Detroit Tigers game in 2008.

“Taking a child from loving parents is a harrowing, life-changing experience for both the child and the parents,” Michael Steinberg, Michigan ACLU legal director said after filing the suit in U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor.

“Michigan law currently allows the government to take a child without having to prove that it’s necessary to prevent immediate danger,” he added. “The law is unconstitutional, out of step with the rest of the country and must be fixed to prevent harm to other families.”

The ACLU said the lawsuit, filed on behalf of the child, Leo Ratte, seeks to overturn a state law that permits law enforcement officials to remove children from their parents’ custody without proving that the child is in immediate danger.

The incident, which made national news, happened in April 2008 when Leo Ratte was attending a Tiger’s game with his father, Christopher Ratte, an archeology professor at the University of Michigan. On the way to their seats, Christopher Ratte purchased a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, not realizing that it contained alcohol, and gave it to his son.

During the game, a security guard asked the father if he knew his son was drinking an alcoholic beverage. Although the dad said he didn’t realize the beverage contained alcohol, the security officer alerted police.

The child was sent to Children’s Hospital in Detroit for examination. Although no alcohol was found in his blood, he was taken into the custody of Wayne County Child Protective Services, a division of the state's human services department.

Authorities refused to give the child to his mother, Claire Zimmerman, who hadn’t attended the game, or to his aunts, one of whom is a social worker and licensed foster parent, the suit said.

After spending the night sleeping on a sofa at the protective services building, while his parents waited on a sidewalk outside, the lad was sent to a foster home.

He was released to his parents three days later with the help of the U-M Child Advocacy Clinic.

Steinberg said authorities violated the son’s and mother’s constitutional rights because she wasn’t at the game when the incident happened. The ACLU noted that child welfare advocates have tried unsuccessfully for years to modify Michigan’s emergency removal law. He said a bill to remedy the problem died at the end of last year’s legislative session without a hearing or vote.

Defendants in the suit include Detroit police officers and county and state caseworkers who were involved in the incident.

The Department of Human Services said it doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits.

Source: Detroit Free Press

And this was the introductory case in a WXYZ-TV exposé of Michigan child protection (mp4).