STERLINGTON (7/05/19) — If there was a phrase to explain how Jessica Auston-Popo feels having her daughter back home it would be, “Reunited and it feels so good.” Popo claims her ex-husband violated their custody agreement when he failed to return their 7-year-old daughter Rajada for a month.
The two parents were slated to swap Rajada on June 9, 2019, but, “He didn’t show and fast forward he didn’t show for three more weeks,” Popo said.
NBC 10 and FOX 14 reached out to Rajada’s father days before this story was released. He told us he did not want to comment.
So for 26 days and 25 nights, Popo struggled to maintain life as she knew it. “I had a lot of sleepless nights, I couldn’t focus, not eating. It was like my whole world was turned upside down,” she recollected.
NBC 10 and FOX 14 combed through documents, from custody agreements to police reports. Desperately seeking help, Popo says she went to multiple law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, she kept hitting the same wall.
“What I’ve ran into for almost a year or as many times as it’s been violated is ‘this is a civil matter,'” Popo said.
Sterlington Police Chief Barry Bonner told NBC 10 and FOX 14 that without proper documentation the department’s hands are tied.
As a result, Popo enlisted the help of her lawyer. According to Louisiana law, this is a case of interference with the custody of a child or parental kidnapping. It is defined as:
“The intentional taking, enticing, or decoying away of a minor child by a parent not having a right of custody, with intent to detain or conceal such child from a parent having a right of custody pursuant to a court order or from a person entrusted with the care of the child by a parent having custody pursuant to a court order.”
As a mental health counselor, Popo wants her experience to serve as an example for parents who may not know what to do, warning that the person who suffers the most is the child. In her case a clinical diagnosis.
“He did find that and diagnose her as being a major depressive. She has to take medication to go to sleep, she was also diagnosed with being ADHD,” said Popo.
So while Rajada’s return home is welcome, Popo says it comes with a lot of damage that will take time to heal.
Louisiana law indicates whoever commits interference with the custody of a child shall be fined no more than $500 and spend no more than six months in jail, or both.