When Samuel Gerome Dye got the news, he says he went crazy with joy: He ran, he danced, he screamed, he sang in the street.
And then Dye made a beeline for Utah, driving nonstop from Dallas through a blizzard in New Mexico and arriving last Friday to retrieve his 2-year-old son, whom a judge in Utah's 4th District Court decided last week had been improperly placed for adoption in Salt Lake City, Utah in July.
On Saturday, Dye and his son Samir traveled home together, putting miles and a nightmare behind them.
“I'm just so happy,” Dye said as Samir cuddled on his lap at the Legacy Recreation Center in Lehi, Utah, about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City. “Since he's been gone, my life hasn't been the same. I was miserable, not able to cope. Everyone around me could tell.”
Dye, 29, is sharing his story to alert others about what he describes as a flawed system in Utah that allows adoption agencies to make minimal effort to contact and verify information about birth fathers — or, even worse, to ignore their rights and perpetuate false claims.
It's a case that “highlights that some adoption agencies are still ignoring what is going on in home states and potentially even coaching birth moms in hopes that birth fathers won't go to the time and expense of challenging these cases,” said Wes Hutchins, the Utah attorney who represented Dye.
Adds Adam Pertman, president of The Donaldson Adoption Institute based in New York, who spoke in general terms after hearing the story: “It's critically important that men who want to step up and serve as fathers be allowed to do that, in law and in ethical practice. ... When we talk about parental rights, fathers are parents, too.”
“Since day one”
Dye met and began dating the birth mother, whose name was withheld by The Salt Lake Tribune, in the spring of 2010. They had been together about a year when she got pregnant.
She broke the news at a tumultuous time for Dye. In April 2011, he was shot five times and left for dead during a home-invasion robbery.
“I didn't find out [about the pregnancy] until after I woke up after being shot,” he said.
Dye, who at the time operated his own landscaping business, spent five weeks in the hospital recovering from his injuries, including relearning how to walk. He and his girlfriend moved in with his parents for a time and then into their own apartment while he continued to recuperate. The girlfriend began working at a daycare center owned by Debra Byrd, Dye's mother.
On Nov. 25, 2011, Dye helped welcome Samir Oscar Dye — whose middle name is a tribute to his 94-year-old great-grandfather — into the world.
“I've been there since day one,” Dye said.
The couple faced an immediate setback: Both Dye's girlfriend and his newborn son allegedly tested positive for marijuana after the birth.
Texas child welfare officials intervened and, because Dye still needed assistance and could not care for the baby on his own, the couple agreed to give temporary legal custody of the infant to two of Dye's relatives.
Before leaving the hospital, they filled out an acknowledgement of Dye's paternity and his name was included on his son's birth certificate.
Dye attended parenting classes with his girlfriend, who initially had supervised visits with their son which were in time expanded to overnight, weekend and weeklong stays. As Dye regained full use of his arms and legs, he helped care for Samir. The state returned custody to the birth mother, then still living with Dye, when Samir was about 10-months-old.
But their relationship had rocky, on-and-off moments.
In November 2012, the Texas Attorney General's Office filed a court action that recognized Dye's paternity and sought to establish child support and set out a visitation and custody plan for Samir — an action set in motion automatically when a couple is separated and one party receives state aid of any kind.
'Pray for me'
Still, they were together until the end of July.
That's when Dye said he and his girlfriend had a typical couple's “misunderstanding,” after which the girlfriend informed him she was headed to Louisiana to see her ailing mother.
“That's the only reason I allowed her to take the trip with him,” Dye said.
She returned alone and at first told Dye she had left the toddler with his grandmother.
In early August, the truth came out when, in a tearful phone call, the woman told Dye she'd actually traveled to Utah to place their son for adoption through Heart and Soul Adoptions Inc., the same agency she'd used to place another child. She said he would soon receive a letter asking him to sign away his parental rights.
“It was the end of the world,” said Dye. “I didn't know how to go about life without my son.”
This summer, when friends and extended family asked Dye why his son Samir wasn't around he had a standard answer.
“I would say, 'Pray for me,' ” Dye said.
The shock of what had happened to Samir was hard enough for his immediate family to take, Dye said. He knew others wouldn't believe it.
Dye couldn't believe it at first himself.
“I have never, ever, in my life ever thought about or ever come to the conclusion that I would be going through something like this,” he said.
Dye called Heart and Soul Adoptions, based in Centerville, Utah, as soon as he received the packet his girlfriend warned him was on its way.
When Dye demanded to know where his son was, the agency began “ducking and dodging.”
“I started getting the run-around from them,” he said. “They wouldn't confirm anything, they wouldn't tell me anything.”
Dye said agency director Denise Garzainitially told him he had no rights because he was not listed as the baby's father on Samir's birth certificate — which Dye knew was false.
Garza did not return a call from the Tribune seeking comment for this story.
Dye said Garza repeatedly urged him to sign the papers.
“She was, like, just sign then we can go about getting him back and I was like, no, that doesn't sound right,” Dye said, especially since the paperwork indicated he was voluntarily relinquishing his rights.
“It was clear as day. If you sign these papers you're signing all your rights away,” Dye said.
Dye said Garza told him she was on vacation but would contact him when she returned with information about how to get his son back.
“She never sent me any more information,” he said. “She stopped answering my calls. I left numerous messages, over and over and over.”
Dye said he went online to research Utah adoption laws and “the more we learned the more we knew this situation was real critical to the point it was going to be a fight.”
Debra Byrd, Dye's mother, said the family was, quite simply, “scared.” Byrd said when she shared with family and friends what had happened to her grandson she got a common reaction.
“Their eyes went [wide] when they heard 'Utah' and they said, 'Oh no, you are not going to get that baby back, you don't have a chance,' ” Byrd said.
No consequences Dye hired Dallas attorney Holly R. Monk, who noted glaring misstatements in the paperwork from Heart and Soul — that no father was listed on Samir's birth certificate, that the birth father had not been involved in the child's life and that the birth mother was unaware of any pending litigation affecting the child in Texas.
Aside from an initial phone call, Monk was unable to get any response from the adoption agency.
“Our biggest issue is with the adoption agency there in Utah,” Monk said. “It seems like this agency didn't do any sort of due diligence to check out what was going on. ... I was very shocked to find out [the birth mother] was allowed to do in Utah what she did and not suffer any consequences from that.”
On Aug. 23, Monk filed an answer and counter-petition in the Texas proceeding on Dye's behalf that explained what had happened to Samir and asking that he be given temporary custody of the boy.
Judge Don Turner of the 254th District Court in Dallas County granted that petition on Sept. 19, according to court records. A copy of the order was sent to Utah's 4th District Court, but Monk said she received no response.
Monk then told Dye he needed to hire a Utah attorney. She suggested he travel to Utah to meet with Hutchins and personally file the temporary custody order issued in Texas. The Dyes hoped they'd also be able to pick up Samir.
Dye, his mother and Kesha Thomas, a cousin who helped care for Samir after his birth, arrived in Utah in early October.
At the same time, the Texas judge sent a letter to 4th District Court Judge Thomas Lowe, who was assigned the case, to inform him that Texas had jurisdiction in an open proceeding, according to a court document.
Byrd said when they showed up at the 4th District Court to file the paperwork, a clerk didn't give them much hope of success, remarking that once a child is in Utah, “they stay here.”
But Dye persevered. Hutchins said he raised Texas' jurisdiction and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act — which protects home state jurisdiction in child custody proceedings — in his arguments on Dye's behalf. Lowe ruled for Dye on Dec. 10, dismissing the pending adoption and concluding that the prospective adoptive parents were thus “legal strangers” to the boy they'd had in their care since July, Hutchins said.
Hutchins said the prospective adoptive parents and their attorney were cooperative in helping return Samir to his father as quickly as possible. Dye arrived in Utah on Friday and met with his son twice at a McDonald's Playland in Utah County.
“I had already figured he would be a little bit upset with us,” Dye said. And Samir did look a little cross at first, but “once he came around, he clung to me like, 'Where are you going?' I didn't want to leave him after that [first] meeting.”
On Saturday, Dye met the Utah couple again at the same McDonald's to pick up his son for good.
“I wasn't trying to make it a hard thing on their end,” Dye said of the prospective adoptive parents. “My heart goes out to them, as well. As I explained to them, I wasn't trying to be a hard dude or mean or anything, but I had to do what was right for me and my son.”
Which was, he added, “for us to be together.”