Sunday, April 23, 2017
Part 2: Twins, divided: Confusion, concern and ‘I do’
Video shows two grooms in matching gray tuxedos with white roses on their lapels. They clasped hands beneath a white gazebo festooned with white bunting on that warm fall afternoon in 2014.
“With this ring, I take you as my husband, for as long as we both shall live,” said Sean Spicer, in response to prompts from officiator Susan Bird-Santo, one of Ryan Morris’ legal guardians at the time.
The other groom, Ryan, who state evaluators have concluded has the intellectual capacity of a kindergartener, mumbled and made noises, then stared silently at his hand as Spicer slipped a ring on his finger. Bird-Santo then asked Ryan to repeat the wedding vows.
Ryan hesitated. “I’ve never done this before,” he said in a thick, quiet voice.
“Well, I know,” Bird-Santo said. “Hopefully it’s the last time you’ll do it. … Do you want to just put the ring on Sean’s finger? Are you promising to be his husband forever and love him no matter what?
Until you’re not alive anymore, until you die and even after that probably? Yeah?”
There was some confusion.
“Baptize in the name of Jesus,” Ryan said.
“It’s not a baptism,” Spicer said. “It’s a wedding.”
There was laughter, and Bird-Santo coached Ryan again.
“If you want to take Sean as your husband for the rest of your life, you need to give a symbol so he’ll know that, and he’ll remember it, like you have this ring on your hand,” she said. “So, now you put that ring on his hand.”
Ryan concentrated, trying his best, but the ring wouldn’t slip over Spicer’s knuckle. “It’s hard to get on – push it on there,” Bird-Santo said.
Finally, the ring slid onto Spicer’s finger.
Ryan Morris, 20, and Sean Spicer, 38, were married.
Ryan’s identical twin brother, Ronald Moore, and their biological family, did not know the wedding took place until four months later.
They had been kept at a distance by Ryan’s adoptive mother for most of Ryan’s life. Ronald only saw the wedding video after the fact. Ryan’s apparent confusion – which Spicer later said was just Ryan joking around – alarmed his blood relatives, and the video later would become a cornerstone of their challenge to oust Ryan’s legal guardian.
Their battle to be part of Ryan’s life had been long and bitter. The twins were taken from their troubled parents shortly after birth in 1994. Ronald — who is not mentally or physically challenged — was allowed to go home with his grandmother, but officials kept Ryan in specialized foster care homes, despite his biological family’s objections. Such homes could better deal with Ryan’s many disabilities, officials said.
When Ryan was an infant, the payment for his day-to-day care – a state-funded stipend of $5,000 a month – could, by law, go to a licensed foster home but not to his relatives. By the time those restrictions were lifted, about six years later, state officials said Ryan had formed a bond with his foster mother and would be harmed if that bond was broken. His grandmother fought for custody, but in 2002 Ryan’s foster mother, Michelle Morris, legally adopted the boy.
Morris cut off contact soon after, saying in court filings and Register interviews at the time that Ryan’s blood relatives didn’t accept his disabilities and were trying to undermine his adoptive family.
His sisters and brother and aunts and grandmother sent Ryan Christmas presents, birthday presents, letters declaring their love and sorrow – but the offerings were never accepted and turned away, his grandmother said.
Until a hearing in a Temecula court, in 2015, the identical twins hadn’t seen each other since they were 8 years old.
For many years, Ryan’s biological family could only glimpse into his life by reading the public files kept on Morris’ foster home. They watched from afar, and worried.
Between 1998 and 2003, while Ryan was living with Morris, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department received five calls involving reports of possible child abuse, rape, sex crimes and lewd conduct at Morris’ home, then in the Tustin foothills, according to call logs. State records showed that in May 2001, a male staff member was allegedly found naked in bed with a female child.
The Sheriff’s Department investigated the allegations, but made no arrests, officials said.
During the same time frame, the Orange County Regional Center – the quasi-public agency that funds services for the disabled with public dollars – also voiced serious concerns about “the quality of care and health and safety of the consumers residing at the Michelle Morris Home,” according to documents provided to the Register.
Morris denied there were any serious problems. She also fought back, suing the center and accusing officials there of slander, defamation and violations of child-abuse reporting laws. Officials wrongly accused Morris of suffering from “Munchhausen-By-Proxy” – a behavior disorder where caretakers exaggerate children’s health problems to gain attention and sympathy – and of subjecting children to unnecessary or inappropriate medical treatment, among other things, Morris’ suit said.
Lawyers for the Regional Center called her suit “convoluted.” But the agency’s insurer ultimately agreed to settle the case and pay Morris $750,000, with no admission of wrongdoing, rather than face a jury trial where disabled children could take the stand. At the time, Morris’ comment was simple: “We are being persecuted.”
Morris also clashed with the Tustin Unified School District, accusing employees there of harassment and abuse in court paperwork. She staged sit-ins, claimed the district “baby-sits” children with special needs, and subsequently opened a state-funded school in her home run by her husband, Larry Kerin.
The state revoked the school’s license three years later. Kerin was “not found fully competent or credible,” administrative law judge Jaime René Román wrote in 2007. Kerin was manipulative, blamed others for the school’s deficiencies and did not shy from threats of litigation to compel others’ actions, Román wrote.
Morris and Kerin had passionate defenders.
Hogan Hilling, an author and father’s rights advocate in Orange who placed his severely disabled son in their care, called them saints and said he would trust them with his life. An administrative law judge overseeing the placement of a teen accused of physical violence and sexually molesting children praised Morris for exemplary service to the disabled.
Ryan’s blood family fumed. Adopting disabled children had become part of the business model for Morris, they argued, claiming that each time Morris adopted one of her foster-care children she opened an additional foster bed as a source of new revenue. That process, they said, essentially doubled her payments from the state, as she received adoption assistance for her legal children in addition to foster-care payments for her foster children.
At its height, Morris had 10 children in her home, with payments of some $50,000 per month for their care, records show.
Morris at that time told the Register she was sick of the harassment in Orange County. She moved her foster home to Murrieta in Riverside County in 2007.
Ryan’s biological family was crushed.
“My only hope is God,” his grandmother Tamara Mukai Mazzei said that year. “I question him. ‘How can this happen?’
“But I should not start questioning God.”
The new $1.57-million, 7,000-square-foot Murrieta house was twice as big as the one in Tustin and sat on more than four acres of scrubby hills. Ryan shared a room with his adoptive brother. There he grew from an awkward ’tween to a young man.
In San Clemente, surrounded by a bustling extended family, Ryan’s identical twin, Ronald, also grew up, missing his brother. “Mentally, emotionally and spiritually – his absence affects me,” Ronald said by email. “Not having contact with him and getting the opportunity to know him affects me. It’s a constant enigma – it’s emotionally walking in the dark.”
Did Ryan feel Ronald’s absence as acutely – or at all? Those were among the questions haunting his biological family.
While Ronald was learning to drive, practicing martial arts and graduating from high school in San Clemente, Ryan was becoming a regular at the Corona house of Morris’ brother, Gregory Morris. It was there that Ryan, then 17, met Sean Spicer, who was 35.
Spicer was the ex-boyfriend of a man who rented a room from Gregory Morris. Spicer installed and serviced automatic doors for a Riverside firm, and stopped by Morris’ place when he had jobs nearby. His email address invoked a Bible verse that speaks to appreciating what you have: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” A graduate of Riverside’s Ramona High School, Spicer seemed to acquaintances to be warm and self-deprecating, joking about taking college classes and computer courses he didn’t understand.
Ryan was soon smitten.
The relationship was Ryan’s idea, not his, Spicer said in a sworn deposition taken as part of the legal guardian battle.
“I was actually one of the last people to find out. … I told Ryan, ‘Not until you’re 18, kid.’ Those were my specific words. My thought there was, first of all, let’s keep this legal; 17 (and) 35 is illegal on so many levels.”
Ryan, however, was impatient, constantly asking, “‘How many days until I turn 18? That’s when I can have my boyfriend,’” Spicer said.
Two important things happened in early 2012.
While the state’s legal responsibility for young Ryan ended when Morris became his legal mother, the state returned to the picture when he turned 18. When disabled children become disabled adults deemed unable to make major decisions about such things as finance and health care, the court appoints conservators to make those decisions for them. In Ryan’s case, Michelle Morris, his mother, and her brother Gregory, stepped into the role of “co-conservators,” and were granted all the powers a parent has over a child: where Ryan would live, what medical treatments he would receive, and whether he could have intimate relationships. His biological family wasn’t notified about conservatorship proceedings, according to court records.
After Ryan reached legal adulthood, Michelle and Gregory Morris allowed Ryan and Spicer to start dating. Spicer was Ryan’s first and only boyfriend, Spicer said at his deposition, and it was Ryan who decided they should get married.
“I only agreed to it after several times of meetings with his teachers and everybody to make sure that – teachers, therapists, parents – to make sure that he understood exactly what we were getting into,” Spicer said.
Asked if he believed Ryan had the capacity to consent to marriage even though his cognitive skills are akin to a kindergartener’s, Spicer said, “Yes, because Ryan knows who he loves.”
An investigator from the Riverside County Public Guardian’s office, however, wasn’t so sure Ryan knew what he was getting into.
Full Article & Source:
Part 2: Twins, divided: Confusion, concern and ‘I do’