MONROE, NC (WBTV) - When Kristy Brooks recently sat down for an interview with WBTV, it was the first time she had been seen in public since she went into hiding in late December 2015.
In the days before her interview with WBTV, Brooks became the subject of a manhunt launched by the Union County Sheriff's Office. The office announced it was looking for Brooks after a judge signed an order directing deputies find her, take her into custody and put her in jail until her daughter was back in the custody of her child's father.
But Brooks said a judge's order to give her child's father full custody is what drove her into hiding in the first place.
"I've taken every legal avenue to protect my daughter and nobody will help," she said. "I have contacted everybody, anybody; written letters, emails. Nobody has done anything."
It's not the first time Brooks has been the subject of a civil contempt order. She was put in jail in late 2015 after running away with her daughter—who is now five years old—in an effort to thwart a joint custody order that required Brooks to share custody with her daughter's father.
Brooks said her child's father has sexually abused her daughter.
These allegations are not new.
Two reports from the Union County Sheriff's Office and a note from a doctor's visit in June 2013 show Brooks reported suspicions that her child's father was sexually abusing his then-18-month-old daughter.
"Child trying to put things in vaginal area and other unusual activities. Mom says that patient tries to stick toys, remote control, etc in or near the vaginal area," a doctor wrote at the time. "She is hitting her head (more over the last week) pulling out her own hair, mom states that when she gets out of the shower, patient has opened up mom's towel and tries to put her mouth on mom's private parts."
Several pages later, the same doctor's note reiterates the allegation of sexual abuse.
"No clinical or physical evidence of sexual abuse; there are some concerning behavior regarding trying to place items in vaginal area and trying to place mouth or kiss mother's underwear area – unusual behavior for child. Current investigation underway per mother's report," the note reads.
Allegations of lax oversight, investigations
But a write-up included in one of two related UCSO investigative files regarding allegations of child sexual abuse against the child's father suggests investigators did little to investigate.
A detective wrote that she brought the child's father to her office to take a polygraph administered by the State Bureau of Investigation but, ultimately, concluded that such a test would not be necessary because there was not an "act" of abuse being alleged.
Outside of calling the child's father to her office for a polygraph before deciding one could not be administered, there is no record in the file obtained by WBTV indicating detectives took any other steps to investigate the claims. A spokesman for the Sheriff's Office refused to provide any more than the front page of the police report for the second, related investigative file.
When WBTV called the child's father to offer him an opportunity to respond to Brooks' accusations as part of this story, he laughed and later told a reporter he would not provide a comment for the story.
A spokesman for the Union County Sheriff's Office refused to make Sheriff Eddie Cathey—or any other employee—available for an interview and did not answer any specific questions posed by WBTV but did provided a written statement. The statement reads in part:
"The Sheriff's Office investigates all matters alleging criminal conduct with the same degree of thoroughness and professionalism. In regards to the matter noted above, this case was thoroughly investigated and no evidence substantiating sexual abuse was found. The alleged victim in this case was examined by medical professionals specifically trained to identify signs of sexual abuse and none were found. Moreover, there were no witnesses to any alleged sexual abuse. In addition, the Cabarrus County Department of Social Services, at the request of Union County DSS, conducted an independent investigation into this matter and found no evidence substantiating sexual abuse."
The Sheriff's Office did not provide any additional details about which medical professional examined Brooks' daughter for signs of sexual abuse or when that exam took place. A record of such an exam was not included in medical records provided to WBTV by Brooks.
When WBTV followed up with a Sheriff's Office spokesman regarding the nature of the DSS investigation involving Cabarrus County DSS, he was unable to provide information such an investigation.
"I am not sure how DSS does their investigations or writes their reports," spokesman Tony Underwood said in an email response to questions seeking to clarify the way in which his office clarified the DSS investigation in which Cabarrus County took part. "They are an agency, separate and apart from the Sheriff's Office."
But a letter closing the investigation into the sexual abuse claims made by Brooks—which claimed the allegations could not be substantiated—was sent on Union County DSS letterhead and signed by former Union County DSS supervisor Wanda Sue Larson.
Larson signed the letter in July 2013. Months later, in November 2013, she was arrested and charged with abusing foster children in her care. She later pleaded guilty to those charges.
A lawsuit filed in November 2016 on behalf of one of Larson's victims alleges Larson used her position as a DSS supervisor to manipulate agency oversight of the foster children under her care.
Neither Larson nor Union County DSS has filed a response to the legal allegations in court.
Custody battle continues
Brooks' contempt order that, if caught, would put her back in jail stems from her violation of a judge's order that her daughter live full time with the father.
A judge first awarded sole custody of Brooks' daughter to the father in December 2015, the same day she and her daughter were last seen.
In June, a judge signed a new custody order further affirming that the father was to have sole custody of his daughter. The order cited, in part, the fact that Brooks had disappeared with her daughter as a reason why she could not be trusted to have custody of her.
"Any good mom would protect their kid and do anything they can," Brooks said, noting she had already been willing to go to jail for doing what she thought was in her daughter's best interest once.
"I'm going to protect my child at all costs and I'm the only person that is going to protect her so I had no other choice," she said.