Heidi Barber (right), 32, of Tipton, demonstrates support for U.S. Navy petty officer Matthew Hindes on Friday morning, June 20, 2014 outside Lenawee County Circuit Court in Adrian. (Robert Allen / Detroit Free Press)
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ADRIAN, MICH. — A U.S. Navy sailor could lose custody of his 6-year-old daughter to his ex-wife on Monday because he’s serving on a nuclear-powered submarine somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
A viral social media campaign has drawn attention across the country, from his family’s home in Washington state to the rural Michigan town of Adrian, where the case is scheduled for a hearing Monday morning.
Petty officer Matthew Hindes lives outside Seattle with his daughter, Kaylee, and new wife, Benita-Lynn Caoile Hindes. The biological mother, Angela Hindes, lives in northern Ohio. She lost custody of Kaylee in 2010, after a child abuse and neglect case was filed against her and her then-boyfriend, according to a recent filing by Matthew Hindes in the custody-dispute case.
Last August, Angela Hindes filed for custody through Lenawee County Circuit Court in southern Michigan, where she and Matthew Hindes lived when she filed for divorce in 2009. While the father is serving overseas, Judge Margaret Noe issued an order June 2 for him to appear or “present (the) child” at a hearing scheduled for June 16.
A day after the order was issued, Hindes responded with a letter explaining his overseas military service, and he included a letter from the U.S.S. Michigan’s command staff supporting it. Hindes did everything necessary to comply with the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, providing a 90-day stay in civil court proceedings if his military service keeps him away, said his lawyer, Rebecca Nighbart. Based on that, Nighbart said they expected the hearing would be postponed until his return.
Instead, it was held without him, with a decision postponed until Monday. Matthew Hindes could return from service to find his daughter, Kaylee, living in Ohio, Nighbart said. This has led to a petition on Change.org, a fund to help with associated expenses such as airfare on the GoFundMe website, and support pages on Facebook.
As the outrage spread, it caught the attention of State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. Jones issued a news release Friday announcing he’s drafting legislation to prevent such action against people serving in the military.
“The actions of this judge are a slap in the face to all servicemen and women, who put their lives on the line protecting America,” Jones said in the statement. “If a soldier has full custody of a child, then he or she should retain that custody while serving the nation.”
Meanwhile, petty officer Matthew Hindes’ location is deemed “classified” by the U.S. Navy, Nighbart said. He has served at least since she started representing him in 2009, she said.
“I have no idea where he is,” she said. “I just know he’s active.”
Hindes’ ex-wife, Angela, initially filed for divorce in December 2009. The couple had been married less than three years.
The 2010 allegations, which resulted in the father getting custody of Kaylee, led to a charge of child abuse against Angela Hindes. The Department of Human Services removed Kaylee from her custody, and Matthew Hindes took leave from the Navy to retrieve the then-2-year-old Kaylee. Matthew Hindes says the mother has failed to pay child support multiple times, according to his filings in the custody case.
The criminal case against Angela Hindes was resolved when she agreed to plead no contest to assault. She was given a 10-day jail sentence and probation ending in September 2012, according to court records.
When Angela Hindes filed for custody, the court ordered her to pay required custody-evaluation costs. But after multiple chances, she still hasn’t submitted them, according to Matthew Hindes’ filing.
Angela Hindes, 27, lives in a mobile home in northern Ohio with her infant son. Her latest filing in the case was in April, when she asked the judge to decrease her child-support payments for Kaylee because she lost her job and had a baby.
Angela Hindes filed the request herself, because her lawyer, Denis Jodis, withdrew from the case about a week earlier, citing a “breakdown of relationship” and claiming she owed him $2,813.87 and her last payment was $20 in December, according to his request to withdraw. Jodis declined to comment on the case Friday.
When the Free Press asked Angela Hindes about the case Friday, she began to cry, said to leave the property and called police.
Since October, the mother has seen her daughter once, though the standing custody arrangement allows for monthly visits.
Tom Knapp, 57, said he’s lived next door to Angela Hindes since December. He said she’s a good neighbor and deserves to have her daughter back.
“If the father’s not going to be available, then the mother should be there to raise the baby girl,” he said, adding that his neighbor is “very upset.”
Since word of the case began spreading online, he said she’s received threats.
“It’s a sad situation,” Knapp said.
Roughly an hour’s drive away, at the courthouse in Adrian on Friday, a few people appeared on the sidewalk supporting Matthew Hindes.
Heidi Barber, 32, of Tipton, waved a sign calling for “Justice.” Barber said she signed an online petition in support of him and came out to demonstrate.
“Honestly, I think it’s a crock,” Barber said. “How does she expect the sailor to get back here in time? He’s deployed. He can’t be back here ... Nobody should have their child taken away because they’re serving us — our freedom.”
State Sen. Jones said in the statement that service members shouldn’t fear losing their rights while protecting the rights of all Americans.
“The 6-year-old girl lives happily with her father and stepmother in Washington, yet a judge is ordering that she be placed with a mother who was previously ruled unfit, because the father’s ‘crime’ was serving America,” Jones said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Noe could decide at the 9 a.m. Monday court hearing whether that happens, as there were no orders issued by Friday morning to indicate Noe was sending the girl back to her mother.