California School Presses Kidnapping, Burglary Charges Against a Mom Who Legally Signed Her Child Out of School

Brittany Sheehan and her daughter, September 2021. CREDIT: Brittany Sheehan, used with permission.

Brittany Sheehan escaped an abusive relationship and played by the rules regarding custody of her daughter and for protection against domestic violence and abuse. For that, she’s being rewarded with criminal charges for kidnapping and burglary after signing her daughter out of school.

Nevada mom Brittany Sheehan was reluctant to allow her six-year-old daughter, T, to travel to California to visit her father for the summer for multiple reasons, but her biggest fear was that her ex-boyfriend, Justin Manty, wouldn’t return T for the school year. Sheehan had worked to secure admission to a private school for T, and did not want her to attend public schools – especially in California. Once Manty agreed to sign a notarized document agreeing that T would attend school in Nevada, which would necessitate him returning her to Sheehan, she relented.

Both parties signed the agreement, dated May 24, 2021.

The first paragraph of section 5 states:

Justin Manty has agreed to pay costs of private school tuition. Both parents have agreed to the child’s school attendance at American Heritage Academy in Henderson, Nevada, in the absence of any unforeseen circumstances such as non-acceptance to the school.

In an interview with RedState, Sheehan said that T was accepted to the school and an academic testing date was set, but that Manty refused most communications during the summer and failed to have T attend the academic testing. In early August Manty informed her that he had no intention of returning their daughter for school, and within days of that Sheehan filed a custody case in Nevada asking for T’s return. As anyone who has been involved in family law cases knows, getting any type of resolution can take a long time, but the multi-state factor makes it even slower. More than a month later Manty filed a custody case in California but failed to serve Sheehan; on October 20 a California judge deferred jurisdiction to Nevada, but the Nevada court still has a jurisdiction hearing scheduled.

In September and October, Sheehan’s concerns for T’s well-being grew. She’d always been T’s sole caregiver; Manty had a total of 17 visits with T, 15 of them supervised, prior to the summer visitation. It was difficult for T to go so long without seeing her mother, and that was manifesting in her behavior.  Sheehan raised concerns for T’s welfare during the custody jurisdiction hearings and said that T was “often crying for me, hiding from her dad on phone calls.”

In addition, Sheehan knew Manty could be violent. She was a victim of domestic violence through her pregnancy, she says, and eventually escaped with baby T one night when Manty was passed out drunk. (A review of court records shows that Sheehan had filed for two domestic violence restraining orders in 2016, and she has provided multiple photos demonstrating abuse.) His behavior during recent court hearings also caused Sheehan concern:

“He was having emotional roller coasters in court, from yelling with arms raised to breaking down and crying when a judge wanted to order visitation (but didn’t due to the jurisdiction arguments).”

Because of those behaviors, and due to other concerns relayed to her by members of the community in Madera, by early November Sheehan believed T wasn’t safe with Manty any longer:

“I was concerned enough that went to my daughter’s school to pick her up. I’m under no order. I have full parental rights. I exercised those rights in her protection.”

Sheehan had been in contact with T’s school, Hillside Elementary in Madera, California, so she could be listed as T’s mother on school records and contacted by the school if there were any concerns about her. On October 8, 2021, she contacted the school about some concerns and they asked that she send “any legal documentation” regarding T and a copy of her ID for their file, which she did.

Email from Brittany Sheehan to office staff at Hillside Elementary School, Madera CA

As shown in the screenshot of the email, a PDF file was sent as an attachment. RedState has reviewed that attachment and it is the unsigned minute order Sheehan referenced. The minute order makes multiple references to Manty’s criminal and domestic violence history, and although it’s not signed, that would give school administrators a sense that there could be domestic violence issues they should be aware of. The photo attached to the email was a photo of Sheehan’s Nevada driver’s license.

The elementary school administrators might or might not have had access to Manty’s criminal history,  prior to the day Sheehan arrived to sign T out of school, but it is extensive. He is a convicted felon who last got off probation in 2018 (for drug charges).

CREDIT: Mugshots.com
Justin Manty’s Fresno County case history. CREDIT: Screenshot

On Thursday, November 4, Sheehan arrived at the elementary school to sign T out.

“The school knew who I was. I had provided my information to them previously in an email upon request. When I got there they asked for my ID and I presented it. I signed the clipboard as all the other parents with my same exact rights did that day. They said they would be getting her from the classroom.

“As the minutes dragged on, the superintendent appeared all breathless and white and sweaty and panicked— I realized they probably weren’t bringing my daughter. In fact, they were attempting to conceal her from her mother.

“I went towards the building of my child’s classroom and the administrator calls law enforcement, even looking toward me to help her give my description. I reminded her they checked my ID and it’s on file. I proclaimed (loudly) that I had full rights and she had ‘no legal basis’ to do this.

She begins to film me (and soon with my child), which is a FERPA violation of student privacy, to be filmed while a parent is picking them up.

“I got to the classroom door and knocked. It was opened for me. My daughter came running up, excitedly yelling ‘Mommy!’ and jumped into my arms.

“We exited the classroom. My daughter wanted to return for her backpack so again I knocked on the door and it was opened for me. We retrieved the backpack as the students shouted goodbye to us.”

The Superintendent has not replied to RedState’s request for comment.

Sheehan didn’t wait around for law enforcement for two reasons – one, because she believes she was fully within her rights to pick her daughter up from school, especially given the well-founded concerns for her child’s welfare, and two, because she feared what would happen if Manty showed up.

Unfortunately, I didn’t believe that law enforcement were en route to uphold my fundamental rights recognized by the Supreme Court to the care and custody and control of my child. I was also in fear of my domestic violence abuser showing up raging mad and the situation further escalating. So we went to the car, while the superintendent followed and filmed us and left.

It is important to note there was no custody order when I picked my daughter up from school. Per both SCOTUS precedents and CA Uniform Parentage Act, I have full parental rights to care, custody, and control of children as all parents do, unless there is 14th Amendment due process where that would change, likely in the form of a court order.

A short time later, Sheehan was contacted by law enforcement.

When the sheriffs called me I was no longer in their county, I assured them of her safety and we agreed this was a civil matter. He said it could escalate to a criminal matter if I didn’t contact her father to notify him of our whereabouts. I asked, “Does that mean to send him a text when we get home?” He said he couldn’t give legal advice. Since I wasn’t being detained and had a right to travel I went home and texted the father we were home and safe.

On the way home, T told Sheehan about the physical abuse she’d suffered from Manty.

Sheehan was able to obtain an emergency session with a therapist that Sunday, and on November 8 obtained a restraining order prohibiting Manty from contacting either her or T, and full temporary custody of T with no visitation with Manty allowed.

According to Sheehan, Madera County law enforcement officers told Nevada authorities that the custody case had been dissolved (the case is still listed as active on the Clark County website).

“The therapist attempted to report the abuse to authorities. They were more interested in the story-telling from the Madera sheriffs who told them my custody case in Nevada was dissolved and had reported the child missing. It was clear the child wasn’t missing; she was with her mom who was now attempting to report abuse to law enforcement.”

Although the Madera County Sheriff’s Deputy Sheehan spoke with on November 4 agreed with her that this was a civil matter and could only escalate to a criminal matter if she didn’t let Manty know where T was, the next week things changed:

“Over the next days an investigator contacted me from Madera. I informed him of my rights to custody and that I wasn’t guilty of a crime. I informed him of the abuse being alleged and the restraining order. He represented that he wouldn’t have me arrested if I brought my child to him. I told him I didn’t understand the legal basis he had to demand my child or be charged.

“Nevertheless, they have charged me with three felonies and issued an arrest warrant. One for deprivation of custody, which isn’t possible when you have a concurrent right to custody – and I did. One for kidnapping, while it is impossible to kidnap your own child that you have a right to travel with. The last charge is for burglary; I suppose for knocking on my child’s classroom door.”

RedState contacted the Madera County Clerk of Superior Court by phone on November 15 to request the criminal complaint and the sworn declaration in support of the complaint filed in the case on November 8, which were not available on the website. The clerk advised that there were only two ways to get a copy: physically appear at the courthouse (a three-plus hour drive from Los Angeles) to make the request, or fax in a request and they would review it and let us know if it was available and what the cost would be. A request was faxed in that day, but there’s been no reply.

Some readers might be wondering, given Manty’s alleged history of domestic violence and his criminal record, why Sheehan allowed visitation when it wasn’t ordered. She explains:

“The only reason I let my daughter start having out-of-state visitation with her dad was because he had completed felony probation and got his driver’s license back. I was afraid if I didn’t allow visitation I would be deemed the “bad guy” if a lawsuit did ever come up. And, we had a notarized agreement.”

Obviously, the custody case is complex and will need to wind its way through the family court system and potentially criminal courts – and isn’t the business of school administrators. Their business is to educate children and keep them safe while they’re at school. Their business isn’t to play “hide the child” or to refuse to allow a parent with full custody rights to sign their child out of school. As Sheehan said:

“The charges are bizarre, punitive, and legal abuse at the behest of authoritarian public servants.

“They deny parental rights exist.

“I will have to go through a costly criminal court process to have my fundamental rights upheld while attempting to continue to protect my child from the alleged abuse and while continuing the custody battle.

“These public schools are dangerous to liberty, and they displayed that by thinking they can pick and choose whose rights they want to recognize, by concealing a child from a parent, by escalating the situation by calling law enforcement on a parent, by refusing to provide records to a lawful custodian, by filming a student being checked out of school, and by putting their thumb on the scale of a civil case that has nothing to do with their arbitrary opinions.”

Sheehan is scheduled to be arraigned on December 7. The state is seeking $100,000 bail.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can read more about Sheehan’s story here.)