UPDATE: Mother Arrested on Kidnapping Charge Despite Evidence No Custody Order Exists

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

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the criminal charges of kidnapping and burglary against Brittany  Sheehan we first reported on in November are part of a custody case masquerading as a criminal trial — a custody case in which one party doesn’t have to pay any legal fees.

Since the first story, Sheehan was ordered to appear for an evidentiary/jurisdiction hearing in the Nevada custody case she filed in August 2021, despite the fact that the judge found on October 20 that Nevada had jurisdiction and the California judge declined jurisdiction.

In a highly unusual move, Clark County Judge Dee Smart Butler took over the hearing on a motion to dissolve the temporary protective order, filed by Mr. Manty’s attorneys, from the commissioner who’d heard the original motion for the protective order and combined it with the evidentiary/jurisdiction hearing. Within 30 minutes Butler had dissolved the temporary restraining order, and US Marshals arrested Sheehan on the California warrant. After being held for five days with no bail, a Nevada magistrate set bail at $20,000 and Sheehan was released at 10 pm on December 6. According to her California criminal attorney’s statement in open court on December 13, Sheehan was told that given the circumstances her attorney would simply appear for her December 7 and request a continuance on that hearing.

Unfortunately, the Deputy District Attorney wouldn’t agree and used Sheehan’s absence to argue for and receive a new arrest warrant with $250,000 bail, and a new hearing was set for December 13. (I covered what happened in that hearing here.)

At this morning’s hearing, after statements from the elementary school principal and the investigating detective, and over sworn testimony that there was no custody order in place in Nevada or in Madera County on the date in question and the forceful arguments of her attorney, Sheehan was remanded into custody but with bail set at the statutory amount of $100,000 instead of $250,000. Manty was in the courtroom but declined to make any statement to the Court. He placed his head in his hands as handcuffs were placed on Sheehan’s wrists. As he left the courtroom, he appeared to have tears in his eyes and motioned to a woman who’d arrived with Sheehan that he wanted to talk to her. The woman told RedState that Manty was choked up and said, “I did everything I could to try and get her bail lowered to $25,000.”

Superintendent/acting Principal Dr. Marcy Guthrie gave a statement to the court about the day Sheehan came to the school, leading off with her opinion that “a kidnapping occurred” by Sheehan “accessing the school and ignoring my authority as acting principal that day.” Guthrie further stated:

“That person, who was unknown to the staff because she had never been to the school before, entered the locked campus, took artwork off the door, and exited the school with a child. That was the single most challenging day I’ve had in my 30 years as an educator. I don’t lose kids. That day I lost a kid.”

If one listened only to Guthrie’s comments, it’s reasonable to assume that a stranger unknown to anyone burst onto campus and forcefully abducted a child, and obviously, that’s challenging. But given that one of the first things Guthrie expressed was incredulity that Sheehan wouldn’t submit to her “authority as acting principal,” it seems that’s what Guthrie was really upset about.

Guthrie left out a lot of pertinent issues, namely that the person who came to her school that day was the mother of a student, that the mother had previously corresponded with the school secretary and emailed the secretary a copy of her Nevada drivers license and a copy of an unsigned minute order in the pending Nevada custody case (simply as a means of showing that yes, she is T’s mother and that there is an ongoing court case),  that when Sheehan arrived at the school she presented her identification and filled out and signed a school-provided form for signing her daughter out, and that there were no orders she was aware of preventing Sheehan from signing her daughter out or traveling with her.

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

In fact, as Madera County Detective Babineaux later testified, “there was no court order [for custody] on file in either Las Vegas or Madera County” that day.

Guthrie claimed that when Sheehan arrived at the school on November 4, she placed the school on lockdown, locking all of the classroom doors, but Sheehan walked around the school knocking on doors and saying her daughter’s name until her daughter opened one of the doors, as RedState reported on November 24. She also said she had the entire school shelter in place – having all of their recesses and lunch indoors –  on December 7, when she was “informed that [Sheehan] posted bail and was to appear in court in Madera County,” because she was afraid that Sheehan would show up at the school to again retrieve her daughter. She was traumatized by the episode, she said:

“It was traumatic, knowing that someone could come on campus, access a classroom, and actually leave with a child.”

And if Sheehan wasn’t locked up on $100,000 bail, Guthrie feared what might happen.

“I consider it a serious risk that I won’t have security. I’ll be on eggshells, knowing that at any time she can access the campus.”

Sheehan could have accessed the campus at any time between the first day of school and November 3, and given that there were no court orders in place, she would have had the right to do so. At this point, while the trial is pending, there is a criminal protective order issued prohibiting Sheehan from going on the school campus or speaking to Guthrie, to Justin Manty, or to her daughter, so Guthrie should feel relieved since Sheehan doesn’t have a history of going onto a school campus or taking her daughter anywhere in violation of a court order.

Det. Babineaux then gave a statement to the judge, starting with:

“Hillside Elementary is a locked, fenced-in school. She entered it by going into the office. They had never seen her before.”

So, she entered the office as anyone else would. How is that sinister?

The fact that they hadn’t seen her before is irrelevant. She lives hours away and the child was enrolled in the school only after Manty refused to return her to her mother to attend the school the two had agreed upon in a signed, notarized stipulation document, and against Sheehan’s wishes. And, as noted above, the school had a copy of Sheehan’s Nevada driver’s license for about a month before Sheehan arrived on campus.

Babineaux also admitted that Sheehan had filed for restraining orders against Manty in the past but that they were dismissed by a judge, but didn’t admit that the restraining orders were initially granted and in effect for months before being dismissed. One was dismissed because Sheehan, who was traveling from the northern part of the state for the court hearing, was 15 minutes late, according to Sheehan.

Sheehan’s attorney argued that there had been no showing from the state that Sheehan didn’t have the right to sign her daughter out of school that day, that the state hadn’t shown there were any orders prohibiting that, and Det. Babineaux confirmed that there were no orders in place on November 4. According to the Stanislaus County, CA District Attorney’s office, state law allows Sheehan to do exactly what she did:

When there are no court orders in effect, both parents have equal rights to their child(ren). It is unlawful however for one parent to conceal the child(ren) from the other parent, or for a parent not to provide some form of contact/visitation to the other parent. The exception is if domestic violence is involved and a parent is in fear for their safety or the safety of the child(ren). In this case, a parent may flee with the child(ren) as long as they notify the District Attorney’s Child Abduction Unit within ten days, and file the appropriate paperwork in the Superior Court Clerk’s Office in a reasonable time period.

When there are no Court orders, it is lawful for a parent to allow contact/visitation only on a supervised basis and to not allow the visiting parent to remove the child(ren) from the home where the child(ren) is/are presently residing. If a parent obtains physical custody of a child and there is no concealment, that parent may retain the child until there is a Court order.

Sheehan’s attorney vociferously argued that there were no custody orders in place, that Sheehan has been complaining of domestic violence by Manty for years, and that she exercised her right to pick up her daughter because of her belief that she was being emotionally and physically abused.

After the hearing Justin Manty and Det. Babineaux spoke for at least 10 minutes in the hallway, with Manty asking Babineaux what papers from the criminal case he needed to file in family court to start a case there, and Babineaux advising Manty. Manty then went to the family law section of the courthouse and inquired about the custody case he’d failed to serve Sheehan on, and about filing a new custody case based on the criminal protective order that had just been issued.

A bail review has been set for December 15, but at the time of this writing, RedState has been informed that Sheehan will make bail in the next few hours.

After the hearing ended, a copy of the criminal complaint and Det. Babineaux’s sworn declaration supporting the complaint were again requested from the Madera County Clerk of Court. The clerk’s office personnel advised that those documents should be available by Wednesday. We will continue to follow this case and provide updates as they become available because it is terrifying to think that a power-hungry superintendent could press kidnapping charges against a parent who has the legal right to sign their child out of school simply because they’re upset that the parent didn’t bow down to their “authority” and to ignore state law.

(NOTE: This piece was edited at 12:00 PM PST to note the reason one of Sheehan’s domestic violence protective orders against Justin Manty was dismissed and to correct the spelling of Dr. Marcy Guthrie’s name.)