From time to time, Suffer the Little Children will feature a story from the less recent past. Years may have gone by, but these children still deserve to be remembered and their stories told. These posts can be found under the “Forget Me Not” tag.
Today’s Forget Me Not story is one I covered in two parts over episodes 47 and 48 of Suffer the Little Children Podcast. Episode 47 was released last week, and in episode 48, which came out today, you will hear my conversation with this sweet little girl’s grandma, Tammy Risen, who continues to fight to save other children like the granddaughter she called “Cupcake.”
This is a story of a mother who can only be described as evil, of domestic partner and child abuse, of ineptitude and corruption in the systems designed to protect children, and of a family who first fought to save Avery’s life, then fought for justice for her, and now fight to protect other children like her.
Avery’s guardian ad litem at one point said in a court filing, “It is generally best for a child to be raised by a parent.”
I say, Says who?
That’s just one of a million questions I have after immersing myself for the past two weeks in Avery’s story. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that this little girl’s story is the most egregious example I’ve ever encountered of ineptitude or corruption in CPS and the family court system… and after some of the cases I’ve covered, I think you all know that’s saying a lot.
This is the tragic, infuriating, preventable story of Averylee Hobbs.
Jamielee Michael Hobbs was born on July 11, 1991 to parents Tim and Tammy Hobbs. Jamie was eight years old when his parents divorced in July of 1999. In August of 2007, Tammy married her current husband, Jonathan Risen, who has been a steady, dependable force in the lives of Tammy and her kids, Jamie and his older sister Angie, ever since.
In May of 2009, when he was almost 18, Jamie met 17-year-old Britney Marie Roll, who was born on January 22, 1992 to Jerry and Sandra Roll. The first time Jamie brought the scrawny girl with long, stringy brown hair home to meet his mother, Tammy, one of Britney’s first actions was to rummage through Tammy’s cupboards, after which she scavenged a drink, dug in her purse for a baggy and a prescription bottle, and popped a handful of pills, right in front of her future mother-in-law.
Tammy later said of Britney in her book, “She was going to bring trouble into my home with a capital ‘T.’” Little did Tammy know at the time just how large the font on that capital ‘T’ would be.
Young Jamie, who had been awarded a sum of money due to a car accident and, unfortunately, wasn’t shy about telling people so, was quickly suckered in by Britney’s charms. The very first weekend, after a middle-school graduation party for Britney’s younger sister, Britney coerced Jamie into having unprotected sex, during which she wanted him to spank her, which made him uncomfortable. Afterward, Britney told him she felt she had conceived a child from their union.
Regardless of her obvious issues, guileless Jamie was infatuated with Britney, who he began seeing on a regular basis. Throughout the summer, Britney took it upon herself to spend much of Jamie’s newfound money. By August, Jamie was broke, at which point Britney dropped him like a hot potato.
Unfortunately, by that time, Britney was pregnant, and she and her family insisted the baby was Jamie’s — although, by Tammy’s calculations, based on Britney’s gestation, the child had to have been conceived prior to her son meeting Britney. Regardless, Britney continued hitting Jamie up for money, which she spent on herself.
In March of 2010, Britney told Jamie that she had given birth to the baby, but due to complications during childbirth, their daughter had died. Jamie, of course, was devastated. However, Tammy was suspicious of the funeral that was evidently scheduled for the very next day, which Britney’s mother, Sandra Mountain, refused to allow Jamie’s family to attend. Tammy, who is truly the hero of this story, quickly discovered photos of the supposedly-dead baby on the hospital website, proving the little girl was alive and well. Because she is a minor, I won’t use her real name; as Tammy did in her book, I’m going to call Avery’s older sister Katie.
Because she’s a lot more evil than she is intelligent, Britney had also left her Photobucket account logged in on Tammy’s computer, so Tammy found photos of Britney and her family holding Katie, who was very much alive. One of the photos depicted Britney and a man posing with Katie, and the caption read, “Daddy’s little girl.”
Upon finding out about Britney’s lies, Jamie contacted her and read her the riot act. Not long after that call, Sandra called Tammy and told her that DNA testing had proven another man as the father, although nowhere near enough time had elapsed for DNA testing to have been completed and the results returned. Britney claimed the real father, a close friend of her stepbrother, had raped her, which led to the pregnancy. Why, then, would she happily pose with him for smiling photos in the hospital?
By this time, Britney’s toxic nature had made itself more than obvious, but none of Jamie’s family could have guessed just how much damage she would eventually cause them.
By October of 2010, Jamie was once again seeing Britney, who told him she had lied about him not being Katie’s father, saying her mother, Sandra, was responsible for orchestrating the lie about the baby’s death when she found out Jamie had no money left. Britney said that Sandra had schemed to obtain money from the other young man by accusing him of raping Britney when she was underage, which, the twisted Roll family thought, would rake in some bucks to help them raise Katie.
Saying that Sandra was kicking Britney out of her house, Jamie begged Tammy to allow Britney and Katie to move in with them. Though skeptical, Tammy simply couldn’t turn away an innocent baby. Before she had even voiced her decision, Sandra, described as a “frizzy-haired troll,” dropped Britney and the baby off at the Risens’ house, depositing their belongings in the yard before unceremoniously driving away.
Immediately, the household began falling into disrepair. Both Tammy and Jon worked full-time, coming home to find Britney and Jamie sitting idle, surrounded by dirty diapers and used dishes. Bottles of curdled milk lay about, sometimes propped in Katie’s car seat with the baby who was confined in the seat for hours at a time. In her book, Tammy said, “Katie would bleed from wounds under her chin where that bottle lay.”
When Britney ultimately found a job, she left Katie in the care of Jamie’s older sister, Angie, during the day and in Tammy’s care after she got off work in the evenings. Despite working, Britney didn’t contribute a penny toward her daughter’s care, so Tammy and Jon paid for all of the household expenses as well as diapers, formula, and other baby necessities.
It soon came out, via a conversation between Jamie, Tammy, and Britney’s brother, that Britney had been telling lies on top of lies. Her brother insisted she had consensual sex with the other young man who may or may not be Katie’s father, and he also informed Jamie and Tammy that Britney was not kicked out and had left Sandra’s home by her own choice. On top of that, he told Jamie that Britney dated multiple men at any given time, and any number of them could be Katie’s biological father.
Nonetheless, Katie’s safety was paramount, so she and her mother continued living with the Risens. At Thanksgiving dinner in 2010, Britney falsely claimed she was pregnant again, which led to Tammy lecturing her about tracking her periods and using protection to avoid unintended pregnancies. After dinner, when the guests had left, Jamie was relaxing on the floor when Britney flew into a rage and, in front of Tammy, Jon, Angie, and Katie, kicked Jamie, breaking several of his ribs. Shocked, Tammy and Jon took Jamie to the hospital, along with Britney, who had jumped in the car at the last minute, but Jamie refused to tell medical staff that his girlfriend had assaulted him, instead going along with Britney’s story that he fell down the stairs.
Shortly after that incident, Britney began claiming Jamie was abusive to her, telling outlandish stories of abuse that never seemed to leave a mark to prove their veracity. At one point, when Jamie, Britney, and Angie were in the car, Jamie reclined his seat, accidentally bumping Britney’s nose, and she demanded to go to the hospital, telling everyone within earshot — as well as her boss and her mother over the phone — that Jamie had hit her and broken her nose, although a doctor determined her nose was completely uninjured.
By December of 2010, Britney again claimed she was pregnant, and she texted Angie questions about how to perform a self-abortion. Tammy sat Britney down and explained how unsafe that was, explaining about abortion clinics and adoption agencies, but Britney became offended at the suggestion that she “give away” her child, which she used as an excuse to transfer Katie’s care to Britney’s mother, Sandra.
Jamie and Britney planned to marry on Britney’s birthday, January 22, 2011, so Britney insisted on having a birthday party prior to the wedding, both of which Tammy and Jon paid for. When Tammy gave Britney a few birthday gifts for the unborn baby, Britney was unhappy. At dinner, she suddenly declared she hated the spaghetti Tammy had made for her. Nonetheless, the family continued with the meal, which further incensed Britney. In retaliation, she snatched up a paperweight and smashed Jamie in the skull with it right in front of his family. Jamie slumped at the table, his eyes glazing over, and Tammy managed to wrestle the paperweight out of Britney’s hands before she could complete a second swing at Jamie.
On the way to the hospital with Tammy and Jon, Jamie groggily admitted that Britney’s erratic, abusive behavior occurred more frequently than they even saw, but he still refused to file a police report, saying pregnancy hormones were at fault. He was ashamed to admit that, as a man, he was being abused by a woman.
Despite the paperweight incident, Jamie married Britney on January 22, 2011.
Throughout the first few months of 2011, Britney continued abusing Jamie, who suffered a broken leg and other injuries. His stepfather, Jon, intervened more than once when Britney attempted to wrap her hands around Jamie’s throat, and at one point, Jon also prevented Britney from pushing Jamie and his broken leg down the stairs.
One evening, Britney caused Jamie to total his new car when she tried to strangle him after he picked her up from work a few minutes late. While recounting this tale to Tammy, Britney picked up Katie, who was sleeping in Tammy’s room, and tossed her into the air, causing the baby to fall about four feet onto Tammy’s bed. It was then that Tammy told Britney to pack her shit and get out. Britney responded that she hated Jamie and Katie simply because Tammy loved them.
Jamie and Britney subsequently moved in with Jamie’s paternal grandparents, Papa John and Grandma Lee Hobbs. Before long, due to Britney’s multiple affairs, including one that evidently caused Jamie to contract an STI, Jamie told Britney he was leaving her. The next day, a caseworker from the Hamilton County Department of Jobs and Family Services, or JFS, contacted Angie to ask questions about bruising that Sandra had reported seeing on Katie, which Britney claimed were Jamie’s doing.
See, I warned you guys; this woman is literally the embodiment of evil.
Grandma Lee provided a clear explanation for Katie’s bruises, however, when she recounted watching Britney, incensed from an argument with Jamie, yanking Katie out of bed by one arm and dragging her to her room. The next morning, Grandma Lee said, she saw bruises on the toddler.
Britney announced that she was signing over custody of Katie to Sandra, and even though Jamie was at that point Katie’s legal father, JFS gave him no say whatsoever in the matter. After that, Jamie was not allowed to see Katie anymore; he requested visitation multiple times, but Sandra never returned his calls.
The turmoil continued into the summer of 2011. Jamie and Britney were by then living in a rental home in a dangerous area of Cincinnati along with a friend Tammy called “Arny” in her book. Britney somehow scraped together the money to buy a fixer-upper car that she expected Jamie to get running. Jamie, without the funds to buy the parts necessary to make the car run, told Britney he couldn’t do it, at which point Britney concocted a scheme to profit from the junker.
One morning in June, Jamie called Tammy at 4:00 AM, telling her his car was on fire. A fireman at the scene told Tammy there were multiple arsons in the area. Tammy overheard Britney and Arny discussing how the insurance company would pay out for a running vehicle, which, unbeknownst to the insurance company, was not the case with Britney’s rust-bucket. Nonetheless, the insurance company paid out, and Britney received a tidy profit of $2,500.
Jamie explained to his mother that Arny had set fire to the car at Britney’s bidding, and his job in the scheme was to report the fire to the insurance company, because he did not technically participate and said Britney hadn’t told him the full story.
Less than a month later, Jamie and Arny were summoned to the police station, where an investigator told them they had Britney on tape stating that she was innocent, that Arny had started the fire, and that Jamie was involved in the reporting. Neither Jamie nor Arny wanted to implicate Britney, so the two young men were arrested for fraud, arson, and theft. Tammy told investigators that Britney had orchestrated the scam, but without Jamie and Arny’s admission as such, Britney could not be prosecuted.
While Jamie awaited trial on his charges, he lived apart from Britney, who, on September 22, 2011, gave birth to a tiny, beautiful, healthy, and perfect baby girl named Averylee Delia Hobbs.
Jamie and Britney reunited shortly after Avery’s birth, moving back in with Papa John and Grandma Lee at the Taylor Creek Condominiums and remarrying in October of 2011 at the courthouse after finding out their original marriage was void due to a technicality.
On October 18, 2011, Jamie finished his late-night shift at a local nightclub and returned home, going straight to bed. At that point, Britney had been caring for Avery for an entire seven hours, and she was pissed that Jamie had the audacity to go to bed. Grandma Lee later recounted that when Britney closed herself and Avery into the bathroom, ostensibly giving the baby a bath, she heard a few loud thumps, followed by Avery screaming. Britney ran out of the bathroom with a bath towel around Avery’s head, leaving behind a bone-dry bathtub, and kicked Jamie awake, telling him she had accidentally dropped Avery into a tub full of water. The baby herself, as well as the bathtub, were dry.
Lee recalled that Jamie and Britney left the home to buy nighttime acetaminophen for the baby, and when they returned, Jamie saw Avery’s swollen head and insisted on taking his daughter to the hospital, afraid the drugs Britney wanted to give Avery might kill her.
Jamie called Tammy from the hospital, and Tammy arrived in time to hear the diagnosis: at less than a month old, Avery’s skull was fractured, and she had also suffered several limb fractures. She was rushed to the nearest children’s hospital, where a doctor confirmed that Avery had “a linear skull fracture plus fractures to her tibia and her ulna.”
Britney tried to explain away her daughter’s injuries by saying a dog might have jumped on her or Papa John may have dropped her, but the hospital social worker was unmoved. Avery was admitted to the hospital overnight, but the next day, Tammy and Jon took guardianship of their tiny infant granddaughter.
Jamie still believed that Avery’s injuries were the result of an accident, as his wife claimed, but police felt otherwise, especially after Britney failed a polygraph test. Within days, Britney was charged with child endangerment and released to await trial, during which time, a JFS worker explained, she and Jamie were allowed unlimited visits with Avery at Tammy’s house, but they had to leave when Tammy was asleep. Jamie, for some reason, was ordered to take a JFS parenting program, even though by all accounts, he was sleeping when Avery was injured. When Jamie picked Britney up from jail and brought her back to Tammy’s house, Britney immediately ignored her injured infant until she picked Avery up and threw her in the air, catching her. Remember, this four-week-old baby had a fractured skull at the time!
Tammy made Jamie and Britney leave after that, but Britney warned her about going against CPS’s orders. That statement would prove prophetic.
In November of 2011, Jamie pleaded guilty to insurance fraud. His arson charge was dismissed, and he was sentenced to community service. He was also ordered to make restitution to the Cincinnati Fire Department and the insurance company, as well as to pay probation fees and court costs and to obtain his G.E.D., as he had not graduated from high school.
In December of 2011, Tammy and Jon first met another woman they had no idea would wreak havoc on not only their lives, but also on Avery’s. This woman, whose name was Stephanie, according to documents from the case displayed by major news stations, would from that moment forward act as Avery’s JFS caseworker.
From the time they took guardianship of Avery through early 2012, Tammy and Jon bent over backwards to complete every task assigned by Stephanie and to follow her instructions to the letter. Throughout those months, Avery bonded with her grandparents, especially Jon, who would become known to Avery as Pappy, while she would come to call Tammy Mama.
At a meeting in January of 2012 with multiple family members and representatives from JFS, including Stephanie, all four of Avery’s biological grandparents offered to take custody of the baby to avoid her being sent to foster care. Stephanie told the group that CPS could either take charge of Avery, or a grandparent could take permanent guardianship. After some discussion, it was decided that Tammy would take custody of Avery, and Tammy, Britney, and Jamie all signed a custodial agreement. Stephanie said she would file the motion in court the next morning, telling Tammy they did not need to appear with her.
The next day, however, Stephanie showed up at Tammy’s house and informed Tammy and Jon that she had filed on the State’s behalf for custody of Avery due to the fact, she said, that no family member wanted to take custody.
I’ll quote directly from Tammy’s book as to their response, which mine echoes: “What?!”
No matter what they said and regardless of the agreement Tammy, Jamie, and Britney had all signed the day before, Stephanie smugly reiterated that CPS was now legally in charge of Avery Hobbs.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as you’ll soon read, in regard to JFS and its state-funded fuckery.
Tammy and Jon were appointed Avery’s guardians by kinship, so they had to jump through every hoop set in front of them by JFS, pay for all of Avery’s expenses, take her to every medical appointment and parental visit, and sign an agreement never to use physical discipline.
Too bad Britney never had to sign that agreement.
A criminal complaint filed in Hamilton County Municipal Court stated that Britney had confessed to causing Avery’s skull fracture and other injuries in October of 2011. When Britney subsequently underwent a psychological evaluation, she reportedly told a therapist, “I really don’t know what happened.”
Ultimately, in February of 2012, Britney changed her plea from not guilty to guilty. Her sentencing was set to take place on April 17.
During this time, Britney never sought out visitation with Avery. When Jamie came to his mom’s house to visit his daughter, Britney had the gall to sit in the car and wait for him.
By this time, Jamie’s sister, Angie, and her fiance, Greg Williams, had welcomed their first child into the world, a little girl I’ll call “Lou.” Lou was only four months younger than Avery, so the girls shared a close bond and would eventually consider themselves best friends.
When the day of Britney’s sentencing arrived, Tammy recounted in her book, she tried to give Britney a pep talk, which evidently left the little psycho with less than a warm, fuzzy feeling. As Tammy wrote, Britney “grabbed her puppy that was at her feet and slammed him to the concrete. For a moment, Jamie and I thought the dog was dead, but the little guy shook it off. Jamie scooped up the animal, asking [Britney] what was wrong with her? [Britney] just shrugged her shoulders and got into my car.”
Judge Robert Ruehlman sentenced Britney to the maximum allowed through her plea agreement, which was six months in prison. Before she was carted off in handcuffs, the judge told Britney he never wanted to see her in his courtroom again. Little did he know he’d be seeing her on far serious charges several years later.
In August of 2012, Jamie was caring for his girlfriend’s infant daughter, who had recently incurred a head injury when she fell off the bed while in her mother’s care. While he babysat, Jamie called Tammy to ask if he could give the vomiting baby something to settle her stomach. During the call, Jamie heard a loud noise and disconnected the call with his mother to investigate. He called Tammy back shortly afterward, telling her the baby had fallen out of her bassinet and that he had called an ambulance to have her checked out at the hospital.
Luckily, the baby was relatively uninjured, other than being a little shaken up from her two falls.
JFS and police questioned Jamie, who admitted he knew better than to place an infant old enough to crawl inside a bassinet, owning up to his responsibility for the baby’s fall but insisting it had been an accident. During a formal interview with police the following day, Jamie told them of his lack of involvement in both Katie’s and Avery’s prior injuries, explaining how he was either not present or asleep when the injuries occurred, and repeated his story about his girlfriend’s baby falling from the bassinet, an accident for which he felt tremendously guilty.
For the record, Jamie has never been charged with any offense relating to child abuse, either before or since. Nonetheless, in the eyes of JFS, Jamie, by virtue of being the common denominator among all three children, was a child beater, and at that point, the right to visit Avery was stripped from him. Britney was also granted a restraining order against him upon the grounds that he was abusive to her, as well.
In August of 2012, Britney submitted a motion requesting an early release from prison. In the document, she admitted to causing Avery’s skull fracture, but she insisted it was not intentional. Her motion read in part, “I never intended for anything to happen to my daughter, it definitely wasn’t intentional. In all honesty it was a ‘freak’ accident and the injury to my child alone is quite a punishment…” She complained about the “lifelong criminals and addicts in prison” and said “honestly I am concerned about the negative influence they may make on me.”
Laying it on thick, she added “…all young children should be able to bond emotionally with their mother and while I am in prison that is definitely not possible. It is a major hardship on my family and mostly on me; being away from my children is a severe punishment in itself.”
Fortunately, Judge Ruehlman, another hero in the story, had the good sense to deny the motion. Britney would serve her full sentence.
Despite the constant pressure of JFS and its demands on them as guardians, Tammy and Jon delighted in caring for their precious granddaughter. Tammy described her fondly: “She was so beautiful with huge brown eyes and a hardy giggle. Even at ten months, I had her saying a few words such as no, yum-yum, and Dada. It was a treasured time for us. She was the spitting image of Jamie, and we loved her dearly.”
During one visit to the Risens’ home by caseworker Stephanie, Avery and her cousin, Lou, played together in a playpen while the adults talked. At one point during the visit, Avery picked up a plastic baby rattle and knocked Lou in the head with it. Of course, a baby hitting another baby in the head with a little plastic toy caused absolutely zero damage, but Stephanie gleefully scribbled in her notes that a child was hurt in Tammy’s care. The woman was hell bent on proving that everyone in Avery’s life was an unfit caregiver other than the baby’s mother, Britney Roll, who still sat in prison for fracturing her own daughter’s skull. It boggles the mind.
All along, Tammy and Jon told Stephanie about their intention to file for permanent custody of Avery, to which Stephanie initially responded that any such proposal would not be considered until Britney was convicted, changing her tune after the fact and saying they couldn’t file a custody motion until after Britney was released from prison. Stephanie later added the caveat that Britney would have six additional months outside of prison to prove herself a fit parent before any motion for custody would be considered. The target was always moving, and the family never got a straight answer from Stephanie or JFS except when they requested a new social worker, which Stephanie’s supervisor told them was impossible due to understaffing.
While Avery was in the Risens’ care, they were forced to abide by the rules set for them by JFS, which were largely governed by Britney’s wishes. Despite being convicted of her daughter’s abuse, Britney still had parental rights, which, you might recall, had been stripped from Jamie despite his never being convicted of anything close to harming a child. Just wanted to put that out there again. Basically, the way it worked was like this: Britney would snap her fingers, caseworker Stephanie would bark the order to jump, and Tammy and Jon had no choice but to ask “how high?”
In October of 2012, Britney was released after completing her prison sentence and moved in with her mother, Sandra Mountain. She immediately apologized to Jamie for bending the truth about his alleged abuse of her and the girls and somehow managed to convince him to support her financially until she could get back on her feet.
After Britney’s release, Tammy and Jon filed for custody at the recommendation of their attorney. Jamie’s father, Tim Hobbs, and his fiancee, Jackie Davis-Stephen, who had by then been granted overnight visits several times monthly, also filed for custody, as did Britney’s mother, Sandra.
At the same time, another custody battle was ongoing for Avery’s half-sister, Katie. In that case, Sandra claimed to the court that her daughter was a danger to Katie. However, in Avery’s case, Sandra advocated for Britney to regain custody of one-year-old Avery. JFS claimed the trials were separate issues and would not allow Katie’s case to be brought up as part of Avery’s — that is, unless it pertained to Jamie’s alleged involvement in both girls’ injuries.
While the custody battle dragged on, Britney was granted visitation with Avery, which increased as time went on. Jamie, however, was still not allowed to see the baby, despite completing their required parenting classes. Within weeks of her release from prison, Britney was granted unsupervised visitation with Avery, who returned from these visits “upset, hungry, and wet,” according to Tammy’s book. At this point, Britney was essentially a stranger to this poor little girl.
On top of these visitations with her biological mother, Avery was also shuttled back and forth to more than overnight visits per month with multiple relatives per JFS’s orders. A child without agency involvement doesn’t spend more than ten nights a month at their various grandparents’ houses, especially at the age of one, but JFS, particularly Stephanie, saw no issue whatsoever in constantly uprooting this little girl who desperately needed consistency in her life.
I want to stress at this point that I can in no way include all the mind-boggling details of the Risens’ dealings with JFS in a single blog post, and for all of those details and much more, I highly recommend you read Tammy Risen’s book, In the Best Interest of a Child, which is available on Amazon as a Kindle book. You can download the free Kindle app to your phone or PC. I actually did both, because I couldn’t put this book down whether I was sitting at my computer or anywhere else in the house.
At Christmas of 2012, Jamie was unable to celebrate with his family, because he was still not allowed to see his daughter. Instead, he left for Avery a massive teddy bear, along with a letter that read:
“I am sending you a giant teddy named Daddy Bear. I want you to hug him every time you miss me or feel scared. If you hug him tightly, I will feel your embrace and be with yo8u. To protect and guard you. You are my little girl, and I love you now and forever.
Avery cherished Daddy Bear, and each night, she would lay in bed, playing with the bear’s bow until she fell asleep. Less than four years later, she would be buried with that bear.
On New Year’s Eve of 2012, caseworker Stephanie called Tammy from her private cell phone, which Stephanie would often do if she had something to discuss that she didn’t want documented. On this call, Stephanie informed Tammy that she was pushing for immediate reunification, which included sending Avery for multiple overnight stays at Sandra’s house, where Britney could visit during the day while her mother supervised the visits. Tammy argued that the court nor Avery’s guardian ad litem had planned to rush reunification this way, but Stephanie, for whatever reason, insisted it was going to happen.
As most of you probably know already, it’s generally the goal of child protective service agencies to reunify a child with her biological parent whenever possible, even to the child’s detriment. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve covered in which reunifying a family has led to a child’s death at the hands of neglectful or abusive parents. AJ Freund and Dylan Groves immediately come to mind, but there have been plenty of others, too. I can’t tell you how strongly I feel about this, and I would imagine most people with working brains agree: reunification should only be considered when it is truly in the child’s best interest.
In this case, Avery’s mother had already been convicted of fracturing her infant’s skull. She changed her story about how that happened at least three times. As you’ll soon hear, countless family members, as well as medical and day care professionals, reported that Avery was being abused in her mother’s care, but this was all ignored in favor of the coveted reunification.
In Hamilton County, Ohio, the reunification process required supervised visitations, bonding therapy, parenting classes, and other steps to complete before a child could be returned to a biological parent. Britney was never required to complete any kind of drug test, therapy, or even an anger management class after being convicted of breaking her daughter’s skull. Conversely, Jamie Hobbs, who was never convicted of any child abuse offense, had to submit to all three. Britney merely had to complete the parenting class that Jamie also had to take. She was also offered admission into an abuse victims’ group, an offer Jamie never received despite medical records showing his various injuries over the years.
Yes, I’m serious. Don’t pull all your hair out yet. It gets so much worse.
The reunification process began with unsupervised visits between Britney and Avery in a public place. Avery returned from these visits cranky, hungry, and dirty. When Tammy mentioned this to Stephanie, she was accused of trying to cause problems for Britney.
Tammy wrote of an integrated visitation that took place during this time, consisting of Avery’s guardian ad litem, who she called Melissa, as well as Sandra, Britney, Katie, Avery, and Tammy. Katie, who was nearly four by that time, was still in diapers, while Avery, at one and a half, was potty trained. During the visit, Katie confided in Tammy that she wasn’t allowed to wear clothes at home, even though she didn’t like to be naked. Britney interjected, defensively explaining that she was potty training Katie, so if the girl was naked, Britney would be able to see that she had an accident. Also, Britney explained, this way, she didn’t have to wash as much laundry.
Never mind the fact that potty training a toddler this way means she’d be leaving little puddles and piles everywhere she went, but apparently, that didn’t concern Britney.
During that visit, Britney took her daughters to play on some nearby playground equipment, where she concentrated on Katie while Avery took a header onto the concrete from about five feet in the air. The guardian ad litem, Melissa, merely shrugged, saying that Britney was new to being a mother. (Remember, she had a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter at that point!)
After that visit, Sandra was approved for overnight visits with Avery, during which Britney would not be present. Within the first few hours of the very first visit, Sandra texted Tammy and Jon, saying Avery had fallen and bumped her head on the edge of the table… three times, in the same spot. The photo that accompanied the message, which, Sandra later testified, was taken by Britney, who wasn’t even supposed to be there, showed Avery with a massive goose egg, at least an inch high, on her forehead.
Tammy immediately contacted Stephanie, the caseworker, letting her know about the injury and asking if she could take Avery for an x-ray, to which Stephanie replied that she had already asked Britney and been told no. Therefore, Tammy and Jon, who, as guardians, were responsible for all of Avery’s physical and medical care, could not take their granddaughter to have her head injury assessed by a medical provider, because the mother who had previously fractured the same little girl’s skull said so.
After her visits at Sandra’s house, Avery regularly began returning home to Tammy and Jon’s looking, Tammy wrote, “like a battered pinata.” No matter how many times they reported the injuries to Stephanie, the allegations were regularly dismissed. At a court hearing in February of 2013, Stephanie announced to the court that in her opinion, because Tammy and Jon could not conceive children, they were trying to steal Britney’s baby. She conveniently seemed to ignore the fact that Tammy already had two grown children of her own and had certainly not intended to start over with a newborn in her 40’s.
After another visit with Sandra and Britney in March, Avery returned bearing multiple injuries, including another forehead welt from that mean ol’ table, a two-inch double laceration on her scalp nearby, and small, round, cigarette-like burns on her ankle and the bottom of her foot. Fearing their concerns would once again be ignored by the caseworker, Tammy sent photos of these injuries to two other JFS workers. Within an hour, Stephanie herself called Tammy from Sandra’s house, requesting an in-person interview.
This so-called interview consisted of accusations from Stephanie that Tammy was trying to sabotage Britney’s chances of regaining custody of her daughter, as well as a warning to back off lest Avery be placed in an even less savory situation. Also during the interview, Stephanie made excuses for Avery’s injuries, saying they were caused by a table and the sidewalk and that the marks on Avery’s feet weren’t burns; they were bug bites.
Avery began having nightmares after that incident. She was only about one and a half at that point, but she knew enough to vocalize to her grandparents, “Mommy bad.”
Whenever Tammy or Jon picked up Avery at Sandra’s house after visitation, Avery and Katie were unfailingly naked. At least three times, Avery suffered severe sunburns, at least one of which was severe enough to turn the little girl’s urine red.
By mid-2013, Tammy and Jon were explicitly forbidden to take Avery to any doctor or medical facility without Britney’s permission and attendance. By then, Avery’s guardian ad litem, Melissa, had removed herself from the case, and her replacement, Julie Pedersen, would prove the perfect addition to Britney’s team of flying monkeys who excused her misdeeds and cheerfully swallowed the endless bullshit she expelled.
Julie entered the case like a bat out of hell, insisting during their very first meeting that Tammy’s inability to get along with Britney and Sandra was the problem and that Tammy herself was the obstacle standing in the way of darling, pious Britney regaining custody of Avery.
As the custody matter dragged on and on, Tammy and Jon took photos of the various injuries Avery sported after nearly every visit with her mother. How often did these injuries occur, a journalist later asked Jon?
His response: “Every visitation.”
During this time, little Avery suffered a veritable laundry list of injuries during visitation with her mother, including:
- Several severe sunburns
- Consistent pattern bruising to the legs
- Round, cigarette-like burns
- Fingertip and cluster bruises
- Bruises between the buttocks
- Human bite marks on the chest, thighs, and genitals
- Bruises on the labia that Avery explained was caused by Mommy’s “Tickle Thumb”
JFS swept any and all allegations under the rug, claiming the injuries were caused by dogs, the siblings playing doctor, falls, bug bites, and, in the case of the bruising to Avery’s genitals, an inexperienced mother trying to clean her child after using the potty. None of the injuries was examined by a medical professional.
During a visit by Stephanie to the Risens’ home in mid-2013, Stephanie asked Tammy to leave the room so she could speak with little Avery alone. From the next room, Tammy could hear the entire interrogation, during which Stephanie asked the baby how she got so many boo-boos, to which Avery responded with, “Mommy hit.” When Stephanie handed the baby a doll to show her how Mommy hit, Avery slapped her dolly over and over, telling the social worker “Mommy bad” and “no like Mommy.”
What was the response from this woman who was trained as a social worker and sanctioned by the state of Ohio to act in the best interest of the child? Stephanie told twenty-month-old Avery that she was lying and asked the baby, “Does your Mama make you say these things?”
Remember, Avery called her grandmother, Tammy, “Mama.”
Avery answered Stephanie’s question with an emphatic no, repeating the answer each time the social worker asked the same question. After calling Tammy back into the room, Stephanie declared that she knew Tammy was coaching Avery to make these accusations against her mother and suggested that Tammy was the person injuring the baby to make Britney look bad.
When Tammy reported the incident to Stephanie’s supervisor, the woman merely told her that Stephanie was doing her job.
Imagine the very life of a child was in the hands of someone who was just… doing a job.
A daycare provider made calls to Hamilton’s child abuse hotline, 241-kids, to report injuries she witnessed after Avery spent the weekend with Britney. The daycare provider, Ms. Kim, also reported that when Britney picked Avery up from school, Avery hid behind Ms. Kim’s legs, displaying obvious fear.
At a doctor’s appointment that happened to fall on Avery’s second birthday, the doctor noted bruises on Avery’s forehead and between her buttocks, the latter appearing as part of a handprint. Avery attempted to tell the doctor about Britney’s abuse, but Britney, who showed up late for the appointment, refused to let the two-year-old speak for herself. It is unclear if the doctor called these findings in to 241-kids, although records show that at least one medical provider did call the hotline to report Avery’s suspected abuse.
At a court hearing on December 23, 2013, Jamie, who had completed his parenting class and anger management program, had his attorney request a two-hour supervised Christmas Eve visit with his daughter in his mother’s home. Magistrate Peters approved the visitation before the hearing ended. When the family left the courtroom, however, Stephanie blocked their exit and told them she didn’t care what the magistrate said; the only way Jamie would see his daughter the following day was under her supervision at the CPS building. As Magistrate Peters had already left, Jamie had no choice but to agree.
The next day, Jamie and Tammy dutifully arrived at the CPS building, carrying Jamie’s presents for his daughter. Seeing them in the hallway, Avery leapt into her father’s arms, asking, “Daddy, where have you been? I love you, Daddy.”
In the playroom, Jamie gave Avery her presents, and once Avery settled in on his lap to play, Stephanie had the colossal gall to ask Tammy to supervise the rest of the visit, because she had work to do in her office. If you remember, that was exactly what the judge had OK’d to take place at Tammy’s home, but Stephanie had forced them to attend their visit at the CPS building for what? To flex her overblown power?
Regardless, Avery’s torture dragged on. In early 2014, it became clear to Tammy and Jon that their granddaughter was suffering from a series of ear infections that only grew worse as time progressed. When Avery’s suffering reached its peak, Jon grew fed up with JFS’s restrictions, wrapped Avery in a blanket, and took her to the hospital, where the on-call doctor diagnosed the two-and-a-half-year-old with severe inner canal infections in both ears. A subsequent visit to a specialist, also attended by Britney and sanctioned by Stephanie only due to Avery’s diagnosis by a medical doctor, yielded the suggestion that Avery should have tubes surgically placed in her ears as soon as possible. Miraculously, Britney agreed to have the procedure done, and Avery’s tubes were placed two weeks later.
That evening, after Tammy and Jon had taken Avery home, Tammy was preparing the baby for bed when Avery lost her balance and fell on her bottom, scratching the back of her neck on the corner of an open dresser drawer. Dutifully, Tammy took a photo of the scratch, which she described as “about the size of a pencil dot,” and sent it to Stephanie, hoping to prove that she did not have a vendetta against Britney. Instead, this photo led to Stephanie ordering Avery to spend the night with Sandra. Shortly thereafter, Sandra and Britney appeared at the Risens’ house, and when Britney saw the tiny scratch on the back of Avery’s neck, she began shouting and charged at Tammy with a closed fist. Tammy merely pulled Avery’s head into her chest and covered the baby’s ears, and Sandra convinced Britney to take Avery and get in the car.
After the dastardly duo retreated with Avery, the Risens received another visitor: caseworker Stephanie, who had received a report from Britney that Tammy had attacked her. After their discussion, however, Stephanie chose not to document the incident, Tammy wrote, because she told the caseworker that she had been holding Avery when Britney rounded on her.
How about that? A child protection caseworker who was willing to make accusations against the child’s caring grandparents while refusing to document anything that might make the abusive mother look bad.
Soon afterward, JHS directed Tammy to bring Avery to regular therapeutic appointments with a licensed professional clinical counselor named Suzanne, who, after a single mediation session, deemed Tammy uncooperative and overbearing.
A second session was ordered, but in the meantime, Stephanie decided to meet with Avery again at Tammy’s home. Tammy overheard this session and was even able to record it; she overheard Avery describe several alarming things, telling Stephanie that Britney hit her and threatened her not to tell, in addition to having Katie punch and kick her. Avery also told Stephanie that Britney would force her and Katie to play doctor, which was an excuse given in the past for bite marks appearing on Avery’s chest and genital area.
Once again, Stephanie accused Tammy of coaching Avery, condemning her for teaching an innocent toddler about such terrible things.
During the second mediation session with Suzanne, Stephanie again interviewed Avery alone, and Tammy again was able to record the session surreptitiously. During that interview, Stephanie asked Avery if someone was hurting her, and Avery promptly replied that her mother was. Stephanie prodded the little girl, asking if Mama or Pappy ever hurt her, to which Avery replied with a definitive “no.” When Stephanie asked if Avery was afraid of her mommy, Avery said she was, and she was afraid of her sister, too, because “Mommy tells her to hurt me.” When Stephanie asked the little girl where she wanted to live, Avery’s response cut straight to the heart of the matter: she wanted to live with her Mama and her Pappy.
Not satisfied with the answers she received, Stephanie pressed harder, asking Avery if she understood what Stephanie was asking. I mentioned before that Avery was a very bright child; she was articulate beyond her years, and she clearly suffered no fools, because she raised her voice in annoyance and snapped back, “I said, Mommy whips my butt. She hurts me all the time, and so does Sissy…!”
When Stephanie exited the room, she told Tammy she felt Avery didn’t understand the questions and that either way, she was too young to confirm any allegations.
At this point, caseworker Stephanie, her supervisor, and guardian ad litem Julie were fed up with Tammy’s resistance to their insistence that Avery belonged in the hands of her abusive mother, so at the next pretrial hearing, they spoke against Tammy, saying her behavior lately was concerning and they planned to fight against her petition for custody.
The custody trial took place in May of 2014. Shortly thereafter, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Magistrate Paul Demott handed down the verdict, awarding custody back to Britney, saying she had successfully completed numerous programs, including mental health counseling, and that it was in Avery’s “best interests” to be raised by her mother.
In a shocking turn of events, however, JFS caseworker Stephanie told Tammy Risen to file an appeal, because, she said, Britney was not ready to care for Avery. Stephanie also asked Tammy if she and Jon would continue caring for Avery in the meantime. Despite her shock and confusion, of course, Tammy agreed.
Britney’s visitation with Avery continued, and so did the abuse. Avery’s daycare provider, Ms. Kim, submitted additional reports in the form of letters documenting her observations and Avery’s admissions to her that Britney was physically abusive to her. In one of the letters, Ms. Kim expresses acute concern for the safety of Avery and her grandparents, recounting an incident during which Avery told her that “Mommy was going to kill Mama and Pappy, and they’d be dead.” This was especially concerning in light of the fact that Britney had threatened in the past to have Jamie killed, not to mention her attacks on him while they were together. She had even coerced her boyfriend, Charles, into jumping Jamie one night during the custody trial, although caseworker Stephanie downplayed the incident in court, saying Jamie couldn’t have recognized his wife sitting in the getaway truck, because it was dark and his eyes were swollen.
Professional gaslighting, anyone?
Also during this time, Jamie’s father, Avery’s Papa Tim, took a video of Avery in the bathtub, describing how her mother whipped her.
As the custody appeal grew nearer, in early 2015, counselor Suzanne got it in her head that a little stick figure drawing Tammy made on Avery’s hand was meant to brainwash Avery into loving only Mama and Pappy. Forbidding Tammy to draw the figures again, Suzanne claimed Tammy was “mentally subverting” the three-year-old child and that she would have to notify JFS as a mandated reporter.
The report Suzanne made to the court was, in fact, a document over fifty pages in length, in which she provided an unauthorized attempt at a mental diagnosis of the grandmother she barely knew and detailed what she considered Tammy’s “manipulative efforts” to resist Avery’s wellbeing. She even included a photo of the stick figure drawing, which by then Avery had taken to drawing on her own feet.
What the unauthorized report to the court did not include was Britney’s “Tickle Thumb,” which had concerned Suzanne so much that she requested to meet with Avery alone to discuss it. Avery complained to Suzanne that she wanted her Mommy to stop touching her genitals, saying the Tickle Thumb Game was gross and it hurt. She also told the counselor that Britney made her play the so-called game multiple times during their visitation.
At the next group session containing Suzanne, Avery, Britney, and Tammy, Avery spoke up and told her Mommy to stop touching her “Virginia.” Britney appeared startled but, just like a psychopath, recovered quickly, explaining that she called it a game when she cleaned Avery’s privates after going potty. Avery insisted that she was a big girl and didn’t need help, and Suzanne suggested that if touching Avery upset her, perhaps Britney should stop.
Britney replied, “No.”
Suzanne then looked at Tammy and said, “Well, she is the mother.”
In a follow-up report, Suzanne expressed the opinion that Avery’s fears of her mother were due to abuse Britney endured from Jamie while pregnant. She blamed Avery’s fear of Britney’s very real abuse on the repressed memories of a baby in utero, essentially denying that Britney inappropriately touched her daughter. Never mind the bruises that Avery’s grandparents and even a medical doctor had seen with their own eyes in this child’s private areas. Never mind the child’s own clear statements. No, this was trauma repressed by a fucking fetus.
The custody appeal was overseen by Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge John Williams, whose recent campaigns, Tammy wrote, advertised him as a judge who would never put a child in harm’s way. You know what they say: never say never!
Prior to the appeal, Tammy and Jon had taken numerous photos of a particularly egregious injury inflicted on Avery during visitation with her mother, a raised bruise in the clear shape of a handprint wrapped around the little girl’s arm. The bruise took two and a half months to fade away, but no doctor was ever permitted to look at it.
Tammy was also prohibited from providing a photo of the injury to Judge Williams, because it had occurred after the initial verdict. The only post-verdict item allowed was, for some unknown reason, the counselor Suzanne’s unauthorized psychological report of Tammy, who wasn’t even technically her patient.
During the appeal, Judge Williams asked about the skull fracture that occurred when Avery was an infant, saying he wanted Britney to explain it to him because she had changed her story multiple times. Britney, surprisingly, took ownership of the injury, telling the judge that she alone caused the injury to her daughter. She explained that she was under so much pressure as a new mother without assistance during the hours Jamie was at work that she had done drugs to relieve the stress, which caused the “freak accident” that resulted in Avery’s hospitalization.
When Stephanie, the caseworker, was asked to testify, she told the judge that Tammy was a constant problem by photographing everything. She called Tammy’s reporting of “minor” abuse “harassment” against Britney and claimed the injuries she had to investigate were “nonsense.”
Neither Tammy nor Jon were permitted to speak during the appeal, and Judge Williams did nothing to rectify the fact that Jamie, who Britney had absolved of injuring Avery by finally claiming responsibility herself for the skull fracture, was still not allowed to see his daughter.
Instead, the judge who prided himself on keeping children out of harm’s way upheld the decision made by Magistrate Demott the previous year. Before the courtroom emptied, guardian ad litem let an interesting fact slip: Britney was pregnant yet again.
Outside the courtroom, Tammy spoke up, telling those responsible that they had effectively just killed her granddaughter. Unfortunately, she was right.
Avery’s injuries, which grew more and more severe as time progressed, included sunburns, bruises, scrapes and abrasions, teeth marks, cigarette and lighter burns, and even bruises and bite marks on and around her buttocks and genitals.
There was other evidence of abuse, too; Avery lived in a constant state of high alert. She had made statements indicating a high probability of sexual abuse by her mother to Stephanie, her caseworker from the Hamilton County Department of Jobs and Family Services; to Julie Pederson, her guardian ad litem; and to Suzanne, her mediation therapist. These claims were summarily dismissed by all three women, who shared responsibility for Avery’s health, her safety, and her very life.
Tammy constantly had to rebuy stuffed bunnies for Avery, whose favorite toys were repeatedly thrown away when they reached Britney’s petty hands. On more than one occasion, Tammy rescued plush bunnies from the trash, and more than once, she had to sew ears back on the bunnies after Britney spitefully tore them off.
It wasn’t just Tammy and Jonathan reporting abuse, however, despite the attempts of caseworker Stephanie to paint them as conniving grandparents attempting to steal Britney’s child because they couldn’t conceive one of their own. One doctor called Hamilton County’s child abuse hotline, 241-KIDS, at least twice. At a doctor appointment on Avery’s second birthday, the physician noted bruises on Avery’s forehead and between her buttocks.
Avery’s daycare provider, Miss Kim, wrote in February of 2015 that Avery told her, “Mommy… smacks her head and pulls her on [the] potty.” Miss Kim also wrote at one point of Britney herself telling her during a conversation about Avery, “I could choke her because she won’t listen.”
Yet Britney, who was convicted and spent six months in jail in 2012 for fracturing infant Avery’s skull, was ultimately awarded custody of this battered little girl in March of 2015. Guardian ad litem Julie Pedersen even wrote in a Review Report to the court, “This GAL has no concerns with this placement.”
Still, even after Britney gained custody of Avery, JFS asked Tammy and Jonathan to continue caring for her until they believed Britney was ready to be a full-time mother. Wasn’t that what the magistrate’s custody ruling and the upholding of that verdict by Judge Williams supposed to indicate — that Britney was suitable to mother her child?
After the appeal was finished, Britney’s attorney filed a motion against JFS’s insistence that Avery remain in the care of the Risens. On May 15, 2015, Jonathan received a phone call from Miss Kim, the daycare provider, telling him that Britney had shown up and taken a screaming Avery without notice. She said that despite Avery’s vehement insistence that she didn’t want to go with her mother, Britney dragged her 4-year-old daughter out of the building and down the sidewalk, throwing her into her mother Sandra’s vehicle.
Avery never spent another night with the Risens in the home she had known since she was less than a month old.
Throughout the summer of 2015, the Risens attended multiple mediation sessions as they fought for visitation with their granddaughter. Britney, who railed against Tammy seeing Avery at all, had the full support of Stephanie, who had just months before personally asked Tammy to continue caring for Avery. Fortunately, Magistrate Peters was, for once, the voice of reason, demanding that Britney allow visitation to the grandparents who had done so much for Avery over the previous four years.
Before the end of that particular hearing, Tammy wrote in her book, the magistrate also issued a blanket warning statement that if anyone submitted a single additional allegation that could endanger Britney’s custody of Avery, the accuser would face fines and jail time and lose the right to visitation with Avery. He ordered the stunned grandparents not to photograph or report any of Avery’s injuries to JFS and honored Britney’s wishes to forbid anyone from taking Avery to any medical provider or altering Avery’s appearance in any way, including clothing changes.
Just so we’re all clear: a court official threatened to inflict serious penalties on anyone who had the audacity to advocate for an abused child, including documenting or photographing any injuries that child incurred. I’d love to hear Magistrate Peters explain what besides abuse at Britney’s hands could possibly explain her reasoning for those demands. For whatever reason, these warnings from the magistrate were never documented in the official court transcript. Isn’t that interesting?
Tammy and Jon were granted three visits with Avery per month, consisting of five hours each. Britney herself would choose the day and time of each visit. Of course, because she’s both spiteful and evil, Britney chose days and hours when she knew Tammy would be on the clock at the hair salon where she worked.
Avery’s father, Jamie, whose divorce from Britney was finalized in February of 2015, had lived for quite a while with his paternal grandparents, John and Lee Hobbs, and he considered them practically surrogate parents. The family, and Jamie in particular, was devastated when Lee passed away in April of 2015 at the age of 77, followed by John in September at age 83. In fact, this family would be stricken with an unimaginable number of losses over the next few years, from parents to grandparents to close friends, but none would destroy them on a deeper level than the one we’re here to talk about today.
Shortly after Britney took custody of Avery, she moved into the house at 1232 Beech Avenue in Cincinnati with Charles Mayes III, who was possibly the father of the child Britney was pregnant with at the time. This child, her third, is totally and absolutely unaccounted for at this time. Apparently, Sandra claims Britney miscarried the baby, who she named Jacob, at about seven months gestation, but no one knows what became of the child’s remains if that is the case. It’s just one more bizarre and unfathomable detail in a case already full of them.
With each subsequent visitation, Avery began showing up with more and more marks and bruises and injuries, even missing more and more hair as time wore on. Once again, the Risens were not legally allowed to photograph the injuries or to report them to the agency dedicated to the protection of children. The only person they were allowed to talk to about the abuse was the abuser herself, who I think we can all agree is a pathological liar, to say the least.
During one summer visit, a winter coat and long pants covered as much of Avery’s skin as possible, and when Tammy asked why she couldn’t sit back in her car seat, Avery replied that if she told them, it would only get worse. Tammy asked if she had a booboo, and Avery answered, “Yes, on my back. Mommy whipped my ass with a belt.”
At one point during that visit, as Tammy helped Avery straighten out her shirt, the shirt lifted, revealing a gruesome abrasion in the middle of a swollen, painful welt measuring about four inches by one inch. This injury was clearly inflicted by a belt. When the Risens returned Avery home that day, they asked Britney about it; secure in her knowledge that they could do absolutely nothing about it, Britney admitted the wound was inflicted by a belt strike, and moreover, she had forced Avery to wear the belt all day as a reminder of her supposed bad behavior.
Afterward, Tammy bit the bullet and called the caseworker, Stephanie, regardless of the magistrate’s threats of punishment for doing so. Tammy warned Stephanie that if abuse this severe had started already, Britney would surely cause Avery’s death in due time. Stephanie blew off the warning, telling Tammy that she was exaggerating and instructing the concerned grandmother not to contact her anymore.
About four months after Britney had regained custody of Avery, the Risens found out that because Avery was supposedly misbehaving in the care of her mother, Britney had taken the four-year-old to several doctors until she found one willing to diagnose her with bipolar-like symptoms and prescribe her with serious heavy-duty psychotropic medications.
I am the very last person who will ever tell you that a child cannot display symptoms of mental illness or emotional disturbance, even at a very young age. I will, however, argue that these symptoms had to have shown up in one form or another as early as infancy, or at least some time prior to diagnosis. Avery never displayed a single hint of any type of behavioral problems while living with the Risens, even when she was bounced all over creation for multiple court-ordered overnight visitations per month with other family members. Suddenly, she’s in her mother’s custody, and she’s displaying behavior problems severe enough to warrant drugging her at the age of four?
One day in February of 2016, Avery told Tammy that her mother had forbidden her to use her last name, Hobbs, and that she was only allowed to use the last name Roll. Avery’s last name on her birth certificate was Hobbs, and trying to strip her of her legal name out of pure spite was low even for Britney. Tammy asked Avery who she wanted to be, and Avery replied, “I want to be your Cupcake, Mama, and I want to be your baby forever.” From then on, Avery was Mama’s Cupcake and, as always, Pappy’s Dear.
As winter turned into spring, Avery’s hair loss grew more and more pronounced. Avery told Tammy that her mother told doctors that Avery hit her head on the walls and pulled out her own hair, but that wasn’t true; Britney was, in fact, pulling Avery’s hair and hitting her four-year-old daughter in the head with a hairbrush in an attempt to hide any resulting bruises.
In addition to hair, Avery began losing weight at an alarming rate. By June, the formerly potty-trained little girl started wetting her pants, so she brought a backpack to each visit containing a change of clothes. More concerningly, she seemed extremely drowsy and began passing out at times during her visits to her grandparents. Once, when Avery fell asleep, Tammy began rubbing her back and felt something. When she lifted Avery’s shirt, Tammy was surprised to find a medical patch, which Britney dismissed as a new drug she was on. Tammy was certain Avery was overdosing based on her level of sluggishness throughout the entire visit, but when she called guardian ad litem Julie Pedersen after dropping Avery off at her mother’s house, she never received as much as a return phone call.
During another visit, Tammy had to work, so Jon brought Avery to the salon to visit with her. While there, they called Jamie’s sister Angie so Avery could speak with her cousin and best friend, Lou. I’ll quote directly from Tammy’s book for this part. “Ry” is what Tammy called Avery, and I’ll insert the parties real names in place of the fake names Tammy used in the book. The excerpt reads:
“The call was your normal girl chat until Ry started telling the most disturbing story I have ever heard.
“Ry said that [Charles] and [Britney] would make her do push up stands until she fell and duct-taped her legs and mouth to where she was stuck. They would tape her to the bedpost, and at the bottom of the stairs. While only feeding her half of an apple per day. If she misbehaved and tried to stand up, [Charles] would kick her in the stomach until she crumbled into a ball of pain. Adding that Mommy’s tickle thumb was hurting badly, and that was why Ry held her pee until she had accidents. She was too afraid to pull her undies down.”
Tammy intervened at that point, ending the girls’ phone conversation, which was overheard by a room full of Tammy’s coworkers and salon customers. One of Tammy’s clients, knowing she was forbidden to call authorities alleging abuse against Britney, took it upon herself to call the city’s crimes against children unit and the 241-KIDS hotline twice, but she was told with each report that they had no proof to investigate.
The child’s own words were not enough to trigger an investigation. Even if this was the first time Avery’s name had come up in JFS’s system, these very specific and detailed claims by a perfectly coherent four-year-old should set off immediate alarm bells for any human being, let alone a child abuse intake specialist.
After this incident, Tammy didn’t care what happened to her; she called Avery’s guardian ad litem, Julie Pedersen, and told her what Avery had said. What did Julie do? Did she perform an unscheduled drop-in visit to catch Britney off guard, confront her with the allegations, and observe the environment without advance notice?
No, of course not! She performed a scheduled welfare check, during which Avery played quietly with Play-Doh while Julie observed her. She didn’t bother to do a walk-through of the house to ensure it was clean and appropriate for a four-year-old. She didn’t look in the fridge or the pantry to make sure there was food in the house for Avery to eat. She didn’t even speak with Avery or Britney alone. She dismissed the allegations based on her observations made during that scheduled visit, and she reported to both Tammy and the courts that Avery was fine. Never mind that the year before, in the Risens’ care, Avery weighed a healthy forty-eight pounds and that now, in Britney’s custody, she weighed barely twenty. Never mind her constant exhaustion, the dark circles around her eyes, her fear of going to the bathroom, her sudden sensitivity to light, and her new habit of eating and drinking anything she could get her hands on as quickly as possible whenever she visited her grandparents.
In June of 2016, 24-year-old Britney Marie Roll married 29-year-old Charles Junior Mayes III, who had been married twice before and had a son with each of his former wives, although he reportedly was not allowed to have contact with either of his two young sons. The reason for these restrictions is unclear.
Also in June, on one of Avery’s last visits with her grandparents, Avery begged her Mama to take her to Magistrate Peters so she could come home. Helpless, Tammy told her that the judge wouldn’t listen to her until she was a little older — maybe after her fifth birthday, which was coming up in about two months.
They couldn’t have known that Avery wouldn’t live to celebrate it.
On Friday, July 29, 2016, the newly minted Britney Mayes placed a call to 911 that lasted approximately six minutes. Very little of that call has been made available to the public.
During the call, Britney, sounding frantic, tells the dispatcher that her daughter was hot, so she put her in the bathtub to cool her down, and she was now not breathing and had no pulse. When the dispatcher asked if Avery had any injuries, Britney replied, “Nothing she didn’t go to bed with. Just some bruises…”
When EMTs responded to the Mayes’ home at 1232 Beech Avenue, they found four-year-old Averylee Hobbs underwater in the bathtub, despite Britney’s claim that she had performed chest compressions and administered rescue breathing. Avery was rushed to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, where doctors discovered she had a catastrophic brain injury. Avery was placed on life support. Several members of Britney’s family milled around the hospital for the next three days. What about Avery’s paternal side of the family, you might wonder? Why weren’t they there?
The answer to that question is simple: because they had no idea their Cupcake, their Dear, their beloved Ry was in the hospital at all. No one bothered to call a single member of Jamie’s family to let them know.
For the entire weekend, Avery’s paternal family carried on with life as usual, completely unaware of the devastation that would soon wreak havoc in their lives. Tammy and Jon even performed a gig on Saturday with their band, Side Track.
It wasn’t until the morning of Monday, August 1, when a friend of Tammy’s made a comment on one of her Facebook posts, saying how sorry she was, that Tammy realized something was wrong. Tammy picked up her phone and called the friend, who told her that Avery was in the hospital due to a “freak accident,” that doctors were checking her for brain activity, and that she might be removed from life support later that day.
Tammy and Jamie shared the duties of trying to contact Britney and Sandra as well as gathering their family members at the house, including Jon, who was at work. After countless rebuffed phone calls and attempted visits to the hospital to find out Avery’s condition, at last, Jamie received a call from Detective Keith Witherell, who told him Avery was in critical condition and under the hospital’s protective care; the reason his family hadn’t been able to get answers was because Britney had led everyone to believe that Charles was Avery’s father.
Moments after that phone call, Jamie received another call, this one from a social worker. In her book, Tammy described the heartbreaking moment her son relayed the news.
“Jamie froze, dropped the phone, and fell to the floor, screaming, ‘She’s dead, Mommy, she’s dead!’”
The stunned and heartbroken family piled into their vehicles and rushed to the hospital, where they were directed to wait in the chapel before being led to the unit where Avery remained. Jamie, Tammy, Jon, and Tim, Jamie’s father, entered Avery’s hospital room.
Again, I’ll quote from Tammy’s book, because her first-hand, visceral descriptions of these terrible moments cannot be outdone.
“With that, [the nurse] slowly pulled the curtain back, and there laid our quiet angel.
“We took a step back and gasped. We did not recognize the child that laid before us. It was a sleeping child or appeared to be, but I didn’t see my Ry. Our baby was fragile and thin. This child was plump, and someone cut her hair off in chunks down to the flesh. Her head was the size of a basketball. Devices all over, and a breathing tube hanging from her drawn lips. That was not Ry. That was not the baby I raised…
“The nurse didn’t want to give us too much information, but she told us that Ry’s hair was like that when she came into the hospital and that she swelled due to injury and blood pooling from those injuries…
“A blanket covered Ry’s body, and her eyes were slightly open. Blood was drying in her tube and running from her ears. I looked into her eyes, but nothing was there.”
The family filed in, one by one, to kiss Avery goodbye. When it was Tammy’s turn, she wrote, “I bent down and pressed my lips against her skin, flesh that still had warmth from a life she once had. As I did, I told her she would always be Mama’s baby, and I was so sorry that I failed her. So damn sorry.”
After Avery’s death, Jamie’s family met with detectives, who expressed suspicion of Britney’s account of Avery’s so-called “freak accident.” Investigators informed them that prior to calling 911, Britney first spent six minutes on the phone with Charles.
After their interview with detectives, the family visited the funeral home, where they somberly arranged a beautiful funeral for a four-year-old. Jamie’s sister Angie, Avery’s Gigi, somehow managed to collect Avery’s hair to have it sewn back onto the little girl’s head.
Tammy and Jon spoke with TV reporters the day after Avery’s death.
After their media appearances, the family found out that after Britney’s official reunification with her daughter, Avery had been removed from her custody twice with no notice to the family, even though such notification had been court ordered at the time of the custody ruling. At the time of these removals, Avery was once again under the supervision of Stephanie from JFS and Julie Pedersen, the guardian ad litem. Against the judge’s orders, neither they nor Stephanie’s supervisor informed Tammy, Jon, Tim, or Jamie of Avery’s intake into the system.
An autopsy performed at the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office revealed an unbelievable number of injuries. Avery’s tiny, battered body told the story in no uncertain terms of the prolonged abuse she had suffered, all of which had been reported time and time again to JFS, to the court, and to authorities to no avail.
The medical examiner reported that Avery had endured the following:
- Bruises and abrasions on virtually every part of her body.
- Vaginal injuries.
- Abdominal injuries.
- Multiple hemorrhages in the brain.
- Multiple hemorrhages in both eyes and both optic nerves.
All of these injuries were in various stages of healing, indicating long-term abuse, both physical and sexual. In addition to these findings, the coroner also noted that Avery’s hair had been removed, that there was no food present in her stomach, suggesting starvation, and that all drug tests came back negative, which meant Avery had no illegal or prescription medications in her system at the time of her death. What happened to all those behavioral medications that were so necessary for this four-year-old to function, according to Britney and her cronies? The drug results would also negate a later claim Britney made that Charles had drugged and assaulted her daughter.
This woman clearly had no allegiance to anyone but herself.
Avery’s death was ruled a homicide due to blunt force trauma to the head. Jamie and his family, finding out that Britney was attempting to take custody of Avery’s remains with the intention of having them cremated, had a temporary hold placed on Avery’s body to prevent Britney from following through with the cremation while she was under investigation.
Can you imagine anything shadier than this woman hoping to destroy evidence by cremating the daughter she just beat to death? Honestly, Britney’s obviously very cunning and manipulative, but she’s also, in many ways, dumb as a box of rocks.
Fortunately, detectives realized this, and on August 10, 2016, Britney Marie Mayes was arrested and booked into Hamilton County Jail on one count of aggravated murder; two counts of murder; and one count of child endangerment. Her husband, Charles, was off the hook due to insufficient evidence and Britney’s admission that she was alone with Avery at the time of her daughter’s fatal injuries. Her bond was set the next day at $2 million.
Britney was indicted on August 17 and arraigned on August 18 at a hearing overseen by Judge Robert Ruehlman, the same judge who had told Britney four years prior that he never wanted to see her in his courtroom again. Clearly fed up with the unrepentant psychopath, Judge Ruehlman revoked Britney’s $2 million bond, ordering her held without bond, and ruled that she could not have contact with her child after it was born.
By the time Avery’s remains were ultimately released by the coroner’s office, it had been almost three weeks since her death, and sadly, the family was unable to say goodbye to their little girl in an open casket.
On August 19, 2016, Averylee Delia Hobbs was buried, wearing her princess dress and the little sandals she called “flib-flabs.” Her beautiful, dark brown hair was sewn onto her head, and she held a blanket emblazoned with characters from the Disney movie Frozen, as well as the stuffed bunnies her mother had thrown away. Her hands bore the stick-figure drawing Tammy had created long ago, which Britney could never again wash off. As her casket was lowered into the earth, Jamie placed her giant Daddy Bear on top to protect his little girl for eternity.
A memorial bench has been placed at Mitchell Memorial Forest in Green Township, Ohio, otherwise known as Avery’s favorite “Green Park.” A plaque on the bench reads, “Avery ‘Cupcake’ Hobbs… You’ll be with us always. Daddy, Pappy & Mama, Papa, Nana, Gigi, & Tot.” From time to time, the family leaves large Ziploc bags full of stuffed bunnies on the bench with a note for other children to take one as a gift from Avery.
In the three years following Britney’s arrest, she and her attorneys requested continuances at least 25 times, according to court records.
Local 12 reporter Duane Pohlman released the first two of three planned pieces in his excellent investigative series in November of 2019 and still plans to release a third. In October of 2020, Duane won a well-deserved Emmy for “Best Investigative Report” for his “Failure to Protect Avery” series.
Britney’s trial was scheduled to begin on January 13, 2020, and Jamie’s side of the family arrived at the courthouse that morning ready for jury selection to begin. Instead, the prosecutor took them into a room and told them that at the last minute, Britney had accepted a plea agreement sparing her the possibility of the death penalty. The family was given no choice but to accept. Instead of the trial they had anticipated, they were then led into the courtroom to watch Britney’s sentencing hearing unfold.
During the hearing, Britney gave a brief statement, saying, “It’s really not what it seems. I loved my daughter. I love all my kids. And I’m sorry.”
I watched that clip over and over, and there’s not a single sparkle of moisture in that woman’s eyes, let alone tears falling during that pathetic performance.
Judge Robert Ruehlman accepted Britney’s guilty plea to the charge of aggravated murder, dismissed her charge of child endangerment and her two counts of murder, and sentenced her to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years. Given the facts of the case, Judge Ruehlman said, he was skeptical the parole board would ever release her and even told Britney, “I hope they never let you out. Ever.”
He also said that while Britney was ultimately responsible for Avery’s death, the system had a hand in it, too.
After the hearing, Tammy spoke to a reporter.
Tammy was unable to read her victim impact statement at the hearing, but I’m going to include it here, because it deserves to be heard.
“Your Honor, I am Avery’s biological paternal grandmother and was her designated care provider since the age of less than one month to almost four years.
“Britney, I wish you to look at me.
“When you came into my life, I gave you a home and a mother’s care. I offered you guidance and discipline. Then you rejected my attention due to resentment. I was the person you despised the most because I was a Mother figure that did not believe in you as I knew what you were. That became a problem in our relationship, and you gave me no choice but to fight against you.
“After you and you alone abandoned and injured both your children. I took them both under my care. Where your Mother later took one, I raised the other from birth. You made the disgust you had towards me and placed it on your child because I valued her more than I ever did you Britney; you never realized it was because she was so helpless against your violence.
“You took everything Avery loved away from her. You tried to destroy her beauty. While you indeed took her life, you can never remove her spirit nor the admiration she and I had for one another—the same love I offered you. The shame is that you destroyed Avery with your commissioned confidants. A social worker, guardians, and therapists who all aided you over your child based on your lies and venom.
“With that in mind, I do not have much to say to you as you are now entirely irrelevant. However, I do want to leave an image you can think about for the rest of your life.
“We buried Avery as Averylee ‘Cupcake’ Hobbs. In her princess dress, we did so in flip-flops, frozen blanket, and her natural hair sewn back upon her head. She’s holding her bunny you threw away from the daycare, and she has all others left in my home. She lays with her Daddy Bear and every toy you thought you removed, and most significantly, she has a signet of three stick figures on her hands. All of us departing from her laid our last kiss upon her that you never will remove. Jamie is her custodian for eternity, and he is her father that you destroyed from criminal actions you committed. Yet, he remains her cherished father and you nothing more than her killer.
“Now I will speak to the court.
“Today I plead for Britney’s sentencing since I can no longer beg for a child’s life. I want to remind everyone that I raised Avery unscathed her entire time that she spent in my care. Unlike when in her Mothers. Britney took every opportunity to harm her child throughout her life under the supervision of CPS and a Guardian. They excused Britney’s actions and never protected Avery. A therapist unlawfully diagnosed me in a successful effort that depleted my chance at Avery’s custody. All individuals were vile and placed Avery in grave danger. Knowingly and willingly.
“Britney escaped criminal charges when she hospitalized her first child through the aid of CPS. She also escaped higher criminal charges when she fractured Avery’s skull—serving a mere six-months sentence.
“Britney escaped abuse charges after years of monumental accounts of attacks against Avery. She managed to regain custody of Avery twice in one year with exact bodily harm, matching all the allegations I reported. Britney managed this with the aid of CPS, Guardians, and a Therapist. Both of those removals contained founded repetitive abuse, yet social services validated all Britney’s actions and blamed the child. Proposing the child deserved to be beaten. They all went on to over-medicate the child or correct the Mother with the Guardian as the lead source.
“Britney has two deceased children and one that recovered her abuse. She is also pregnant with her next victim who may strive if you keep the abusive father away.
“My question is, when will it stop? Everyone in the past covered Britney’s constant reoccurring crimes. Everyone gave her an overabundant amount of chances that were unwarranted, neglectful, endangering, and unjustified. Britney squandered every one of those opportunities by harming her children and one to death. CPS claimed the years they spent reprogramming Britney, led her to be a safe candidate to care for her child. That was not true. That was the fabricated jargon of inept people who choose an abusive adult over a defenseless child. All this should make it a logical assumptive that Britney will never change. Not then and not now.
“Avery had only one chance in life. One. That chance is when she was in my home. Avery had stability, education, nurturing care, and a home filled with love. She had a real chance at a great life, but that was taken away repetitively by people paid to protect her via parental rights and their sickening agenda. Those rights and the people backing those rights are the direct cause of Avery’s murder. Britney may have taken Avery’s last breath, but CPS and all its affiliates gave Britney the ammo.
“I want to remind this court that Avery was starved, drugged, mentally beat down, physically tortured, and sexually assaulted until she ultimately died. In another bathtub from another blunt force to her skull. Her demise came after countless attempts to save her life by reporting these occurrences of heinous ill will while nobody, but our family attempted to save her. Avery’s welfare was ignored by those this State placed in her protection, and on two occasions, putting her back with Britney after medical, physical, visual, and witnessed evidence radically appeared and vanished.
“Avery was the victim. Britney was not the victim. CPS treated and presented Britney like one, but she was Avery’s abuser. Avery had no right to speak or to be taken seriously after she, at such a young age, begged a social worker to remove her from Britney. Instead, that social worker called her a liar.
“Avery had no deal. No second chance. Her little tiny body that was dissected and left rotting for 19 days was because of parental rights. We could not even bury Avery as the princess she was. This poor child, who’s death was preventable, lies in a cold, damp grave. Avery was too decomposed to see her one last time and too rotted to kiss goodbye. It is a nightmare we all live with seeing such a promising life desecrated as she was when she should be playing, growing, and becoming the woman we all knew she would be.
“With that in mind, I ask.
“How many chances did Britney give her child? How many days, hours, or minutes did Britney permit Avery to have between beatings? How many nights did Britney… allow Avery to sleep without her hands in her virginal cavities? How many? How much sympathy do you think Britney had towards her child? How much?
“I can imagine there is none to find. It is why I beg of the courts to bestow the same upon Britney. This Mother gave no mercy to her child, and we should only provide her with the same—no more deals, no more chances, and certainly, no more mercy.
“Britney needs to face what she has done. Britney needs not to be cowardly as she was not a coward the night, she took Avery’s life. For that, I believe that the death penalty is the only justice for the ongoing severe abuse that caused Avery’s murder. By the hand of the person that should have loved her the most. Her Mother. Avery lies in a box that her Mother built 24 hours per day. Britney should lie in a box that justice made until her death. Anything less would be inappropriate. Because we are all in prison and we’re never getting out!”
Avery’s family may not have gotten the justice they deserved with Britney’s sentence, but at least some form of justice has been done.
After I released episode 47, a lot of people asked me what happened to the other people responsible for Avery’s death. Well, apparently Charles Mayes III has custody of the son he shares with a murderer. He seems to be a difficult man to find these days, and I can understand why. He was never charged in connection with Avery’s abuse or death, although Avery’s statements against him are pretty damning.
As for those paid to protect Avery, according to Tammy, one was demoted, one saw her pay decreased and subsequently resigned, and another is working as a divorce attorney. I was able to track down the whereabouts of guardian ad litem Julie Pedersen, who is, hilariously, working as an assistant to the public defender in traffic court in another Ohio county.
It’s not enough, of course. The number of people who failed Averylee Hobbs is stunning. Let’s see; we have the Hamilton County Department of Jobs and Family Services, caseworker Stephanie and her supervisor in particular; therapist Suzanne; guardian ad litem Julie; Magistrate Peters for giving Britney custody; Judge John Williams for upholding that ruling; and, finally, Avery’s own birth organism, Britney Marie Roll Mayes, who is now moldering away in the Marysville, Ohio Prison for Women.
Britney could be paroled as early as August 5, 2036, which is so far beyond ridiculous I can barely stand to contemplate it. About two weeks after her conviction, she filed an appeal, for which there hasn’t yet been a decision, but I’ll keep an eye on that and post any updates on the blog. The last hearing on that matter was on January 21.
Britney is the single most manipulative person I think I’ve ever covered, maybe even worse than Elisa Fairchild, Zahra Baker’s stepmother, who’s a demon-spawn in her own right. People like Britney are the reason I feel so strongly that our children need education, at least in high school, if not earlier, about relationship red flags, the warning signs of a narcissistic partner, and other domestic abuse-related topics. Jamie was young and vulnerable when he met Britney, and she was able to take over his life and all but destroy it. I sincerely hope he’s able to overcome the trauma she’s caused him.
As for Tammy, the “Granny with a mission,” she has worked tirelessly to keep Avery’s memory alive and to push for necessary changes in the systems that failed her granddaughter. She released her book, In the Best Interest of a Child, in 2020, a no-holds-barred, tell-all account of Avery’s story, which I strongly recommend reading.
Tammy has created a concept she calls DEAR, which stands for Developing Essential Advocate Restoration, for abused children. She describes DEAR as “a futuristic concept to promote law change and other avenues that would be of aid to abused children and their care providers.”
Tammy has also worked for years on a legislation change to protect children like Avery, and on January 14, 2021, she submitted for consideration The Avery Statute. Boiled down to its simplest explanation, the statute aims to prohibit child abuse victims from being reunified with their convicted abusers, as well as necessitating periodic medical assessments in cases where reunification is sought and providing placement parents or guardians with the authorization to have a child medically evaluated if abuse is suspected. I highly recommend checking out the Justice4Avery website for a lot more information and specifics.
I want to end this post by paying tribute to Avery, who was her Mama’s Cupcake and her Pappy’s Dear. Averylee Delia Hobbs was a bright, beautiful, well-spoken little girl who loved spending time with her family, her pets, and her cousin and best friend, Lou. She loved the TV show Bubble Guppies and the color purple, and she was very musical and loved singing and playing instruments like the guitar and the harmonica. Tammy described her as “a little jokester” who “would just laugh whole-heartedly.”
Avery was cherished by her father’s side of the family. She was adored and doted on and very, very much loved.
Rest well, Avery. We will never forget you.
Sources: WLWT5, Local 12, WCPO Cincinnati, Fox 19, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Inquisitr, the Mihovk Rosenacker Funeral Home, In the Best Interest of a Child by Tammy E. Risen