- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

BALTIMORE — A woman who says an abandoned girl is the daughter she hasn’t seen for almost two years has won visitation rights beginning next week, her attorney said yesterday.

Attorney Gary Gerstenfield said Patricia A. Harper, 21, of the District will be allowed to visit the girl under the supervision of the Baltimore Department of Social Services as Mrs. Harper begins the legal process of seeking custody.

Mr. Gerstenfield said the child will be reacquainted slowly with Mrs. Harper because the mother “is a person she does not recognize and was told she didn’t want her and didn’t love her.”

The hunt for the 3-year-old’s family seemed relatively simple earlier this week, when authorities based their search on information from the child: Her name was Courtney, she was from Brooklyn, N.Y., and she wanted her mommy.

Now that Mrs. Harper and a man who says he’s her father have come forward separately, nothing seems clear — not her name, not her hometown, not the identity of her parents. It’s not even clear that when she cried at a press conference for her mommy, the little girl was talking about the woman who gave birth to her.

The case has become “very complicated,” state Human Resources Secretary Christopher McCabe said at a Thursday-night news conference. “We are in the process of investigating carefully the people who have come to our attention. We’re still looking to patch together the story.”

Mr. Gerstenfield said the girl’s name is Akasha, and her mother now lives in the District with her husband and a 2-week-old child.

Mr. Gerstenfield identified the man as Robert A. Persons of the Brooklyn section of Baltimore, who began dating Mrs. Harper in 1997, when he was 30 years old and she was 14. Mr. Persons was convicted of statutory rape in Prince George’s County because of the relationship and served a year in jail, the attorney said.

After his release, the two resumed dating. Akasha was born in July 2000.

Mr. Persons and Mrs. Harper had an informal custody arrangement until Mr. Persons went to court in Prince George’s and filed a complaint accusing Mrs. Harper of abusing the child and him and involvement in drugs and the sex industry, Mr. Gerstenfield said.

Mrs. Harper’s lawyers deny those allegations.

A judge gave Mr. Persons custody at a 2002 hearing Mrs. Harper did not attend.

Mrs. Harper won another hearing after telling the court that a letter notifying her of the first hearing had gone to the wrong address. At the second hearing, she won custody, Mr. Gerstenfield said.

But Mr. Persons took the girl to the Baltimore area and told her that her name was Courtney and that she was Puerto Rican, Mr. Gerstenfield said.

Mrs. Harper’s attorneys contacted Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey yesterday about an outstanding warrant for Mrs. Harper’s arrest connected to a complaint Mr. Persons filed, Mr. Ivey said. The lawyers hope to have the warrant quashed Monday, said Rebecca Cosca, a lawyer representing Mrs. Harper.

The State’s Attorney’s Office is also trying to figure out if Mr. Persons could be charged with kidnapping. That depends on whether he had custody of the girl when he took her, Mr. Ivey said.

The girl resurfaced dramatically after a woman contacted authorities May 5, saying a man had left the girl with her while he went to cash a check and didn’t return.

Members of the Baltimore Police Department’s Organized Crime Division arrested Mr. Persons and four other men May 7 in a raid on an apartment in the Brooklyn neighborhood, according to court records. Mr. Persons was charged with possession of narcotics with intent to distribute. He was released Thursday on $250 bail.

Authorities interviewed Mr. Persons on Thursday about the girl. The girl remained with a foster family in Baltimore and is “happy, healthy, playful and assimilating quite well,” Mr. McCabe said.

Associated Press writers Wiley Hall and Stephen Manning contributed to this report.

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