After more than three months in state custody at the Slate Canyon Juvenile Detention Center in Provo, Danielle and Sydney Wolferts have been ordered by the court to return to Kansas into their father’s custody.
Danielle and Sydney, 15 and 16, respectively, were found at 3:30 a.m. Jan. 3 in Pleasant Grove with their mother, Michelle Wolferts, at the Green Grove Apartments. The two sisters were reported missing in July 2014 while they had visitation with their mother.
The two girls, along with their older sister, Brittany Wolferts Dangerfield, and their mother have accused their father, Brian Wolferts, of psychological and emotional abuse and neglect on multiple occasions. His response is the girls have been brainwashed by his ex-wife as part of the custody battle.
However, on Friday, Judge Brent Bartholomew ruled a requisition request filed by Brian Wolferts from Kansas be granted. Unless Dangerfield, her mother or any of their attorneys can file any last-minute paperwork, Danielle and Sydney are expected to be in Kansas before the end of the week.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Troy Olsen, Danielle and Sydney’s maternal uncle. “This whole weekend, we’ve just been dumbfounded.”
Michelle Wolferts’ attorney may file a stay on the order to buy them more time, but Olsen said he’s unsure anything will stick.
“It all goes back to the same judge,” he said. “That judge hasn’t made any rulings in our favor before. … I don’t want to think worst-case, but we’re doing all we can.”
In a report filed by the Division of Child and Family Services, it was found that allegations of emotional abuse against their father were supported.
“As a result of its investigation, DCFS will be supporting emotional abuse against the father based on the children’s disclosure of negative and critical comments about them and the mother and a harsh environment in the father’s home,” the report reads.
DCFS, however, is not supporting allegations of physical, sexual or domestic violence abuse-related claims against him as a result of “insufficient evidence.”
“There were DCFS findings of abuse,” Olsen said. “And he’s still sending them back to Kansas. … It’s very rare they make these kinds of rulings.”
Danielle and Sydney were expected to testify on their own behalf before the end of detention hearings. However, Brian Wolferts filed a motion in limine to forbid them from testifying. Bartholomew honored that motion.
“It is not in the best interest of the parties’ minor children to testify as to their custody preference,” Bartholomew’s response to the motion reads.
“It’s odd because the judge has been preparing the girls to make a statement in court,” Olsen said. “Those aren’t the actions of an innocent man. That’s the actions of a man who’s trying to cover something up.”
Olsen said he believes the judge was acting using the letter of the law in the Interstate Compact for Juveniles, which states that allegations of abuse are not to be considered in matters of custody.
“These are no longer allegations, these are findings,” Olsen said. “So he should’ve looked at the letter of the law and found that these weren’t allegations, they were findings.”
Dangerfield, who was long the mouthpiece for her sisters, was asked in late February by the judge to not talk to the media for a couple of weeks. She said she believes that those few days of silence damaged the process.
"I think it was a hindrance to Syd and Dani for not everyone to know what was going on the last month," she said.
Dangerfield said her sisters not being allowed to testify stripped them of their rights and they were "pushed around."
"They’re so sweet and gentle and they are crushed," she said. "I wish I could let them know what rights they have and that they’re being violated."
Dangerfield is concerned this will set a precedent for future cases in Utah, but in a negative way.
"This case is going to teach other Utah children that if they report abuse, they’re going to end up back with their abuser," she said.
Brian Wolferts's attorney, Jarom Bishop, said these allegations of abuse are unfounded and that Bartholomew acted in the right.
"My client is ecstatic to get the girls back. He hasn't seen them in over two years," Bishop said. "As far as the abuse allegations, they’re completely unfounded. They’re not true."