CBS13 Investigates: Unsafe Surrender?

By Sam Shane and Executive Producer Dave Manoucheri

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — California law says that a mother can drop off a newborn baby in the first 72 hours of life, no penalties, no questions asked.  The entire process is supposed to be completely confidential.  Yet a local cop who adopted one of those babies had the happiest 16 months of her life and then had it all torn from her.

Tracy Nugent was approaching her late 40’s when she decided she wanted a child. “Ready, willing and able to provide a great life for a child that needed it,” said the Stanislaus County cop.

Tracy had many options.   She could have adopted a child from out of the country; one from Russia, China, anywhere.  She wanted to stay close to home.  She wanted to adopt a child who needed a good home.

“I wanted a safe-and-surrender child,” she says.

As a police officer, Nugent knew all about California’s Safe Surrender Baby Law.

“I know the law says safe and surrender, confidentiality, no mother, no father involved,” Nugent remembers in an interview with CBS13.  “You have custody of the child for six months and then you could begin the adoption process and I was specific in that.”

The law allows a parent of a newborn to leave the baby at a fire station, police station or hospital anonymously.  No questions asked.  CBS13 spoke with Jim Brulte, former Assembly Speaker and state Senator.  He helped design the law.  He calls it the most important thing he’s ever done.

“There were stories about young women, primarily young women, abandoning children, and they were abandoning children in dumpsters, they were leaving them in paper bags, in bathrooms,” says Brulte, “and too often these children were dying.”

It seemed like a perfect fit for Tracy.

“But working in my line of work and seeing all the children out there that need homes, that need guidance,” Tracy remembers, “there was never any doubt.”

Eventually she got a call from a social worker at the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services that they had a baby for her.

“They told me that it was a safe and surrender child,” Tracy says, “and I instantly knew what that meant and I said, ‘Oh my god, this is a miracle.”

That three-week old miracle was hers.  She had a baby boy.  For Tracy, it was a dream come true, but it wouldn’t last.  Just weeks after she brought her baby boy home Tracy Nugent got another call.  This one was from a social worker telling her the boy’s biological father had suddenly come forward.

“I was just crying, I was driving when I received the telephone call, I was devastated,” says Tracy.  “It was something that came out of nowhere.”

Under the Safe Surrender law, the names of the boy’s biological mother and father were never to be known.  Any records of their identities were to be sealed, never to be revealed.  But apparently there was a mixup.

“I’m still to this day in shock, now because this was not supposed to happen,” says Tracy.

The biological father, Richard Frackowiak, says through his attorney that he never even knew about the baby until after it was born.  According to a court declaration obtained by CBS13, the baby’s biological mother gave up the baby for adoption under the safe surrender law after he was born at Mercy Hospital of Folsom.

Somehow, someone, either from the hospital or from the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services leaked what was supposed to be confidential information about the biological mother’s identity.

Jim Brulte says that’s a problem.

“That’s horribly illegal in this state,” hey says, “and I would certainly hope the authorities are moving heaven and earth to find out who broke that law.”

CBS13 wanted to know what the county was trying to do.  We contacted DHHS, who says “the case has been reviewed and CPS [Child Protective Services] followed all procedures correctly.”

CBS13 also obtained a letter from the DHHS Ombudsman saying that the county feels the hospital is at fault for not correctly labeling the baby as safely surrendered.  The hospital won’t comment on the story.  Beyond the letter, the county will not speak on-camera either.

When Frackowiak found out he was the baby’s biological father he demanded custody and a social worker told Tracy her dream was slipping away.

“So I asked her, what you’re saying is, you’re going to take the child,” said Tracy Nugent.  “She said the judge could do whatever she wanted but most likely yes.”

After months of phone calls and letters along with lawyers and court hearings Tracy had run out of time and out of options.  The judge ordered the baby to be returned to his biological father.

“So I packed up all of his stuff, had it waiting, car seats, strollers and the social worker came at noon, not a minute after.  I brought the baby out to my driveway and she told me ‘let’s get moving’,” said Tracy, describing her last moments with her son.  “So she took the baby from me, put him in a car seat and, um, he just looked at me, I tried not to cry and upset him and did a pretty darn good job, he was just staring at me cuz he obviously, he knew something was happening, he’s 16 months old, he’s a big boy now.  I put my hand on the window, he looked at me, he blew me this kiss and never lost eye contact.”

Jim Brulte says “no family should have to go through that, um and no child should get caught in that struggle.”

Tracy says “As they pulled out the driveway he just stared at me and they drove off and I have not heard from anybody, I have not received any phone calls, nothing.  The end.”

Tracy has filed a lawsuit against both Sacramento County and Mercy Folsom alleging they mishandled this case.  She also contacted the Sacramento County Grand Jury and her local District Attorney in the hopes of sparking a criminal investigation.  In the end, though, all she really wants is to get her son back.

  • wow!

    This was very interesting! All I can say is you have to have a license to drive,but anyone can be a parent!I agree with a lot that has been said, however this is again a unjust! I’m a mom, grandma, aunt, a great aunt and had a child in my life for three years from birth and I can tell you that the love was instant in all cases like they were mine! Children are innocent and it does not have to be a bio parent to love them! Remember he has two people who love him very much and the father so consider that tracy should be in his life!

    • Paul

      The victim of crime is the Biological Father and Child. The Biological Father should never have been separated for 16 months from his Child. All Children deserve knowing exactly who their Biological Father is. It is a basic God Given Human Right. There should be no State Secretes about who both of your biological parents are.

  • Simply Stated

    Tracy knew within weeks after receiving the baby that the father wanted him. Did she surrender the baby? Clearly, she did not. She kept the baby and chose to continue to raise him and bond with him until he was 16 months old. The REAL tragedy is the lost time the father will never get back. He missed first birthday, first words, first step, first haircut, first everything! Now this lady wants to say “poor me”? The REAL tragedy is to this father who now has his face, name and image of HIS child all over Sacramento.. wonder who leaked that information???? Yes, what happened to her was sad, yes, it is very unfortunate. But what would be more unfortunate is if this child grew up thinking that neither one of his parents wanted him. No one seems to be commenting on how this father stood up for his child, fought a court battle for over a year, and did the RIGHT thing. I personally don’t know too many fathers that would do that. His story should be the one we are hearing about, not a scorned woman who chose to pursue adoption on a baby that wasn’t up for adoption. She only had the baby a few weeks before she learned the father was in the picture. She should have done the right thing at that time, not drag this out in court, lose, and now plead to the public while she is suing mad. Yes, I do understand she got the short end of this stick, but clearly, the father was not an unfit parent or he wouldn’t have gotten custody. The comments in the very begging from someone who states this baby would have a better life with Tracy makes me sick. Just because she works in law enforcement and makes a pretty paycheck does not guarantee a better life. And of course he does not want to share custody with her. Why would he? I know that if something like this happened to me, I would not want to share my baby. I am really disappointed in CBS for not getting both sides of this story before publishing it. I would love to hear what the father says..but he is probably too busy making up for lost time to worry about commenting on HIS PERSONAL LIFE to the public. This lady had no right to put images of his face, his name, and HIS child on the news. This whole thing is disgusting. And let me just say, THANK GOD someone had enough courage to notify the father before letting this baby be adopted. It is clear that he had NO idea about the baby, maybe the bio mom fell off the planet for 9 months. How come everyone is so quick to judge the father, but not judge the woman who hid a pregnancy, didn’t tell the father, then leave this baby at the hospital. Lets not judge her, lets just judge the dad who fought like hell to have his son.

  • AnaR

    The bio-mom wanted her baby to have a better life than she could offer him and DEFINITELY knew the bio-dad could not provide him a better life either. Hmmm, lets see, marijuana user, ARMY deserter, had no job and the family he lived with (his parents) are convicted felons for drugs and welfare fraud. Yea, that seems like a nice environment to raise a child in. And to say the father is “busy making up for lost time” is a joke, do your homework, its public knowledge, good ol’ Richard is too busy drinking and getting arrest for DUI. All of you who are making judgmental comments, really need to think twice, you do NOT know the whole story. You want to judge the bio-mom and Tracy, but don’t think for the moment the bio-dad is going to be getting father of the year award.

    • h0tr0d

      This is a twisted view. Mom should decide if dad has a right to raise his child ? I bet you’re all for “equal rights”, too.

      • Jim

        You nailed it. The world is fullof bigot who think mothers own the children and are somehow entitled tro make every decision concernning them. Female chauvinist pigs.

  • NIKI

    This is very upsetting to me. It is just as much the mans responsibility to know he got a woman pregnant. I think its really wonderful of Tracy to be willing to give a child a good chance at life. I dont see how giving this little boy back to his dad after 16 months is going to be anything positive. He has already built a secure attachment to Tracy. I learned in a recent Infant development class how important it is for a child to have a VERY stable 1st yr not to mention one for the rest of his life. Now to that hospital and others at fault- look what you have done- now women are going to look at safe surrender as a negative thing and now we will once again find babies left in harms way. But as my fiance has said to me before its my body and my choice.- obviously this woman felt the same way as well as feeling like this man wasnt father material. REMEMBER ANY MAN CAN GET A WOMAN PREGNANT BUT ONLY A REAL MAN CAN BE A FATHER.

    • Tbyte

      “This is very upsetting to me. It is just as much the mans responsibility to know he got a woman pregnant. ”
      Get real. Exactly how is a man supposed to do that if the woman breaks contact with him and never informs him of the pregnancy?
      A mother does not have the unilateral right to decide upon the parental fitness of the father. That is up to a court of law, should it be in question.

    • LaMar Sharp

      Niki, it’s not up to a woman to make a decision like that, a child can change an individual this woman was a monster and did not love her child, a human being cannot predict how another will treat their offspring. most likely the man didn’t want the woman that doesn’t mean the man doesn’t want or love his child these are two different things I know this because I am a Mother of a son where this was the case. It take two people to make a child and in the state of CA, the Father has a right to his child

  • Hereticmonk

    Since all you women are male bashing simply because YOU have daddy issues obviously. I would just like to say “THIS LAW WOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN WRITTEN IF IT WASN’T FOR MOTHERS ACTING LIKE ANIMALS DUMPING THEIR CHILDREN IN DUMPSTERS!” So before you feminazi’s with daddy issues continue your hatred of men, remember it was women and young girls acting like animals that caused the “safe surrender” law to be written. Sounds to me like women are the monsters in this story not the men. But if it makes you feel better to be sexist and discriminate and hate men for no reason. All it shows is your fear of men. If you were bashing any other ethnic or social group you would be called a bigot. The father has rights. Ms. Nugent does not have any right beyond a babysitter who watched the child for 16 months. Which wouldn’t have been 16 months if she had not fought the father for custody.. The mother who gave the baby away does not have any rights either. So next time a kid is kidnapped for any long period of time (16 months or more) then under this female logic the kidnapped child now belongs to the kidnappers and returning the kidnapped child to its parents would only cause trauma to the child. Idiotic logic from femanazi’s who just want to hate men for any reason.

  • Simply Stated

    Hereticmonk, I am a woman and I completely agree with you. Not to say Tracy didn’t get the real short end of this stick, I completely understand she is heartbroken and devastated….rightfully so, but in my opinion, the right thing happened. All of these accusations of the father are merely just that, sure, maybe he does have a past, sure maybe his parents have made some mistakes, but that does NOT make him an unfit father. So by Anar’s logic, anyone who got a DUI should not be a parent? Anyone who smoked pot in their life should not be a parent? This is just ridiculous. And NOONE should be taken the bio’s mom thoughts/feelings into consideration. She is the monster that abandoned her baby…. if she was smart, she would have not gotten pregnant in the first place. Clearly, she is not smart. Clearly, she makes bad choices. This baby that she loved SOOO dearly then why didn’t she place it up for adoption and have a say in where the baby went? She abandoned the baby without a thought or care in the world who he was going to end up with or who received him. Sounds like a loving individual who truly had the baby’s best interest at heart. The bio mom is a monster and because of that 3 people lives are forever changed. So don’t go on your rants about what the mother wanted…all the mother wanted to abandon a “mistake”. She had no one in mind but herself when she did this disgusting act of abandoning the baby.

  • treasure

    SIMPLY STATED has expressed my feelings exactly. I wonder why an adoption would move forward when it was clear within 3 weeks the father had not agreed to this surrender? How is it that a child who CPS knows has a father was allowed to stay in her home and not the father’s while the battle was fought in court? I agree CPS is guilty of missteps. They showed bias against the bio dad. Something seems to have been fast tracked here, with CPS on Tracy’s side. Have any of you considered Ritchies family? A year without their grandson, nephew, cousin? A year of agonizing and expensive litigation. I do not think Tracy cares about the laws that were broken that benefited her. She seemed okay with adopting a child she knew the biological family had not agreed to give up. CPS missteps in this area were fine with her. By the way–it was one of the ex’s girlfriends who notified Ritchie that she was pregnant and gave the baby away. If that had not happened then Ritchie would have lost his son to this new and abused law. Someone needs to fix the law. It is obviously flawed. It should only be for abandoned babies whose identites and parents are UNKNOWN. It is good in theory but bureaucrats wreck the best intended laws.

  • TByte

    This article has made me completely reconsider my stance on safe surrender laws. No, I question whether they should even be legal. The are, in fact, a means for the State to allow and condone the commission of a crime (abandonment) by a woman. The effect seems to be to allow a mother to unilaterally and irrevocably abrogate a father’s right to his child, and a child’s right to know its father, without any sort of due process. They are a means to allow a mother to avoid all financial responsibility for her child, on option which of course would never be offered to a father.
    Prior to reading this article, I would have supported safe surrender laws. Now, I think they should be abolished.

    • h0tr0d

      Exactly. How do you think this article would read if a father dropped off a baby without the mothers knowledge ? The hypocrisy is breath taking.

  • h0tr0d

    Just another example of why it should be made into law that a woman MUST identify the bio-father at birth. These shenanigans that defraud men of their parental rights, AND children of their right to know their biological parents are outdated. Where are all the equal rights feminists now ?

  • charles woodward

    please do a follow up on this story. this is so sad.

  • equalist

    I know that there are a lot of female chauvinists out there who label it as “misogynistic” to suggest that women are anything less than saints, but the fact is that women also have a financial interest in surrendering a baby without notifying the father. Surrendering a baby absolves the mother of any responsibility for child support (one of the many “choices” that women are given and men are denied).

  • treasure


  • SadSituation

    It really is so sad…The birth mother is really the one who should be getting the scorn. What should have happened is that the baby should immediately have been removed from that bonding situation as soon as the possibility of him being taken away was there. The poor father didn’t even know his son existed! That is a tragedy! I am a woman and I cannot believe anyone would think it the mans responsibility to “know” a woman was pregnant! Are you kidding me people? This is reality, Tracy got dealt a rotten hand, the birth father got dealt a rotten hand, the baby got dealt a rotten hand the birth mother….scott free in all this! WOW terrible, I can only pray for the father in this and commend him for fighting for his son. I pray that Tracy can heal from this and save another baby that the county or whoever, handles correctly. Sad, prayers for all.

  • treasure

    Sad situation is correct. I hope Tracy can save a truly unwanted child.

  • Hereticmonk

    Let’s all be grateful this story has a happy ending. The child is returned to his father. Amen. For how this story could have ended please read “Mom held in preemie’s death”. A story about a 17 year old mother who buried her child in her backyard just recently.

  • charles woodward

    any new updates? what about the fauther, and grandparents, what are they like how is the baby doing? please do an update. thank you

  • charles woodward

    what have you found out about the father of theis baby. does he work, or in the srevice married or live with mom n dad. i heard he was in the service. let us here from you please. thank you willetta

  • charles woodward

    is there any true background on the fauther or how the baby is doing? also where did brandie hitt go? WILLETTA


    For those who wish to know how the child is doing, I can tell you first hand that he seems very happy and well adjusted. His father is loving and provides a very structured life for him.

  • victor bier

    this is a sad story, because ,the baby was taken from tracy ,who loved that baby to the fullest degree, and the baby also loved tracy. even in the short time they were to gether. i will say to, tracy keep the faith and the following up on getting the baby back ,and to at lease get to see him

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