PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Texas appeals court opinion from 2010 is revealing new details about an aunt’s fight to retain custody of Devonte, Jeremiah and Sierra Hart.  

The court opinion also shares more information about the biological mother of the three children. The biological mother, who is not named in the documents, is said to have been a long-time cocaine abuser who had a history with the Department of Family and Protective Services dating back to 1985. Devonte, Jeremiah, Sierra and a fourth child were removed from her care after she tested positive for cocaine following the birth of her seventh child in 2006. 
Texas’s child welfare agency initially gave custody of the children to their biological aunt, Priscilla Celestine. The children were then removed from Celestine’s home when it was discovered that the children’s biological mother had visited them – a visit the children’s caseworker did not approve.  

Celestine argued that she was not home at the time, and that it had been her daughter had let the mother visit. Devonte, Jeremiah and Sierra lived with their aunt for five and a half months before they were removed from her care.  

Complete coverage of the Hart family 

Celestine’s attorney, Shonda Jones, said she has held on to family’s case files for years longer than she has for any other case. She told KOIN 6 News she was struck at the time by the severity of the injustice, describing Celestine as a hard-working woman who would have been a good influence on the children. 

“I don’t think this woman would have even had a traffic ticket,” Jones said. “All she did was work and go home.” 

Jones remembered that Celestine had moved out of her three-bedroom apartment to a five-bedroom townhome to ensure the children were comfortable.  

The attorney said she found it surprising at the time that Devonte, Jeremiah, Sierra and their sibling would have been removed from Celestine’s care for a single mistake or moment of oversight.  

“They’re so young and they’ve already had trauma in their lives. The only relative that they knew – I felt she was such a good candidate,” Jones said. “[Child Protective Services] had vetted her; if she wasn’t such a good candidate, they wouldn’t have placed them with her.” 

The mystery of what happened to the Hart family continues to slowly unfold as investigators are still trying to piece together exactly what happened to the 8 people who were inside a GMC SUV when it plunged off a California cliff and into the ocean a