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Emily Welker, Published November 12 2013

Fargo couple face child neglect charges after arguing over who would take care of children

FARGO – A Fargo couple were charged with felony child neglect after they could not agree on which one would take care of their children, and called asking police to take the children into foster care.

Delana Amber Lynn Brunette, 24, and Phillip Niles Vernon Biel, who is 25 or 26, were both charged Thursday in Cass County District Court with one count each of abuse or neglect of a child, a Class C felony.

Court documents filed with the charges state that two Fargo police officers were dispatched about 5:15 p.m. on Sept. 19 to a property removal call at 816 32nd St. N.

Brunette told officers her live-in boyfriend, Biel, decided to move out and she wanted him to take his two children, ages 5 and 3, with him. She told officers she felt she could care for her own 2-year-old child, who also lived with the couple, but not for the two older children because Biel, who was supposed to be picking up his belongings that day, would not give her a car.

Biel told officers he did not want to give Brunette a car unless she first paid him $250 for insurance on the vehicle because she had been in a car accident. He also told officers he could not take the children because the place he was staying was unsuitable for them.

Brunette and Biel told officers they had no friends or family available to watch the children, although Biel said his mother would take them, but only if they were placed with her through Cass County Social Services.

Court documents state officers tried to broker an agreement on child care. Biel told officers he would rather go through the court system than fight with Brunette, and Brunette said if Biel did not take the children, the officers needed to take them away because she would not be able to care for them.

One of the children was carrying his backpack during the discussion, documents state, and two of the children asked one of the officers repeatedly if they were going to be taken to foster care.

After calling Social Services, the officers took the three children into protective custody.

Biel then told Officer Sarah Gunther he had changed his mind and was willing to let Brunette keep his car for a week, but Gunther told him they could not release the children. The children were taken to a foster family.

Cass County prosecutor Ryan Younggren said he talked with Social Services officials and decided to charge the couple because they said they didn’t want to provide care for the children, although both were capable.

“Certainly, one can think of other circumstances – medical illnesses, other times when people are seeking help” in which neglect charges wouldn’t be appropriate, Younggren said. “But this case is where people didn’t want to … what’s critical is the details.”

There are cases in which abandoning a child is legal under North Dakota state law, Younggren said, but the child must be under 1 year of age, and must be left at a hospital.

An arrest warrant for Biel was issued Thursday and for Brunette on Tuesday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541