Tanisha Edwards rummaged through a pile of clothing she had brought with her to a seedy Nevada motel, looking for something clean to put on her 1-year-old son, Dwight.
Not long after, the Sacramento woman walked down the street to a Motel 6 parking lot with the boy in a cheap umbrella stroller and his clothes bundled on the handles.
There, she said, she handed him over to two women in burqas
she had never seen before, and walked away.
This is the scenario Edwards described in court a year ago, after Sacramento County officials first became aware that Baby Dwight was missing and had Edwards arrested, according to sealed court records released to The Bee on Monday.
Even the Juvenile Court judge hearing the case found the tale ludicrous, but no one objected to allowing Edwards to go free.
And so, after a hearing on June 8, 2011, Juvenile Court Judge Jerilyn L. Borack agreed to release Edwards from custody without having to produce her child Ė or even prove that he was still alive
, the confidential court documents reveal.
The records only deepen the mystery of what happened to little Dwight Stallings, who would have turned 2 in May. The Bee petitioned the Juvenile Court in April to release his confidential dependency court records, citing overwhelming public interest in the case.
The court transcript shows that at one point, Borack asked her: "He's with people you don't know?"
Edwards responded: "Exactly, but it can't be no worse than what you read in the paper."
Edwards eventually disappeared again, eluding both the court and county Child Protective Services until she was arrested in March of this year by Elk Grove police on suspicion of violating probation and being under the influence of a narcotic.
It was only then that officials renewed the question: Where's Baby Dwight?
Today, his 35-year-old mother remains in jail, unwilling or unable to help or to even say whether it was daytime or night when she last saw the child. Sacramento sheriff's homicide detectives say they have few clues to his whereabouts.
The transcript of Edwards' testimony reveals new details of the bizarre story she told about how her youngest son vanished into the arms of strangers she claims were relatives of the baby's father.
It also illustrates an apparent lack of urgency by county officials and lawyers charged with ensuring that children like Dwight are protected from harm.
By the time Edwards testified in June 2011, Dwight had been missing for several weeks, and lawyers for the boy, Edwards and the county's Health and Human Services Department gathered in Juvenile Court.
During the hearing, which produced 46 pages of testimony, Edwards alternately appeared drowsy, uncommunicative and, finally, combative, going so far as to use profanities to answer a question from Dwight's attorney about whether she had sold her son.
"No, f--- you,"
Edwards said to attorney Robin McIver.
After McIver asked the court record to reflect what had been said, Edwards interjected, "I did, and, b-----, don't ever (say) I sold my kid to anybody because that's not something I would do."
The county's Child Protective Services agency, which had an open case on the family, first learned in mid-April 2011 that family members had not seen Dwight for some time. CPS workers made four attempts on their own or with sheriff's deputies to locate Edwards that month, but were unsuccessful, and a warrant for her arrest was issued May 26.
She was arrested June 4 and remained in the Sacramento County jail until June 8, when she was taken to court to explain where her son was.
Under questioning from Borack, Edwards claimed that she decided to leave Sacramento in April 2011 and take a bus to Kentucky with her son. This was despite the fact that she had two older children living with her mother in Elk Grove.
Edwards said she got as far as Nevada, although she could not remember the name of the town. It was there, she claimed, that she discovered that Dwight's father, Hasaun Stallings, had been arrested back in Sacramento. Court records show he was charged March 30, 2011, with false imprisonment, battery against a spouse and vandalism.
Edwards told the court that at that point she felt she needed to return to Sacramento to clear out the couple's apartment on Florin Road, and "it would have been too hard for me ... with a 1-year-old."
Edwards claimed that was when the mysterious relatives of Hasaun Stallings "kind of found me"
"My cell phone was ringing," she told the judge. "They heard I was in trouble, they said, and that they could help me."
"And who was on the other end of the phone?" Borack asked.
"I couldn't tell you, I didn't ask," Edwards said.
By then, the judge clearly was becoming frustrated with Edwards and stopped to ask if she understood the meaning of perjury.
"I find it difficult to believe that someone would get a telephone call from somebody who is unidentified, who you don't know, who you would meet and leave your 12-month-old baby in their care, someone who is a stranger to you, whose name you don't know, whose identity you don't know, and this is your baby that you have had with you for a year, and you would just turn the baby over to these people without knowing anything about them,"
Borack said. "That is difficult for me to believe. Do you understand that?"
"I understand that," Edwards replied.
Nevertheless, Edwards said the women who called had given her a place to meet where they could pick up the baby. She said she left the "really cheezy (sic) motel" and headed to a Motel 6 parking lot. "They were already there waiting," Edwards testified.
Two women in "Muslim attire" and "completely covered" approached her.
"They said, 'This is Dwight?' I said, 'Yes,' and then I gave Dwight his hug and kiss, and then I left," Edwards testified.
The hearing came to a close without any testimony to indicate where Dwight might be, and Edwards' attorney, Jim Stillens, asked that she be released from jail.
"Objections?" the judge asked the lawyers present.
"I don't believe I have a basis to object, your honor," said Stacey Miller, the deputy county counsel representing the agency that oversees CPS.
Dwight's attorney, McIver, also did not object, but said that the testimony had made her "feel like my client is even more at risk."
That left matters up to the judge.
"The court also hopes that the child is safe," Borack said. "He is, obviously, of an age where he cannot fend for himself and is totally and completely dependent upon others."
The case remains open, and the search for Baby Dwight continues.