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7-Year-Old Boy Ripped from Family

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A father mistakenly gives his son alcoholic lemonade at a baseball game and authorities quickly send the boy to foster care.


Christopher Ratte, a Michigan father of two, never expected a day at the ballpark would land his son Leo in protective custody. Momlogic spoke with Leo's Mom, Claire Zimmerman, who shares how her family's lives were turned upside down by an honest mistake.

Momlogic: What happened?

Claire: My husband, Christopher, took our 7-year-old son, Leo, to the zoo and a baseball game. The concession stand at the ballpark served only beer and lemonade. Christopher bought a beer for himself and bought a Mike's Hard Lemonade for Leo. Both of them went up to the counter and the man handed the beer to Christopher and the lemonade to Leo.

They didn't try to card our son or anything, so my husband didn't think anything of it. Christopher even checked the ingredients, and it had water, sugar, and hard lemonade. He thought it was like a PowerAde or something. My husband is a classical archeologist who digs up old things in Turkey. He didn't know what Mike's Hard Lemonade was.

Momlogic: What happened next?

Christopher called me that night and said I should come to Detroit to pick up Leo. He told me he mistakenly gave Leo lemonade that was alcoholic, and had been stopped by a security guard. The police put Leo and Christopher in an ambulance and took them to the emergency room to have Leo's blood alcohol level tested.

When I arrived at the hospital, we learned the authorities executed a police order to have Leo removed from our care. Even though he had no alcohol in his system, Child Protective Services was still coming to take him away from us. They took Leo to CPS and put him into a holding room while we were forced to wait in a hotel. The next day, they placed him in foster care. We had no idea where he was. We were desperate and it was an indescribable nightmare.

Momlogic: What did you do then?

 The Legal Advocacy Clinic helped us get a preliminary hearing Monday. Leo was released to my care on the condition that Christopher moved out of the house until the full hearing. He moved to a hotel and I took Leo home. The hearing was Thursday, and thankfully the case was dismissed. 

Mom•Logic: As a Mother, how did this experience make you feel?

Claire: My rights as a mother were clearly violated in a serious way. My son was taken away from me. I had spent the day as a good American woman. At the end of the day, my son was taken out of my hands and I had done absolutely nothing to merit this kind of treatment. It's a violation of my rights as a mother. We were guilty and then proven innocent, not the other way around.

next: Moms: Just Do It
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous April 30, 2008, 1:26 PM

God, can’t the cops focus on catching the REAL criminals?

Russell Miller April 30, 2008, 1:28 PM

Once again, the system that is supposed to protect our children…..goes overboard. I hope that the family sues…..the agency has toooo much power, and many times just end up destroying lives instead of healing them. Opps, did I just say “healing them”? That phrase is not in the DSS handbook. Opps, did I say “DSS handbook”? I have not been able to get a copy of one, maybe because there is no such thing? The actions here must not be tolerated, because your or my child or children could be next!

shannon April 30, 2008, 10:20 PM

I don’t disagree with the other comments, and I don’t mean to minimize your trauma…however, allow me to play devils advocate. I think when it comes to children you have to act in the best interest of the child. The cops (I am not a big fan of them) don’t know you or your husband, all they know it the fact that a very young child was drinking alcohol at a ballgame with his dad drinking alcohol. Luckily you got your son back quickly and all was resolved. (I am sure it was hard on you, your son and your poor husband) But, You have to keep in mind that the cops responded that way, not because your husband made a mistake or he’s an unfit parent….on the contrary, they responded that way because there really are bad parents out there that give bourbon to a baby or a joint to a 5 year old. It’s unfortunate but because of all the “bad, abusive” parents out there, good parents like yourself who made an honest mistake end up going thru hell because of it. I can see your view about maternal rights or lack there of. And the fact that you were not even there and they still took him from you. But the cops are not there to interpret the law or to decide if you are fit or not. That is what the judge is there for.
FYI, I have heard the same story about Mike’s Hard Lemonade and parents not realizing what it is on several occasions. If I were you,… I would let it go with the police. They were looking out for the safety of the child. I would focus my attention on the Makers of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I bet if you ran a search on Google you could find 10 other parents who had the same thing happen to them. If nothing else make them change the label and reimburse you for your legal fees. Again I am sorry that this happen to you, and I am not saying it is fair or right, but I would rather Keep the kids safe rather than sorry.

Sorry Gotta stay Anom May 3, 2008, 2:18 PM

I think it is appalling how the State reacted and tore up this family. I have called our States Department of Family and Children on drug addict relatives multiple times and NOTHING happens. They don’t even go question them. and then they react like this on a this family. What that mom must of felt like. No reason they couldn’t of put Leo in her custody right from the hospital.

Not everyone knows what “hard” lemonade means.

Only staying anom. because of the DCF comment.

EvaRoze May 22, 2008, 3:49 PM

That’s sad.
An honest mistake sent huge consequenses.
They’ll take a kid away for that, yet I know a woman that’s in heavy drugs with three kids, and they can’t do anything because “they don’t have proof” of anything.

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