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Police Seek Mother Who Fled With Girl : Custody: Five-year-old was to be returned to her legal father, who is unrelated, after a visit, authorities say. Woman feared losing visitation rights, a friend says.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Thousand Oaks woman, who in a highly unusual case recently lost custody of her 5-year-old daughter to a man with no biological ties to the girl, has fled with the child and lost her visitation rights, authorities said Friday.

Catherine Thomas walked out the door of her home Thursday evening with her daughter, Courtney, and did not return, according to the child’s legal father, Kevin Thomas, and the mother’s roommate, Deborah Dickson.

The disappearance occurred about 7:45 p.m., toward the end of a monitored visit, when Courtney was supposed to return to Kevin Thomas’ Van Nuys home. Catherine Thomas phoned Dickson about 15 minutes later to say she was with a friend in Thousand Oaks and added: “They cannot have my daughter,” Dickson said.

Catherine Thomas fled apparently because she feared that Kevin Thomas was trying to end her visitation rights and was an unspeakable prospect for the single mother who also has two sons, Dickson said. “She panicked . . . she thought she was never going to see her daughter again,” Dickson said.

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Kevin Thomas said they were scheduled to appear in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday morning but only to discuss the location of visits and choose a new monitor, required because Catherine Thomas fled once before with the girl.

As a result of Catherine Thomas’ recent disappearance, Judge Martha Goldin revoked her visitation rights and issued a warrant for her arrest.

Meanwhile, Kevin Thomas and his attorney, Glen H. Schwartz of Encino, said they have notified police and plan to contact the child abduction unit of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Schwartz said prosecutors will have to determine whether Catherine Thomas--who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child stealing as a result of her flight last year--violated the terms of her three-year probation.

Kevin Thomas and his lawyer also alerted the media Friday, releasing photos of the girl and saying they were concerned about her medical needs. Born with a rare condition known as Dandy-Walker syndrome, Courtney is mildly retarded, blind in one eye and has heart defects.

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Catherine Thomas was not present during Friday’s hearing.

Her attorney, Arnold Freedland, said the revocation of visitation rights was not necessarily a permanent measure. Once the child is returned, he said, the judge could review the matter and reinstate visits.

The dramatic events cap a convoluted and bitter custody battle between Catherine Thomas and Kevin Thomas, two former friends who were never married, never lived together and never had sexual relations.

Kevin Thomas, who is openly gay, persuaded Goldin last month that he had played a significant enough role in young Courtney’s life to deserve paternity rights and primary custody. Catherine Thomas was granted monitored visits with the child three weekends a month and on selected weeknights and holidays.

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The monitor has been Kevin Thomas’ longtime lover, Robert Thomas Johnson. One of the issues that was going to be discussed in court Friday was alleged harassment of Johnson by Catherine Thomas’ 16-year-old son, Dickson. Freedland and Dickson denied the charge.

Kevin Thomas claims that he and Catherine were very close friends who had discussed raising a child together. When she became pregnant by a boyfriend, there was no question that he would assume the role of father, he said. He was listed as father on the birth certificate, and Courtney grew up calling him “Daddy.”

Kevin Thomas--whose original name was Douglas Kevin McCain--legally changed his name to match that of the girl and her mother about three months after Courtney’s birth on Feb. 8, 1988.

He says he filed suit seeking formal paternity rights to Courtney after Catherine Thomas fled to her native Vancouver with the child after a financial dispute.

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But in a series of recent interviews with The Times, Catherine Thomas described Kevin Thomas as an extremely aggressive, manipulative man who insinuated himself into her life. He managed to gradually wrest away the child, she said, because he is a more persuasive person than she is and had more money to spend on attorneys.

“I feel like I’m living in upside-down world,” Catherine Thomas said of her predicament.

She denied ever agreeing to raise Courtney together with Kevin Thomas. Instead, she said she was a single mother who welcomed his friendship and generosity toward Courtney and her sons. At the same time, she said she included him in family celebrations because he is gay, did not have children of his own, and she felt sorry for him.

She said she moved last summer from North Hills, near Kevin Thomas, to Thousand Oaks because of growing concern over what she described as his obsession with the child. As examples, she cited a one-carat diamond ring he gave Courtney on her first birthday and later, diamond-stud earrings.

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Kevin Thomas said Friday he bought the diamonds for Courtney to have when she turns 18, and has put them away for her until then. He also accused Catherine Thomas of getting angry when he refused to let her borrow the earrings, of envying the gifts and of having manipulated Courtney for money.

She says she took Courtney to Canada in September only after Kevin Thomas filed for formal paternity rights and she panicked, she said.

Her attorney, Freedland, said in a recent interview he thought that had been the mistake that cost her primary custody of the child.

Catherine Thomas also accused Kevin Thomas of lying to Canadian authorities after he flew there last January to retrieve Courtney.

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According to a Jan. 18 Ministry of Social Services report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, Kevin Thomas insisted that “he is the biological father of Courtney.”

The Canadian report also says: “Mr. Thomas further stated that mom ‘will make up anything’ to get what she wants. He says she frequently alleges that he’s gay and a child abuser and not the child’s father. He says none of this is true.”

Kevin Thomas said Friday that he was asked whether he was the girl’s “natural” father, and he had responded that he was. “If they interpreted that as ‘biological’ that’s a mistake or their ignorance,” he said.

He denied ever telling Canadian authorities he was not gay, saying, “I’m very proudly gay and never denied it in my life.”

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In general, Kevin Thomas said the entire Canadian document had “distortions” in it and had been discredited during the custody hearing.

The court records are sealed.


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