Property Issues Complicate a Tragic Situation
Just about everything about the story of Arnav Dhawan, a ten-year-old boy from Frisco who was found dead in his home in late January, is horrible.
The boy’s body was found on January 29, and his mother, Pallavi Dhawan, was charged with murder after police came by the house for what’s been described as a routine welfare check.
There were unusual circumstances after the boy’s death—his mother attempted to preserve the body in ice for days, until her husband, Sumeet, returned from a business trip, before calling police. Sumeet Dhawan says that she was attempting to follow Hindu customs that would allow him to perform a religious rite before proceeding with the funeral. Police also claim that she nodded her head when asked if she killed him.
But the medical examiner’s report says that while they couldn’t determine the exact cause of death, “natural disease is most likely,” and found no reason to suspect foul play in the boy’s death. The idea of a natural death is supported by the fact that Arnav was born with a brain cyst that could trigger seizures, which the family’s attorney suggests is probably what happened. Also, most importantly, there’s no evidence to suggest that Arnav was murdered by his mother.
That’s a point that’s been made over and over, by multiple people, including Dallas Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd, who wrote a piece in late March asking, “Why is Frisco mom still charged with severely ill son’s death?”
Unless they’ve got a smoking gun — and we’re talking about a real weapon here — it’s hard to understand why the Frisco Police Department is still charging Pallavi Dhawan with killing her son.
Medical evidence and common sense strongly indicate that 10-year-old Arnav Dhawan died of natural causes stemming from his severe, lifelong health problems.
There’s nothing to suggest that Pallavi has ever been anything but a loving, attentive mother to her only child. A medical examiner’s final report released Friday said that while there were insufficient findings for a formal ruling, “natural disease is most likely” the cause of Arnav’s death in late January.
No signs of foul play. No evidence of murder. So why the mulish persistence by Frisco police in painting this 38-year-old stay-at-home mom as the deliberate killer of her own son?
Now the Dhawan family is in the news again because the courts have ruled in their favor—partly—about the return of several pieces of evidence that they’ve held onto: $1,600 in cash and a number of the boy’s personal effects, as well as the family’s car and its hard drive.
The family will be receiving the cash and the personal effects, but not the 2013 Lexus that Frisco Police confiscated and have yet to return. And there are issues with the car that remain complicated—the hard drive was removed, and the family doesn’t want the car back without it, arguing that it maintains some of the vehicle’s key safety features. Further, when Frisco police did offer to return the car, they did so pending conditions that the family sign a waiver that would prevent the department from being held liable to any damage done to the vehicle. (Another stipulation requires the attorney to waive his ability to object to any evidence the police choose to present as a result of its confiscation of the car in Dhawan’s trial.)
To the family’s lawyer, that sounds like an admission that the car’s been damaged while in the possession of the Frisco Police. As the Dallas Observer reports, the department won’t say whether or not that’s the case, but the Texas Civil Rights Project is suspicious:
Frisco PD spokesman Brad Merritt won’t comment on whether or not the vehicle is in fact damaged. In a statement, he says that the department had been holding onto the car because the investigation is still ongoing. The proposed agreement, he explains, is simply a way for the Dhawans to get their car back early, “in an effort to balance the needs of the criminal investigation with the family’s personal needs.”
So, are these stipulations normal? When we described them over the phone to Texas Civil Rights Project’s staff attorney Brian McGiverin, he laughed.
“That stipulation sounds unusual to me and pretty coercive given the circumstances,” he says. “If there’s any damage done, it sounds like it’s already been done, so why would they be asking to sign away liability?”
It’s tough to see why, exactly, the Frisco police don’t need the car if they can’t be held liable for damages, but must maintain possession of it to gather more evidence if the family isn’t willing to waive their right to sue.
Ultimately, though, the court has found that police can hang onto the car for a while longer.