By Bob Chiarito
On the day many Chicagoans would celebrate a World Series for the Cubs, downtown in Cook County Circuit Court November 2 marked the day that a mother lost her best hope to get her daughter back — a daughter that has been kept apart from her and against her will overseas for seven years now, more than half the girl’s life.
The girl’s father, jailed for 18 months in contempt for not following a Cook County judge’s order to have the girl returned, was released earlier this month. The hope of the court and the girl’s mother was that jailing the father would compel him to have his daughter returned by her grandfather and his wife, whom she lives illegally with in Ghana.
Exclusively covered by The Chicago Ambassador, Christina Gunn, now 13, is the daughter of Ivy Davis and Raymond C. Gunn. She has been living in Ghana with her grandfather, Raymond F. Gunn and his wife Ayesha Hakeem since 2009, only returning home to visit a couple times, the last being in 2013. Both the elder Gunn and Hakeem are former Illinois attorneys.
According to Katherine Haskins Becker, attorney for Ivy Davis, this is a story about a poor, young mother who has continually been failed by the system.
Davis and Gunn met in 2002 after she ran away from a group home in North Carolina when she was 15 and he was 21. Soon after, Davis became pregnant with Gunn and he convinced her to move to Olympia Fields, where he resided with his family. They were married in 2003, by his lawyer father Raymond F. Gunn.
Over the next 8 years, the marriage had its ups and downs, with Davis ultimately moving to Georgia with her young daughter to be close to her mother, two years after being married. In 2009, Raymond filed for divorce and was awarded custody of their daughter. Davis, who did not have the resources to hire an attorney, represented herself and claims that she was bullied by the court system and her husband’s attorneys. According to the original divorce decree, the child’s father was to have sole custody, with Davis getting supervised visitation for the first 18 months, provided she post $5,000 bond. During the divorce proceedings, which lasted from 2009 until 2011, there were no allegations made against Davis’ character or other factors that usually would cause a mother not to be given at least joint custody of her child. After a legal battle, Ivy Davis was granted sole legal custody of Christina in June of 2015, despite the fact that she was and continues to still be illegally in Ghana.
Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen Kennedy, who presided over the couples’ divorce, declined to comment for this story.
Christina was first brought to Ghana in January 2009, after Davis was led to believe that her daughter was going to visit her ex-husband’s father and his wife Ayesha Hakeem for three weeks. Since then, Davis has only seen her daughter on a couple occasions, the last being in 2013, when Raymond F. Gunn and Hakeem brought her back for a two-day visit, Davis told The Chicago Ambassador in June 2015. Through her lawyer, she declined to be interviewed about recent developments.
When asked why Davis allowed her daughter to return to Ghana after seeing her in 2013, Haskins Becker said that she had no choice.
“She did not have custody of Christina [at the time] and could have been arrested for defying a court order,” Haskins Becker said.
Davis added that during that 2-day visit in 2013 was the only time Christina has ever met her other daughter Lauren Elise, who is now 5.
Davis told the court in June 2015 that she also was concerned about Christina’s safety.
“She’s been bitten by dogs twice and contracted malaria,” Davis testified.
As of Nov. 2, the last communication Ivy Davis had with her daughter was in September of this year, when she received a Skpe video, according to Haskins Becker.
Over the last few years, Davis has battled in court to get her daughter back, and has won some legal battles but none that have produced the return of Christina. In June 2015, County Circuit Court Judge Jeanne Cleveland Bernstein awarded Davis sole custody of Christina and ordered Raymond C. Gunn to Cook County Jail in contempt after he failed to follow a previous order that his daughter Christina be returned to Illinois. Her order was affirmed by the First District Illinois Appellate Court in June 2016. Because of the order, Raymond C. Gunn was held in Cook County Jail from June of 2015 until November 2 of this year, all the while Christina remained illegally in Ghana with her grandfather and his wife.
At the time, Davis told The Chicago Ambassador that while she did not want the father of her daughter in jail, his release was in his control – send for their daughter and he would be released.
In an interview with The Chicago Ambassador from Cook County Jail a few weeks into his incarceration, Raymond C. Gunn said he was prepared to sit in jail “as long as it takes to ensure that my daughter is getting a great education and being cared for like she is.”
Asked if he missed his daughter, he said “Yes, but she’s getting a great education. She knows four languages and is a star student and is being taken care of by my family.” He added that his father and Hakeem “will not throw Christina to the wolves to save me.”
Calls this week to Raymond C. Gunn’s attorney, Linda Epstein, were not returned.
Now, with the release of Raymond C. Gunn by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Logue after 18 months in jail, Haskins Becker said they have lost their leverage and with that, much of the hope that Christina will ever be brought back home.
In June of 2015, Haskins Becker told The Chicago Ambassador that the U.S. Department of State had opened a child abduction investigation and also would be contacting the FBI. But little was done by both the State Department and the FBI, Haskins Becker said. Both agencies refused comment to The Chicago Ambassador.
Haskins Becker said Davis is upset and conceded the chances that she will get her daughter back appear bleak.
“Ivy is devastated, her daughter isn’t back. The goal was never to have her daughter’s father sit in jail, it was to get her daughter back. She added they fear that Raymond C. Gunn will flee Illinois as he did in the past.
Going forward, Becker Haskins said, “We haven’t given up and will continue to fight for the return of Christina.”