Color of Law Custody Cases

Color of Law Custody Cases
Rhode Island and other states often violate civil rights in civil courts when officials threaten to separate children from protective parents who are their lifeline. These cases may include "color of law" abuses that push the boundaries of law. Judges who allow color of law abuse in their courtrooms are guilty of "color of office."

In Family Court, we give judges ultimate power over people’s lives while taking away their curiosity, concern, and even their ability to inquire about what is really happening in these cases. This transfers the power to guardians ad litem and lawyers. These officers of the court can convince a judge--through false allegations that are frequently off the record--to remove children, imprison innocent parents, then bankrupt them through years of frivolous motions, and forbid them to talk about it--all under color of law.

In domestic abuse custody cases, this enables the abusive parent to gain extraordinary power and control over the protective parent and the children.

Here is more information about color of law:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

9.G. The Supreme Court weighs in, 1999

This case study begins at 9.A. below. (Click on August, then 9.A. in the Blog Archives at right.) My comments appear in italicized brackets.

August 1998 Based on Dr. Jenny’s revised report, DCYF overturned the indication against “Vincent,” and accused the mother of neglect. But they felt confident enough to let her continue caring for the children under supervision of the child protection agency in Illinois. The neglect charge offered her a legal means to get a public defender, Brian LeClair, in Rhode Island who could respond to Vincent’s frequent motions without requiring the mother to keep returning to Rhode Island.

November 1998 Once again, “Vincent” secured a letter from U.S. Sen. Jack Reed—this time to Chief Judge Jeremiah. Reed asserted that the mother had Muchausen’s--even though DCYF’s psychologist Dr. Ira Gross had rejected that diagnosis and said she was suffering from PTSD due to her “constant torment and abuse by her former husband” (Kathryn Hammann, Revised Summary of Facts, 8/24/98: 3.)

When Jeremiah received Senator Reed’s letter, he ordered yet another review of the case. Vincent again threatened to sue DCYF’s chief legal counsel Kevin Aucoin for failing to schedule an administrative hearing on his latest appeal.

September 1999 Vincent’s physician, Dr. Perry Mandanis, MD, reported to the court that his patient had been “thoroughly compliant with his treatment” and “that he was successful in coparenting with his first wife and raised their son without conflict”—an assertion that is contrary to the first wife’s 1991 motion for sole custody (Perry Mandanis, MD, Progress Notes, 9/9/99: 1).

[This is why reports by privately paid experts need to be evaluated by an independent multidisciplinary team, rather than taking the court’s time on potentially biased reports.]

September 1999 A Catholic Charities case worker reported that her visits to the family’s home in Illinois “go very well.” She wrote: "Both children are very well adjusted children. I have observed a very strong bond between them and [mother] on a number of occasions. . . . Academically,they are overachievers and genuinely good kids. (Catholic Charities Report, 9/19/99: 1-2). Both children said they felt “uncomfortable” talking to their father on the phone. The 10-year-old son said he was “scared that his father was taping the call, especially when he forced [son] to say he loved him. [Son] said he felt he would use that against his mother in court or something. He said that it wasn’t that he doesn’t love his father, because he does, but at that time he wasn’t feeling love for him and didn’t want to say it” (Catholic Charities Report, 9/19/99: 2-3).

The case worker found the Illinois home “safe, nurturing and appropriate” for the children, but also described a disastrous visit when the mother verbally attacked a therapist who allowed Vincent to have a four-hour unsupervised visit.

Master John O’Brien approved a motion from DCYF lawyer Martha Diamond to bring both children into foster care in Rhode Island. The mother resisted, saying she had no money for plane fare and not enough time to drive to Rhode Island for the next hearing.

October 1999 DCYF chief legal counsel Kevin Aucoin secured an order from Master O’Brien issuing an arrest warrant for the mother and fining her $100 a day until she returned the children to Rhode Island.

O’Brien signed a confusing warrant to arrest a “child,” but it gave the mother’s name with the father’s address--perhaps so Vincent could call officers if the mother brought the children there and have her taken to prison.

Knowing she would be arrested if she came to Rhode Island, the mother refused to bring the children. O'Brien issued an order for the children, ages 9 and 10, to be seized in Illinois for extradition to Rhode Island. The mother’s public defender, Brian LeClair, secured a stay from the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which found Master O’Brien’s order improper.

NEXT: 9.H. "Vincent" wins sole custody, 2000

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

9.F. How Dr. Carole Jenny rescued Kevin Aucoin from "Vincent," 1998

This case study begins at 9.A. below. (Click on August, then 9.A. in the Blog Archives at right.) My comments appear in italicized brackets.

December 1996 After a Christmas visit, the 7-year-old boy said their father had held the 6-year-old girl on his lap and scratched her crotch through her clothing. Master Sammartino ordered sex abuse evaluations of both children.

[I had wondered if Vincent’s alleged behavior might be merely his attempt to provoke more allegations, so the court would blame the mother for accusing him. Justice Shawcross had quizzed one DCYF investigator:
You never heard anybody say there’s a higher incidence of false accusations when there is litigation going on between a mother and father? (Transcript, 11/18/93, p. 13.)

[Shawcross's statement has never been substantiated by research, but it was widely promoted by Richard Gardner, and Chief Judge Jeremiah admitted he was reading Gardner on the subject. (Transcript, 4/11/94, p. 18.) By 2004, a year after Gardner’s suicide, his legal strategem held sway in Rhode Island’s new training manual for guardians ad litem. Defense attorneys routinely accused mothers of “alienating,” “brainwashing,” and coaching” children who resisted their fathers for any reason. (See post 8. The problem with Pettinato's "friendly parent," under the August Blog Archive, below.)]

January 1997 Dr. Carole Jenny at Hasbro Children’s Hospital interviewed the daughter and wrote, “There is no doubt in my mind that some event happened because of the child’s clear and consistent disclosure.”

February-March 1997 St. Mary’s Shepherd Program conducted extensive interviews by separate counselors of the children and parents. They called for the children to work with therapists “trained in familial sexual abuse.” They recommended that Vincent be “evaluated for sexually offending behavior, aggressive tendencies, and physically abusive behavior” and “that he participate in an adult offender plethysmograph evaluation….”

March 1997 DCYF filed a petition alleging that the mother was subjecting her daughter to emotional harm and the father had sexually abused both children. Both parents were arraigned. DCYF left the children in their mother’s care.

April 1997 DCYF wrote to Vincent that he had been indicated for sexual abuse. He complained that he did not receive the notice until late May.

June 1997 Vincent’s attorney appealed the DCYF finding and requested an administrative hearing.

July 1997 Master Sammartino issued a 3-year restraining order against Vincent that denied him contact with his children.

November 1997 The daughter, 7 ½ , expressed fear of a visit with her father and suffered chest pains, anxiety, depression, and panic symptoms at school. Bradley Hospital admitted her for a week. Physicians had already medicated her with Prozac, and later Tenex.

The attending psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Wheeler, described “evidence of significant character pathology in both parents.” But she listened to Vincent's allegations that the children's mother had Munchausen's factitious disorder by proxy. Wheeler identified the father as “narcissistic and equally caught up in the [custody] battle,” but she recommended a “full forensic evaluation” of the mother alone and agreed to serve as Vincent's expert witness.

December 1997 Counselors at The Doric Center of CCAP wrote to Family Court that the mother had been in counseling with them for half a year and suffered from symptoms of PTSD related to abuse by her ex-husband and by her children’s disclosures of his sexual abuse. Counselors urged that the daughter not be forced to visit her father and that the restraining order remain in place.

December 1997 Vincent again asked DCYF to hold an administrative appeal hearing on the findings against him.

March 1998 DCYF referred the mother to Dr. Ira Gross for a psychological evaluation. He diagnosed her with "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, relating to her former marital life.” He found no indication of Munchausen’s and reported: “she is a concerned mother that needs to be on constant alert to predation by her former husband.”

April 1998 U.S. Sen. Jack Reed sent a 3-page letter on behalf of his constituent, "Vincent," summarizing Vincent’s complaints to DCYF director Jay Lindgren and child advocate Laureen D’Ambra. Reed asserted that the mother was diagnosed with Munchausen’s, and he protested DCYF’s failure to schedule Vincent’s administrative appeal hearing.

May 1998 Psychologist Dr. Ira Gross warned the mother that Vincent’s behavior was increasingly unstable and she should take steps to protect herself and the children.

May 1998 Vincent threatened to sue DCYF and its senior counsel Kevin Aucoin for failing to schedule his administrative hearing.

June 1998 Vincent’s attorney, Michael Hagopian, withdrew, and Vincent entered his appearance pro se. He sought hearing dates for himself and his older son, 18, represented by a separate lawyer. Father and son each sought visitation with the younger children, 8 and 9.

[This is a common strategy used in Trophy Child cases, when older siblings are brought to court. Children often complain that older siblings they had once liked are used by an abusive parent to grill and harass them with guilt-provoking arguments and to pry information from them that is then used in court.]

"Vincent" complained that he, his 18-year-old son, and their three witnesses came on ten separate dates, but could not be heard due to the crowded court calendar. He sought confirmation of hearings for his son and himself on three certain dates.

Vincent asked the court to order his ex-wife to pay for her full forensic psychological evaluation, asserting that Dr. Wheeler suspected it was not the father, but the mother, who was abusing the children due to Munchausen's and that the mother "exhibited suicidal ideation in the past" which endangered the children.

July 1998 Dr. Carole Jenny delivered a forensic investigation of 27 documents at DCYF’s request. She acknowledged her uncertainty whether the December 1996 incident was “a purposeful molest, a thoughtless gesture, or perhaps even a suggestive touch made to inflame the family relationships even further.” She wrote: “I am struck by the extraordinary hostility between the two parents.”

Dr. Jenny enumerated extensive concerns:
• The mother’s allegations about Vincent’s abuse of her and the children included “extraordinary acts of violence and intimidation.”
• Vincent’s “relatively positive psychological evaluations” were “somewhat superficial.”
• No sex offender evaluation tools “currently available are 100% sensitive or specific.”
• St. Mary’s Shepherd evaluators felt that Vincent was “very inappropriate.” “They expressed on several occasions feeling intruded upon, threatened, and verbally attacked” and “had major concerns about his parenting abilities.”
• Victor’s psychiatrist talked about his “interpersonal difficulties, depression and anxiety” and was working with him “on his personality style.” But
. . . there was no description of his family of origin or of his childhood. There was no description of his level of functioning in general. Is he employed? Does he have reasonable social relationships with adults and peers? There was no discussion of drug or alcohol abuse. . . no evidence that the psychiatrist had looked at the effect of [Vincent’s] physical illness . . . or his medications on his ability to function.

Still, Jenny concluded that she was no longer “convinced the children had made unambiguous disclosures of abuse.”

She wrote: “the very process of these allegations and counter allegations . . . is extraordinarily destructive to these children.” Yet she blamed this on the two parents, not on the court system, itself, that encourages years of adversarial litigation, as exacerbating this problem. Instead, she blamed both parents and strongly suggested “that the courts consider one of two options:”
1. Putting the children in foster care . . . . or
2. Ordering the parents to meet face-to-face each week for at least two hours with a competent family therapist for at least six months to find common ground. . . .”

[Would Dr. Jenny’s assessment have changed if she had seen the 1982 affidavit detailing Vincent’s alleged violence and threats against his first wife and son? Both wives described sadistic acts of domestic violence and coercive control. Experts in domestic violence warn that “therapeutic” mediation must never be attempted when one partner persists in patterns of power and control.]

When Dr. Jenny revised her original report, and decided there was no evidence of sexual abuse and that the children were being emotionally abused by both parents, she gave DCYF the document they needed to escape Vincent’s lawsuit against their senior counsel Kevin Aucoin.

August 1998 DCYF chief investigator Edward O’Donnell wrote to "Vincent" that DCYF had overturned the indication against him, because Dr. Jenny had revised her original report from “indicated” to “unfounded.”

NEXT: 9.G. The Supreme Court weighs in, 1999

9.E. How "Vincent" got the Chief Judge to apologize, 1995

This case study begins at 9.A. below. (Click on August, then 9.A. in the Blog Archives at right.) My comments appear in italicized brackets.

[I am reporting on custody cases sometimes called “high-conflict.” But I call them “high-control” because one parent is using Family Court as a tactic to control the family. After two decades studying these cases, I believe that adversarial litigation does irreparable damage to families in this court. We need a chief judge willing to work at changing this court in ways that would make it less profitable to private contractors and less costly to families and taxpayers.]

One common tactic of control used by abusers is to provoke their families and then to videotape their enraged response. This “evidence” is taken to judges and news reporters to document the alleged “instability” of victims of abuse. Vincent had testified before Judge Shawcross about using video to raise his son:
I videotaped [my 3-year-old son] throwing a temper tantrum . . . I bought a VCR camcorder and videoed the children’s every move . . . dozens of hours of the children doing everything, including going to the bathroom and eating and just being cute. . . . [Once when my wife went out] the child dropped to the floor and started to cry. . . and I tried video taping him whimpering and crying . . . it shows me being relatively quiet, I might have said, are you done, are you done yet. It’s –- Your Honor, the purpose of the taping is nothing but a parent in regards to what a child does” (Transcript, 10/28/93: 12-13)

Vincent's pattern of humiliating his wife and children with embarrassing videos and photos continued throughout this case for the next thirteen years. (In 2003, his then 14-year-old son asked Judge Howard Lipsey to let him and his sister return to their mother after 30 months in their father's sole custody. The teen testified to a laundry basket full of videotapes in his father's bedroom.)

October 1994 When his wife and children moved to Illinois, Vincent had hired a detective agency to trail them. In October he used these private investigators to supervise his visits in Illinois and had them write reports criticizing the mother when she argued with Vincent.

November 1994 Trying to meet Vincent’s demands, Chief Judge Jeremiah agreed to let the children, then 4 and 5, visit Vincent, his parents, and his older son in New Jersey for Christmas. The Chief agreed that Vincent's parents could supervise the visits.

March 1995 Judge John Mutter ordered "Vincent" to pay his first wife $11,670 in delinquent child support, but Vincent claimed a change in circumstances made him unable to pay child support to either wife.

April 1995 In one hearing, Chief Judge Jeremiah worked out details for the father’s supervised visit and an evaluation of the daughter. The next day, the father’s lawyer, Michael Hagopian, said no, they had not agreed to the evaluation. Jeremiah exploded. He left the bench, then returned to the courtroom to apologize and said: “I was wrong to lose my temper.”

[Observing this in the courtroom, I thought the Chief finally saw the mind games that abusive controllers play as they make agreements one day and deny them the next. This is one of the reasons mediation should never be attempted in custody cases where one parent has a history of coercive control. I found the Chief’s reaction understandable and appropriate. His explosion, followed by self-doubt and an apology, were the same reaction abusers expect from their victims.]

May 1995 Appellate attorney Lauren Jones completed a pre-briefing statement for Vincent to appeal the decisions of Jeremiah and Shawcross to the Supreme Court. While spending significant funds on litigation, Vincent continued to say he could not pay court-ordered support for his three children.

September 1995 Justice Kathleen Voccola held two hearings and determined that there was no change of circumstance warranting the children to be placed in Vincent’s custody in Rhode Island, and they could remain in Illinois.

November 1995 After his October visit with the children, Vincent sent an underwater photo of his 5-year-old daughter’s crotch in her bathing suit to his 6-year-old son. The strap of a life jacket had tightened between her legs revealing her labia. She was outraged when her brother received that photo among others their father had sent him from their visit.

[The drawing with the words “vary, vary, vary angree” was made with a counselor at St. Mary’s Shepherd Program to represent the girl’s feelings about her father humiliating her with this photo. She said she was angry enough to smash soda bottles.]

March 1996 The mother, who had grown up in Illinois, learned to drive in winter weather. She always carried a shovel and sand in her trunk, and they often made the trip back to Rhode Island for hearings on Vincent's motions. Once they came through a terrifying ice storm, and her son, 7, became distraught. At school, he was learning to write by phonics. So she asked him to focus on writing a story about their trip. Here it is:

They reached Rhode Island, but when their mother went to court, she discovered that Judge Voccola had gone on vacation, and the hearing was cancelled. Some courts might notify litigants traveling from a distance. But such courtesies are not common in Rhode Island's Family Court.

May 1996 Vincent felt he was gaining the upper hand. He purchased the children’s plane tickets to Rhode Island for Father’s Day and announced that he would keep them an additional week. He told their mother:
I urge you to consider my offer of $10,000 to ease your way to Rhode Island. The actions of the Court ... should give you a realistic idea of the progress I am making toward re-uniting myself with the children with you or without you….

NEXT: 9.F. How Dr. Carole Jenny rescued Kevin Aucoin from "Vincent"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

FLASH 3: Grandmother in Court

I asked the Grandmother to keep me apprised of their case. (Click on August, "6. A Grandmother's Testimony" in the Blog Archive at right.) She sent me this email:

We went to court on Friday, September 3, 2010, for the hearing on the exparte motion. Our lawyer had scheduled it for September 10th but the judge crossed that out and wrote in "schedule for earlier hearing" which turned out to be the third. It was the Friday before a holiday weekend and there was only one judge sitting, and she was hearing DCYF cases!

I am only this morning calming down from the outrage of having to sit in court all day twiddling my thumbs and paying an attorney to do the same. What is wrong with these people? They know that there are no judges sitting on a Friday before a holiday weekend! Why would they schedule for hearings and have hundreds of people milling around in the corridors of the courthouse and getting madder by the minute? This is the insanity of our family court system.

[We now have the technology to improve this system. Even Panera Bread knows how to use buzzers. And every lawyer has a cellphone. Many have offices near the court and a law library at court. If Family Court improved its scheduling and allowed lawyers to be on call, then penalized those who fail to respond or stroll in late, some lawyers would resist. Afterall, this would significantly reduce their income. But it would help their clients and further the ethical pursuit of justice. Some legal staff have told me that lawyers instruct them to charge more than one client for the same hours those lawyers sit in court.]

Friday, September 3, 2010

9.D. How "Vincent" finagled Chief Jeremiah's order, 1994

This case study begins at 9.A. below. (Click on August, then 9.A. in the Blog Archives at right.) My comments appear in italicized brackets.

This case study begins at 9.A. below. (Click on August, then 9.A. in the Blog Archives at right.) My comments appear in italicized brackets.

February 1994 After eight months and fourteen hearings, Justice Raymond Shawcross, found the mother’s testimony of the father’s abuse credible. He kept a restraining order on Vincent and assigned sole custody and placement of the children with their mother in the marital home. He required Vincent’s visits with the daughter to be supervised.

April 1994 Chief Judge Jeremiah found that Vincent was stalking his wife and failing to pay court-ordered bills for child care or utilites. Mother and children relied on charities for food. The bank was foreclosing on their home. Jeremiah gave the mother permission to move the children to Illinois, where she could work in her brother’s law office and have free housing with her mother. Vincent could visit their son, and the mother must have the daughter evaluated by authorities there.

June 1994 The mother drove back to Rhode Island for a hearing and brought their son to visit his father. Chief Jeremiah expressed frustration with the two attorneys, John Lynch and Nicholas Colangelo, who had failed to agree on drafting the order from the prior hearing. Without a court order, Illinois officials could not provide an evaluation or supervise the family as Jeremiah required. He told the lawyers they were “prohibited from leaving this courthouse” until they had written an order based on the April transcript for Jeremiah to sign.

In the same hearing, Colangelo asked for his client, "Vincent," to have telephone contact with both children in addition to supervised visitation with the daughter in Illinois. Chief Jeremiah responded emphatically:
No, Mr. Colangelo, no visitation and no telephone contact until I get this [evaluation report]. That is an important issue. I need to see the report, and I will continue the matter until I get the report . . . . But there will be no visitation and no telephone conversations until I get the report. (Transcript 6/9/94:9).
September 1994 Attorney Colangelo withdrew, and Michael Hagopian entered as Vincent’s lawyer. Chief Judge Jeremiah approved arrangements for Vincent’s supervised visits with his son in Illinois, plus telephone contact with his daughter on Thursdays from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

Vincent prepared a one-page “synopsis” of the transcript of that hearing that misrepresented Jeremiah’s order. (Click on documents to enlarge.)

In his synopsis of Chief Jeremiah's order (above), Vincent wrote:
After consideration, the Court concluded that it would be appropriate for [the mother’s] brother to deliver the child to [the father] for an unsupervised visit with his daughter (p. 6 lines 12-18). [I have italicized key words here and below.]

In fact those lines in the transcript refer specifically to the son alone, for Jeremiah instructed the mother:
… your brother will be there to have the child go with his father.

In his synopsis, Vincent misrepresented another point:
The Court went on to review the report of Childhood Trauma Treatment Program and concluded that there was not a credible story of molestation (p. 7 lines 1-11).

But in fact, Jeremiah’s reference in those lines applied only to the son, not the daughter:
. . . in reviewing the report of the Childhood Trauma Treatment Program, it stated my professional opinion these do not constitute spontaneous disclosures that list the father sexually abused him.

Here are excerpts of the transcript to compare to Vincent's synopsis. His synopsis referred to his former wife's complaints on page 2. In the transcript she is talking about his astonishingly low child support. (Click on documents to enlarge.)

On pages 6 through 8, the transcript refers to supervised visits with his son and phone calls with his daughter. (Vincent's synopsis of the transcript changed this to unsupervised visits with his daughter, with no mention of his son.)

When he drafted the final order, Hagopian did not go as far as Vincent’s synopsis had tried to revise Jeremiah's words. Hagopian drafted the order to give his client unsupervised visits and weekly phone calls with both children, but no overnights. And he got Judge Jeremiah's signature:

But a full decade later, Justice Michael Forte incorrectly described this order as if it had "reinstated unsupervised overnight visits."
After the results (unfounded) of the Illinois evaluation, the Chief Judge reinstated overnight visitation with both children by Order of July 29, 1994. (Forte, Decision, 7/6/2004:2)

[In fact Jeremiah clearly said "no overnights" on July 29. Forte is referring to the written Order of September 26, 1994, pictured above, which followed the Illinois evaluation, but also did not allow overnight visits. Later I will relate how mediator David Tassoni, with Justice Forte punished Vincent's children.

[Lawyers’ paperwork is a frequent cause of delay, expense, inaccuracy, and emotional distress in Family Court due to the failure to follow through on filing essential documents, the misrepresentation of judges’ orders, and the lack of clarity in many orders. Family Court does enormous harm when it uses adversarial litigation in these cases.

[A better option could be for evidence of crimes like domestic violence and sexual abuse to go to the Attorney General, Grand Jury, Superior Court, and jury trials. Helping families resolve ongoing crises would be far better served with a single multidisciplinary team from beginning to end, as described in the prior post. That team could include a writer and clerk responsible for timely filing of coherent and accurate documents. The Court needs to steadfastly remove opportunities for private contractors to profit from inflaming these cases.]

NEXT: 9.E. How "Vincent" got the Chief Judge to apologize.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

9.C. DCYF and the experts investigate, 1993

This case study begins at 9.A. below. (Click on August, then 9.A. in the Blog Archives at right.) My comments appear in italicized brackets.

March 1993 DCYF Social Caseworker II Lauree Gilmore, with Casework Supervisor II James Nerney, completed the home study. Their report showed:

• No criminal record or prior DCYF history for either parent. [They probably did not see the first wife's sworn affidavit detailing Vincent's alleged violence and threats to their child, the wife, and her colleagues at the college. I found her document in their divorce file in court archives.]

• Both parents denied abuse or neglect in their childhood. [My later research indicated that both had suffered childhood abuse. Court reports based primarily on self-disclosure are often unreliable.]

• Mother earned $300 weekly as a paralegal; Father bought and rented real estate, had a brokerage license and asserted that his attorney kept records of his income, which was “too complex to explain.” He said that he had “fourteen mortgages and three cars.”

• Both parents had been in individual and marital counseling. Psychiatric Specialists diagnosed the mother with “Battered Women’s Syndrome,” and she signed releases for DCYF to see her counseling records. Vincent denied having any diagnosis. He gave, but then revoked permission for DCYF to examine these records.

• The report recommended that the mother continue in counseling and the father “engage in services specifically directed to his marital violence” and that his visitation “should be dependent upon cooperation with treatment.”

October 1993 Physician Abraham Bartell testified that his exam of the 3-year-old girl showed “abnormal findings,” consistent with abuse, but not conclusive. He said “there needs to be an investigation by DCYF,” but he could not “state to a reasonable degree of medical certainty” that the child had been sexually abused. He concluded that “this child is safe in all of the settings” (Transcript 10/15/93:1-3).

Justice Shawcross reinstated Vincent’s unsupervised visits. The mother and children entered a shelter for victims of domestic violence, where a counselor reported to DCYF that the daughter showed signs of being sexually abused when she returned from a visit with her father. At first, the mother resisted believing this, but a child protective investigator (CPI) indicated the father for lack of supervision “as there was evidence that someone molested [his daughter] while in his care.”

November 1993 DCYF child protective investigator (CPI) Virginia Miller testified to the difficulty of proving anything without definitive evidence. She could not prove Vincent was guilty of a “lack of supervision,” but her testimony was troubling: “The children said that when they were put down for a nap [at their father’s], that they were given yucky medicine to take. . . . they slept for a long time.” When they woke up their father wasn’t there, and Miller realized it was the same day the father was in court. She concluded: “When I asked the father about it, he said it was none of my business.” (Transcript 11/18/93, p. 15-16)

[Four observations: 1. In other cases I have researched, children complain about allegedly abusive parents forcing them to take pills that make them sleepy. 2. This son later spoke of their father punishing him for speaking to authorities. 3. Experts often use the passive voice in courtroom testimony and reports. This is a common practice in the social sciences that results in vague descriptions that can waste costly hours in the courtroom splitting hairs that fail to establish reliable evidence or facts. CPI Miller never said who was identified by the children as giving them the medicine. 4. Domestic violence and sexual assault are crimes, which police are often better trained than social workers to investigate. A police officer should be part of the multi-disciplinary team I propose below.]

November 1993 The son, 4, told their tenant that their father held a “knife” to his sister’s back, gave her a bath, and gave her “bad touches.” Another CPI, Michael Bousquet, investigated and testified that when he asked the boy about this remark, the child said: “I’m not going to tell you, it’s a bad secret, you won’t like it. I won’t tell you the secret.” After saying this, the tenant told Bousquet that the boy was “shaking and trembling” (Transcript, 11/19/93:11-12).

Based on the children’s comments and his conversation with Dr. Bartell, Bousquet indicated the father for “sexual molestation, sexual intercourse and cuts, welts, bruises.” A later DCYF report stated that the father’s older son, 13, also was “indicated for sexually abusing” the girl.

Shawcross suspended Vincent’s visits and ordered Bousquet to coordinate his investigation with psychologist Brian Hayden.

December 1993 Dr. Hayden testified that Dr. Bartell had told him there was “a strong possibility” that the daughter “had been abused” based on one of her hymenal lesions. But Dr. Bartell acknowledged to Hayden: “I have not said that on the witness stand, but, between you and me, that is what I feel” (Transcript, 12/16/93: 43).

Justice Shawcross recognized the dilemma: three witnesses (the mother, CPI Bousquet, and Dr. Hayden) had testified that Dr. Bartell told them the physical evidence was “classic for sexual abuse,” but Bartell had not said that in court. Hayden was not convinced from his psychological exam that abuse occurred. He described the girl running from his office to urgently ask her mother to tell her father: “Don’t give me a boo-boo on my gina.” Hayden said the mother asked the girl to repeat her statement for Hayden. “The little girl would only say it as she laid on the floor. She was very agitated, very awkward, and did repeat what she previously said to her mother” (Transcript, 12/16/93: 53).

Hayden confirmed that the 3-year-old did in fact say this to her mother in his office, but Hayden “did not take that disclosure as a valid disclosure” because the repetition had to be prompted. He told Justice Shawcross that he found the case “troubling” because “There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that don’t add up” (55). Although he recognized the danger that the girl could “get damaged because of this prolonged process”(48), Hayden wanted to see “how insistent and persistent this little girl was over a relatively long period of time” and he “spent over 13 and a half hours with this child.” He acknowledged it was “a lot of time” for such an evaluation, and he “never got the kind of specificity elaboration of details, placement of where something might have occurred” (56).

Hayden advised Shawcross that the girl should have “therapy sessions” with her father before any supervised visitation(58).

[Family Court still persists in sending traumatized children into “therapeutic” sessions with their alleged abusers. I will write more about insurance companies’ refusal to pay for such court-ordered “therapy,” how it compounds the trauma to victims, and how some psychologists may be billing insurance fraudulently for these sessions. Many judges place excessive confidence in experts who do not trust their own analysis.

[Dr. Hayden understood that numerous sessions might be harmful to this child, and yet he persisted. Normally, he charges parents an hourly fee, making every delay more profitable to him. In another case, I saw him delay his reports to the court for months until he received payment. At each hearing, he favored the parent who paid.

[Empathetic interviewers trained in child sexual abuse and able to set up a discrete video camera should promptly investigate each complaint in the home or some familiar, safe setting and help children to disclose these traumatic experiences. Bringing children to a strange adult in an unfamiliar office is hardly conducive to helping them talk about experiences they may have no language to describe.

[Rather than so many competing experts, a better model might be for each case to have a single multi-disciplinary team from beginning to end that would work together to investigate the facts and submit well-written reports and drafts of orders to the judge. Each team would include an expert in police investigation, mental health, medicine, law, and a skilled writer.

The team would not work as private contractors, but as salaried staff, professionally supervised in an accredited nonprofit agency. A team could better protect the child, hold each other accountable to high internal standards, and offer concise information and recommendations to the judge.]

NEXT: 9.D. How "Vincent" finagled the Chief’s order.