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 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.