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