Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Domestic violence + child custody = no winners

CourtWatch's focus is to monitor the criminal and injunction courtrooms. But many cases that cross paths with those courtrooms also find their way to the family courts for custody and divorce matters.

We frequently receive pleas for help from victims in those cases. Because the people who have written fear retribution from the judges in their cases, I have concealed their identities. Here is a sample of just a few.
Dear Laura,
     I am the mother of an abused woman who has temporarily lost custody of her child to the abuser. My daughter is forced to go to 12 weeks of parenting classes because the abuser said she couldn't make oatmeal. Forced to do drug testing because he says she is on drugs. She has passed 50 drug tests and 6 hair follicle tests. The judge thinks she is altering her test. The judge will not let any evidence of domestic violence be presented. We have police reports, pictures and witnesses. The judge will not allow the older 12-year old child tell what he has witnessed. The judge said she would not listen to a "kid" say nice things about his mother!
      The father (abuser) is a criminal defense attorney. The father has had a 10-year cocaine habit. The judge threatens my daughter with contempt of court. We were told by our 4th attorney that a change of venue may give us a worse judge or make her very angry and she will be harder to deal with. These judges need to be accountable for ruining children's lives. My 5-year grandson is so depressed he tells his mother "when my daddy dies he won't be your boss anymore and when he dies I will not have to live with him anymore." He asks if he will be able to come home and live with his mother and brother. It breaks my heart. The older 12-year old has always been an honor student until now. He too is in counseling. We are broke from wimpy lawyer fees. Seems nobody gets it. We don't know where to turn. Legal Aid will not take my daughter's case because no lawyers are available. It disturbs me that the father has custody. I have tried to call different organizations for help. Most all organiztions are either a recording or refer to Legal Aid or you have to be on Welfare or the child in the system before anyone will help us. We do not have the money to do much of anything. 
Another woman writes:
Dear Laura,
     Not all victims are female and not all the abusers are male. My brother is a case in point. And he has not been able to get anyone to listen to or believe him throughout all these battles.
     As you referenced in your report, the last time DCF was called, they said if there were called again they would put my nephew (age 16) in foster care until he was 18. What's a father to do? The divorce was granted, but the mother was awarded 50% custody, so he cannot make any moves without her approval. So if it's something my nephew wants, she will automatically reject it. And if he refuses to live with her every other week, she has threatened to have my brother arrested for kidnapping and interfering with custody, and to take 100% custody herself. My nephew has tried not going with her, and the results were not pretty.  She is a very convincing psychopath and a pathological liar. Yes, there are witnesses, but no one will listen or give any credence.
     I truly fear for my nephew's long-term safety and security. Two more years is still a long time. And she will still end up the loser - why can't she see that? Those scars do not resolve overnight.
Another victim, with a criminal case pending against her abuser, wrote:
I am currently in a mess of criminal and family cases with my baby's father who was arrested for domestic violence against me. He also beat up his current girlfriend and was arrested for that assault 2 months after the incident with me. I have gone through all the steps that I have been told to do, and many I have not been told to do. I am so thoroughly exhausted and upset with the system and I feel like I have no one I can talk with.
    My ex is scheduled for his sentencing on aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, battery and culpable negligence next month. Our [preschool aged] son was present and in the midst of the violence that night. I did not know about my ex's plea date until 2 days beforehand and I made sure I showed up. He did not accept what was offered to him and asked for a pre-sentencing investigation, thus the August sentencing date. I was contacted by the PSI [Pre-Sentence Investigator] and asked to send a letter to the judge that he will attach to his report. I keep hearing that this judge is lenient and from what I saw in court that day, he is. Another man who was charged with battery and false imprisonment was only given probation!
      We also have an injunction violation hearing in the civil case. My ex has been approved for a phone in hearing and he entered a Motion for Modification of Timesharing to be discussed on that day. He is attempting to get my son up to the state where he has moved since being arrested in Tampa in March (the other battery case). The judge has allowed him 2 additional opportunities for visitation through Family Ties after he failed to sign up the first time.
      He managed to bring in custody issues at the Injunction Hearing in February and pretty much get what he wanted even though he is not on the birth certificate and has not spent much time around the baby.* He claimed I was keeping him from his son, and the judge twice looked at me and said "Both parents have equal rights and time with the child, there is no custodial parent." I was a bit naive to this whole scenario so I did not bring in his criminal history that day other than the 9 violent incidents I included in my injunction paperwork. That, I have learned, was a big mistake! Written in the Injunction Paperwork I am not allowed to leave Florida except to visit my family in another state 2 weeks at a time and that I must provide equal access to his family who also lives up there. That would not have been a problem for me but now he has moved up there with his family and now I have been advised to stay away from my home state from the Sheriff's office.
     My ex shows defiance to laws, court orders, and people. He has abused the system and his family by being given chance after chance throughout his mounting criminal career. He lives a high risk and deviant lifestyle by choice. He scoffs at any rehabilitation efforts and manipulates his way out of consequences. He is now a violent alcoholic, habitual offender and con artist with no remorse for his behavior. He has lied in court about his violence and bragged about spending only 30 days in jail for a 4th DUI.
     In the battery case, my ex was drunk and his intent was to kill me with no concern for our son. He was angry that he could not get to his alcohol and that I was calling for help. I have been in fear for my son’s safety and future, as well mine, since that night. To date, he has suffered no real consequences for his criminal actions. That is the reason I continue to be in fear.
*Legally speaking, a man is not considered to be a child's father unless he was married to the mother or unless paternity has been established by a judge in a Paternity Action. He has no legal rights to visitation, nor obligation to pay child support, unless paternity has been established. Some judges understand this. Others, unfortunately, do not.

It is heartbreaking when families break up and the children are used as a rope in a tug-of-war between the parents. Abusers know that engaging in a custody dispute is a surefire way to further harrass their ex.

I've also seen too many attorneys be less than vigorous in representing their clients in these courtrooms, primarily because they don't want to upset a judge before whom they have other cases. And their clients repeatedly pay exhorbitant amounts of money in a futile effort to protect their children.

Domestic violence + child custody = no winners, with children as the biggest losers in this equation

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Failure to protect? Let's stop "victim blaming" once and for all

by Carol Wick, CEO
Harbor House, Inc.

Recently a woman was attacked in her own home. It wasn’t the first attack; it was the culmination of over 18 years of abuse: mental, physical, and undoubtedly sexual. During this attack, as is so often the case, her child tried to intervene and protect his mother. The result was that he was shot by the attacker (his father) in the head. His mother, panicked, did what any mother would. She grabbed the children and ran, taking her injured child to get immediate medical attention. While waiting for word on her child, staff from the Department of Children and Families came to the hospital and informed her that, despite the fact that the attacker was now in jail on no bond and no longer a threat, they were taking her children from her. Why? Because she had failed to prevent her attacker from assaulting her and therefore she was now the abuser.

The logic runs this way. If a mother remains with an abuser, she is putting her children in harms way. Rather than hold the attacker accountable, attempt to incarcerate the perpetrator or protect the mother so she can protect her children, the system seeks to hold the person least able to fix the problem accountable. Would we arrest someone in Pine Hills because they have failed to stop gang violence? Do we arrest individuals who leave their cars unlocked when someone steals their radio? No. Yet when this most basic of crime, physical assault occurs, we want to believe that we can say to the victim – make it stop. And here’s an incentive, make it stop or we will take your children away.

Failure to Protect is a term that we are working very hard to eradicate. In fact, through the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV), advocates are working with DCF in Tallahassee to stop this practice all together. If, after 18 years, this mother could stop the abuse, don’t you think she would? Why do we continue to blame the victim for the brutal attacks and then sit idly by and point at her and say “well, make it stop?” Instead, this mother and her now further traumatized children, must be separated. How is the mother a harm to her children? She did the very best she could.

I have talked to literally thousands of survivors over the years. Never once did one of them tell me that they wanted the abuse to continue. On the contrary, they felt it was their fault and unbelievably, felt that they could, if they just tried hard enough, make it stop. And why shouldn’t they think that way? Apparently DCF does. And so does the State Attorney’s office. If you read the first article on this case, only a year ago this same man almost killed the mother. The charges were dropped because she would not testify. Remember the 18 years of abuse? This happens in about 80-90% of the cases. “Well, she doesn’t want to testify so what are we going to do?” is so often the response from the State.

We must, as those in the system that was created to protect victims, stop holding the victim accountable. It is imperative that we understand that someone who has been tortured for 18 years may be incapable of now standing up and testifying against their abuser or making him stop beating her. Yes, these cases are hard. Yes, they are frustrating. Yes, they sometimes end deadly.

But isn’t that why, if what we have been doing the same thing for the last 20 years and it isn’t working, we need to start trying something different?

You can read the entire story here.


And the general public wonders why abuse victims fail to access the System for help?

Additionally, it is imperative that as citizens who sometimes witness domestic assaults, either in public or when "something" is happening at a neighbor's home, become involved. Call 911. Be prepared to testify in court. The State has had some success with prosecuting offenders even when the victim refuses to testify (or even testifies on behalf of the defendant).

Domestic violence is everyone's business. More perpetrators need to be taught by our community (the criminal justice system, their friends & neighbors, business associates, etc.) that abusive behavior towards their family will not be tolerated.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Whatever happened to . . . ? #20

Brucell James Brumfield
Orange County 2010-MM-005618-A-O
Exposure of Sexual Organs; Indecent Exposure
Defendant allegedly exposed himself to children at the Boca Club Apartments & asked one child to come over to him.
Defendant pled no contest to Exposure of Sexual Organs, was adjudicated guilty and sentenced to 30 days jail with credit 30 days time served, 11 months probation, and ordered to submit to a psychiatric evaluation and complete any recommended treatment.

Wanda Smith
Orange County 2009-CF-000377-A-O
Sexual Battery
Defendant is a retired OCPS reading coach who allegedly victimized a student in the 1980s beginning when he was 11 years old and until he was 16.
Defendant pled no contest, was adjudicated guilty and sentenced to 15 years in the Department of Corrections with credit for 2 days time served.

Charles Henry Bennett
Orange County 2010-CF-001362-A-O
Lewd/Lascivious Molestation Victim 12-15 yrs old (2cts)
Defendant was a TSA officer who allegedly groped a young girl & asked her to be his sex slave.
Defendant pled no contest to one count, was adjudicated guilty and was sentenced to 90 days jail with credit 90 days time served, 10 years probation,  pay restitution.

Matthew Thomas Murgia
Orange County 2010-MM-004257-A-O
Defendant is a karate instructor who allegedly stalked and assaulted a student (case 2010CF7620AO still pending where defendant is charged with 1 count of Lewd/Lascivious conduct & 4 counts of L/L Battery)
Defendant pled no contest to Stalking, adjudication was withheld. Defendant was sentenced to 24 days jail with credit 24 days time served, 1 year probation, and 100 hours community service.

John Tegg IV
Seminole County 2010-CF-001234-A
Cruelty Toward Child
Defendant is the son of Belle Isle police chief & allegedly smacked his girlfriend's 2-yr old son in the face (the child had bruises on his face, neck, lower back & buttocks).
Defendant pled no contest to lesser included offense of Contributing to Delinquency of a Minor and adjudication was withheld. Defendant was sentenced to 6 months probation, mental health screening, write a letter of apology, complete parenting and anger managment classes.

Efrain Padilla-Hernandez
Seminole County 2010-CF-000228-A
Attempted Murder
Defendant (age 19) allegedly stabbed his mother's 26-yr old boyfriend in the back in an effort to protect after he had assaulted her & dragged her down the street (the couple has a history of domestic violence).
The State filed no Information (i.e., the formal charging document). Case dropped/abandoned.