A much better summary of the Everett child saga

DMZ · December 16, 2005 at 8:26 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Containing herein my best understanding of what happened, the courts, the distinction between family courts and why this is important, formed in consultation with a bunch of people who I really, really wish had been around when I first posted on this, before I went into trying to write this up long ago.

And with this, I close the book and hope this never arises again.

So.

What we know, for sure, at a high level:
Daughter’s dropped off at the day care.
Someone at the day care sees the kid, calls authorities.
The kids are taken away and put in foster care.
The police investigate whether abuse occured, but file no charges and close the investigation.
Two other investigations then start. The child-protective side and the Queens District Attorney. The DA’s office disappears and comes to nothing.
The Family Court has some fact-finding hearings.
After some time, the Everetts and authorities come to a deal. Their son’s returned to them, and the daughter goes to a grandmother. The court finds that there was neglect, specifically that the wife punished the kids physically, and the Everetts are required to attend counseling and follow-up meetings. This is not a conviction of child neglect: indeed, there is no child neglect criminal charge either. This is, however, a court finding.

After this, they go seven years without another reported incident, and given the circumstances, it’s safe to assume that there hasn’t been another encounter with either the police or state welfare agencies over this.

I guess I could claim that because the police investigated and declined to prosecute that he was never charged, but for one, that’s a lame distinction, but moreover, I don’t want Ben telling me to “stop playing lawyer” again.

So, what’s the deal with family court? Reader Janet Ainsworth provided this writeup, which was best-in-class of those who helped out.

New York Family Court has jurisdiction over both criminal matters involving child abuse and dependency jurisdiction (child welfare and neglect). It is frequently the case that marginal criminal cases are reduced to dependency cases. In criminal cases, the judge is limited in what can be ordered to sanctions involving the defendant only. In dependency actions, the judge can order all kinds of social services be provided and taken advantage of, including counseling for any of the appropriate parties, including the kids. Since the goal in these cases is restoration of a healthy family if possible, you can see why criminal law is more of a blunt instrument and dependency jurisdiction a more nuanced tool.

So…dropping criminal charges in family court seldom means that the charges are factually unfounded–although of course that is sometimes the case. More often than not, it is a judgment on the part of the prosecution and the judge that jail is not necessary or would be counter-productive to restoring a stable family and that social services are a better tool to achieve a good home environment for the kids. The major drawback from the State’s perspective is that failure to adhere to required counseling in a criminal case leads the recalcirant defendant to jail for probation violation whereas failure to cooperate with ordered social services in a dependency action can only result in contempt of court. In theory that too can result in going to jail, but it’s legally messier, contemnors are entitled to jury trial on the issue, and so judges almost never use this power in these cases.

I think that gives a really good explanation of how the abuse case got into the family court system, and why it was then treated as it was.

Okay, so then: what’s in news accounts and so forth, with commentary on reliability.
- The daughter had bruises on her head/neck/back/shoulders (multiple sources, varies, the NYT on the 10th has Berman reading from a report: “Shawna is covered with bruises, and she is black and blue. She has welts that appear to be sustained from being hit with a belt.”)
- On the closed investigation:

The police investigation was closed a day after the initial report because investigators concluded that Shawna sustained her bruises by falling down. According to investigators who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Everetts told the police that their daughter often bruised herself “because she is a rambunctious child.” Officer Dennis Laffin, a spokesman for the Police Department, said yesterday that the investigation would remain closed.

(That’s the 8/10 NYT)
- The highly suspicious claim that the wife admitted they both hit and used the belt on kids (From the SI 98, but there are also indirect references out there to this appearing in NY tabloids I don’t have archives for. Since I can’t find any good source that ran this, I think we should discard it)
- The family court found that the wife had used excessive corporal punishment on the kids, and that Everett hadn’t intervened
- Everett admitted they spanked the kids (in interviews, Everett makes some weird, weird comments that certainly seem to indicate this is true)
- Everett and his wife did not attend mandated counseling and at least one follow-up meeting, for which they were “chastised” by the judge (SI 98, but I have a hard time imagining that the writer made that up from whole cloth).

Where does this leave us, then?
Everett was never charged with child abuse. It was investigated and then closed. Everett was never charged with child neglect as we might think of that as a criminal matter.

A family court, which has a much different standard of evidence and proof compared to the criminal justice system, along with much different goals, made a finding (see above), and they got one of their kids back.

Or, to lawyer up again for a second, during which I expect I’ll still butcher something: A charge means there’s a filing of a formal accusation (You have violated this law). The police investigated and did not charge Everett, it appears.

However, in court, they had to come up with a reason to remove the kids from the Everetts’ custody. This, be it petition, filing, or argument before a judge, has to cite grounds. Because it’s an accusation, I can see where it could be seen as “charge” (a formal assertion of illegality; a statement of complaint or hostile criticism), and I think this is where much of the confusion in the news stories occurs, inbetween what was accused in family court versus what initially appeared to be looming child abuse charges.

That charges were dropped is not true. There were no criminal charges filed, and what might be considered as charges in family court (which, again, isn’t criminal, has different standards, etc) were not dropped. To say that Everett was found innocent is clearly not true. To even say “criminal charges were not filed” without reference to what followed is to tell an incomplete story that gives a false impression that nothing else happened in the story, when clearly the police closing the investigation was only the start, and there is much to be concerned about then.

Why talk about this at all?
I’ve heard from some people that as Everett’s a baseball player, his off-field conduct is irrelevant, and particularly USSM as a Mariner site. Further, some have said that this is a personal and private matter, and that in re-hashing this, I’m doing harm.

I disagree, and I acknowledge that in a way I’m responsible for it in taking up the cause in a series of posts on the looming signing and the signing itself. I could well have sat this all out and focused entirely on Everett’s value to the team’s performance. I felt that Everett’s issues with teammates, opponents, coaches, umpires, and managers was relevant especially in contrast to the team’s general approach of valuing team chemistry, and his off-field issues were relevant especially in contrast with both the team’s stated goals and its campaign against domestic violence.

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