|Norbara Octeau and her mother celebrate Summer Solstice in 2013, nine years after her 2004 decision as administrative hearing officer for DCYF set the stage for Molly and Sara to be taken from their mother into state custody in 2006, kept in foster homes and a state shelter, and eventually turned over to their father's sole custody, despite the girls' graphic drawings and protests against his "sausage games."|
|DCYF headquarters at Friendship Street, Providence.|
Octeau said that she based her decision primarily on evidence presented by Molly's father:
1. printouts of three e-mails and a letter he had written in February 2004;
2. the affidavit of a private investigator he had hired to interview his associates;
3. his testimony; and
4. testimony of DCYF's child protective investigator (CPI) Ann Murphy.
Since the father was the "Petitioner" in this appeal against DCYF, the mother was not considered a party. She and her attorney did not even know of the administrative hearing held on October 12, 2004. Octeau had never seen the woman she vilified in her Decision.
The father and his defense attorney, Lise Gescheidt, attended the hearing, but only one person appears to have represented DCYF:
Child Protective Investigator (CPI) Ann Murphy appeared on behalf of the Department; investigative report #375756 was prepared by CPI Murphy, and references by her in giving testimony at this hearing, but was not offered by the Department as an exhibit. . . . No exhibits were presented by the Department. (Decision, pp. 2-3)
Why did DCYF have no lawyer representing it? And why did DCYF accept Molly's father's emails, letter, and private investigator's report "as full exhibits without objection"--the only exhibits introduced at the hearing?
At this time, DCYF's chief legal counsel, Kevin Aucoin, was responsible to "Enhance communication and problem solving initiatives between the Family Court and DCYF" according to DCYF's "Child and Family Service Plan" (November 2005, p. 52). Parents who turn to DCYF and Family Court to protect their children from abuse complain especially about the role of DCYF's legal department.
(Click on photos to enlarge; click "escape" to return to text.)
Norbara Octeau claimed that this hearing "was held in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act, R.I.G.L. 42-35-1 Et. Seq. and the Rules and Regulations of the Department for Children Youth and Families" (sic) (Decision, p. 2).
With no one to object, Octeau's Decision set forth fifteen pages of errors, hearsay, and speculation as "Facts" that gained a life of their own. For example, Octeau describes the hotline call that opened the investigation "on or about January 2, 2004" (apparently by a nurse practitioner--though Octeau leaves the caller's identity unclear):
The hotline caller disclosed that the child had been brought to her pediatrician by her mother. . . and while there, the mother had told a nurse practitioner that [her daughter] relayed accounts that the Petitioner came into the child's room at night and exposed himself. (Decision, p. 3)
When I interviewed the mother in 2006, she said she had never reported this to the nurse practitioner or anyone else. The child was always consistent that her father played his "sausage games" during the day when they were home alone, her mother at work and her sister at school, and that these experiences were very upsetting to the child and sometimes physically painful.
So it was irrelevant that the father "denied ever having entered his daughter's room at night to masturbate" or that he "explained that the girls share a very small bedroom and that it would have been impossible for him to have encountered [her] while she was asleep while not also waking his older daughter" (Decision, p. 11).
Octeau's Decision includes warning signs that should have alerted any hearing officer with minimal training in sexual molestation. The father acknowledges to CPI Murphy that he "had been sexually abused by his own father in his native country of Switzerland, and the Petitioner's father had been incarcerated as a result" (p. 3).
(This, too, is inaccurate. The father acknowledged that he and his brothers had been sexually abused by their father. But their father went to prison for abusing disabled boys who were his psychotherapy patients--not for abusing his sons--which apparently remained a family secret. Their father's prison sentence was reported on June 18, 1981.)
In another warning sign that Octeau ignored, CPI Murphy says:
. . . the child had described events with her father using phrases such as "we took a bath together and washed each other all up", "I was in my room playing and Papa came in naked and played with his sausage", "I told him that is not a toy, stop it" and "juice came out of the sausage". [The child] also told the investigator that [she] had complained that "Papa hurt her back and belly and she yelled for her Mom". (p. 4)
Octeau wrote that Murphy "described the child's mimicking of the masturbation act as not something she could have performed unless she had actually witnessed it" (p. 10).
Octeau wrote that the father said he and his daughter "did take a bath together because he wanted to be close to his young daughter" (p. 5, italics added). And that, on the advice of his brother, a lawyer specializing in child sexual abuse, he introduced the concept of "Parental Alienation Syndrome [that] could have accounted for his daughter's disclosure" (p. 14, italics added).
Molly's father had, at first, suggested that either his brother or their father might have molested Molly. The brother, a survivor, and now, a defense lawyer for those accused of sexually abusing children, came to the U.S. to defend his brother. Together they suggested that their father might have molested Molly. Their next line of defense was to blame Molly's mother.
Four years earlier, in 2003, the brother had given Molly's father this article describing the theory of "parental alienation" that blames mothers for coaching their children to accuse fathers of sexual abuse:
Octeau recognizes the Petitioner is on a campaign to find information in his defense on the Internet. She writes that the two brothers' arguments did not persuade the DCYF investigator, the police, or the pediatrician. But she finds them credible.
She focuses on hearsay and speculation that Molly's father presented about his wife and the journals she kept for her children--which the police had examined but did not consider significant.
Nevertheless, without ever seeing the journals herself, Octeau writes:
The journals were apparently a record of information meticulously gathered by the mother about the alleged abuse during the time frame of the investigation. (p. 19, italics added)
The mother had kept journals for each daughter from birth--not to record abuse, but to remind them of good memories.
Instead of insisting on seeing those journals and questioning the wife directly, which Octeau could have done, the hearing officer merely overturned the investigator's finding and made her own remarkable "finding:"
This Hearing Officer finds [the mother's] behavior and conduct . . . to be highly unorthodox and rather suspicious given the marital discontent existing at the time. This maternal behavior casts a shadow over the reliability of the child's statements and, therefore, closer scrutiny of the circumstances surrounding the child's disclosure should have been pursued. (p. 20)
Octeau's Decision offers information that appears ironic in light of the ongoing strategy to vilify Molly's mother. For example, Octeau writes: "CPI Murphy further noted that this multilingual child was hard to converse with because during speech she continually mixed together various languages" (p. 5).
It is easy to comprehend that a traumatized child without even the terminology to describe upsetting sexual behavior would struggle for words. But this, too, became a basis for DCYF staff later to punish Molly's mother whenever she responded to her children in Swiss-German. By then, the entire Department had fallen into line behind Norbara Octeau and seemed to accept the father's defense strategy that his wife used Swiss-German to "coach" the girls against him.
Who is Norbara Octeau? I kept googling her name. In April 2007, I found her online article, "Are the Rhode Island Family Courts against Fathers?"--apparently published to attract fathers to hire her as their divorce attorney
With not even a pretense of judicial restraint, Octeau sarcastically mocks the “pedestal of holy motherhood.” In another article, she writes that mothers’ “traditional roles . . . elevate their argument to a pedestal which still elicits a knee-jerk reaction to the hallowed image of mother and child.”
I sent a copy of her article with a letter to DCYF director Patricia Martinez on April 20, 2007. Nearly five months later, Director Martinez responded. She ignored the question of Octeau's clear bias, offered no evidence of special training, and defended the hearing officer as “a seasoned attorney” who has conducted more than one hundred administrative hearings for the Department.
According to online state payroll records, attorney Norbara Octeau still works as a hearing officer for DCYF. (The average amount paid to 34 DCYF contractors on December 12th, 2011, was $1,387, but Norbara Octeau received $15,437, by far the largest check of all.)
In 2007, Kevin Aucoin responded to the Parenting Project's Access to Public Records request:
DCYF Administrative Hearing Officer Stephen Morris has not sent any further data from his review of the administrative hearing files. The numbers Aucoin provided do not include findings that were expunged from their records after three years. This rule allowed "Molly's" father to win custody of her in 2007.
Reporting on this, the Parenting Project noted that DCYF:
1. fails to track cases of credible sexual molestation;
2. fails to assure that its hearing officers perform their duties in an objective and neutral manner;
3. uses a nationally discredited, unscientific “theory” called “parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) to overturn credible charges of molestation; and
4. works as a team with privately paid contractors (lawyers, assisted by clinicians) who rely on secrecy, delay, and misinformation to win family court custody cases for their clients in ways that harm children.
The Parenting Project's 2007 "Press Advisory" is posted online here:
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