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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Testimony for the House Judiciary Committee in support of HB 2014, related to child abduction



March 26, 2013

By Sean Aaron Cruz

Oregon State Capitol, Salem, Oregon

For the record my name is Sean Aaron Cruz. I am here today to testify in support of House Bill 2014, and am very grateful for State Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer’s leadership on this urgent issue.

Chair Barker, Vice Chairs Garrett and Kreiger, and members of the Committee, it is good to see so many friendly and familiar faces. I owe many of you my lifelong gratitude for your support of Senator Avel Gordly’s Senate Bill 1041 in the 2005 session, which passed on a unanimous House floor vote.

Senate Bill 1041 has since come to be known as Aaron’s Law, in memory of my late, abducted son Aaron Cruz, and I hope that someday its principles will be applied nationwide. If Aaron’s Law had been on the books in 1995, then my family would be whole and my son still alive.

However, it has been seventeen years since my four children disappeared in an abduction organized by members of a church congregation in three states, and it is my opinion that very little has changed either to deter or resolve non-stranger abductions in Oregon.

I first briefed Senator Avel Gordly to the story of my children’s abduction and to the issue in general in 2001, and she promised to work on legislative solutions. In 2002, she offered me the job as her legislative staff, and I began to work on legislation in the 2003 session, when I testified before Senate Judiciary and the Ways and Means Public Safety Subcommittee.

Ever since the 2003 session, I have been contacted by parents whose children have been abducted by the other parent, which is how I became acquainted with Mrs Charisse Laverdiere, who has traveled from Southern California to speak with you today, and their stories all have similar elements, like mine. Mrs. Laverdiere is the most recent of several dozen parents who have contacted me for advice over the years.

We are all parents of children who have been abducted by known perpetrators.

We have gotten no help from the police in large part because the children are with a parent, but there are also several statutory and institutional factors that contribute to the inaction of law enforcement and that continue to stand in the way of the recovery of our children and many others like us.

We parents of abducted children can’t find a lawyer willing to listen to our stories or who might be familiar with the issue of non-stranger child abduction in any real sense of legal expertise. I never met one. Family lawyers will tell you they don’t practice criminal law.  They want to frame it as a custody issue. If the parent can get into court, with or without a lawyer, the judge is no help, and court processes can grind out over years.

And yet there is still a child missing, a child suffering terrible abuse, emotional abuse that amounts to torture. These parents start looking for help on line and that leads them to me, from all over the state since 2003.

The status quo in 1996 when my children were abducted is much the same status quo today.

We are here today, Mrs Charisse Laverdiere and I, to describe to you the chain of events that have taken place in our lives as parents whose children were abducted from Oregon by known perpetrators.

(to Mrs Laverdiere’s testimony)


With Aaron’s Law, Oregon became the first state in the nation where abducting a child creates a civil cause of action, providing new tools to deter and resolve non-stranger child abductions. It is now more than seven years after its passage and still no information about the statute appears on the Oregon State Police Missing and Exploited Children Clearinghouse website, and last summer its first known application came in the Kyron Horman case.

I have no idea how a citizen whose child has been abducted or who is in danger of being abducted would learn that the law exists or how it might be applied. It’s buried in the ORS where only a lawyer could find it.

The Kyron Horman abduction is unique in several ways. It is the largest search effort in the history of the state, and is at the same time probably the only non-stranger abducted child that Oregon law enforcement is actually looking for.

During a press conference two years ago, the Sheriff was asked if there were any other missing children besides Kyron out there, and the Sheriff responded “none that meet the criteria.”

What is the criteria, exactly? What chain of events take place when a child is reported missing or abducted? What does it take for a parent of an abducted child to be taken seriously by the Oregon State Police? Who knows?

The 2004 Senate President’s Interim Parental and Family Abduction Task Force found that no state agency—and therefore no one—knew how many Oregon children were abducted in any given period of time, because no one was tracking them. They estimated the number at several thousand, but no one knew for sure. These facts are in the Task Force’s Final Report.

I’d like also to call the Committee’s attention to the news release from the Beaverton Police Department dated May 16, 2012. More than a dozen police agencies and other governmental agencies in the US, New Zealand, Australia and Canada were involved in recovering this child, and yet the Oregon State Police is not one of them, and no information about this child, missing since December 2010, was ever posted on the OSP Missing and Exploited Children’s Clearinghouse. What is the criteria?

There are other cases where children who have been parentally abducted from Oregon are identified on the National Clearinghouse for Missing and Exploited Children, but not on the OSP website.

What is the criteria? What is the chain of events that take place in Oregon when a child is reported abducted by a known perpetrator?

We urge your strong support for HB 2014.

Additional comments and recommendations

The 2004 Task Force on Parental and Family Abductions identified several systemic and institutional problems, among them:

(1) That “often” parents “often” take out their anger with each other through their children, and that some “even abduct their own child.” The Task Force found “that this is extremely detrimental to the emotional and mental well being of the children, and at time may even put the life of the child in danger.”

(2) The real injuries a child suffers is not recognized in current statute. “…the injury a child receives, when the child has been abducted by one of the child’s parents, does not necessarily include physical injury. The injury is more in the nature of mental trauma or mental injury. Nonetheless, the injury is real and may be even more long lasting and damaging than physical injury.”

(3) That there was a general lack of awareness among law enforcement, the courts, the bar and social service professionals, which partially explains the low priority all give to non-stranger abduction cases. This lack of awareness factors into the system’s willingness to allow the abducting parent to keep the children indefinitely, and the failure of law enforcement, the bar and court officers to understand that abductions are continuing crimes and respond accordingly.

(4) No person or entity in Oregon knew the number of non-stranger abduction cases originating in Oregon, because no agency was tracking them; there was no system to track them; A parent’s report of the abduction of their child likely went no further than the City or the County taking the police report. This is probably still the case.

Time is everything. But no one is interested. The court processes take no interest in the issue of time, the value of time in the life of a child.

No one understands that a crime is being committed, multiple crimes. The abduction of your child drains every last emotional reserve and financial resource you have.

My four children disappeared from Oregon in a church-sponsored abduction on February 12, 1996, during the Great Storm of that year, organized by Mormon church officials in three states: Oregon, Washington and Utah.

At a time when I-84 through the Gorge and I-5 at Tacoma were closed due to landslides and flooding, when my children’s friends and classmates were safe at home or in school in Washington County, members of this church group, I came to learn later, were holding my kids in a motel on the Oregon coast. They waited for the storm to clear and then took my kids to Utah, where fellow church members concealed my kids in a series of locations east of Ogden, Utah, intending to keep them from me permanently.

The Custodial Interference statute states:

ORS 163.245: “A person commits the crime of custodial interference in the second degree if, knowing or having reason to know that the person has no legal right to do so, the person takes, entices or keeps another person from the other person’s lawful custodian or in violation of a valid joint custody order with intent to hold the other person permanently or for a protracted period.”

And

ORS 163.257: “A person commits the crime of custodial interference in the first degree if the person violates ORS 163.245 and:
      (a) Causes the person taken, enticed or kept from the lawful custodian or in violation of a valid joint custody order to be removed from the state; or
      (b) Exposes that person to a substantial risk of illness or physical injury.”

The statutes make no exceptions for the other parent, family members or members of a church congregation.

My son Aaron died in Utah, alone and sick and without the medical attention he had needed for years, and my three surviving children continue to live in church enclaves, completely contained within my former wife’s church. The people who abducted my children got exactly what they wanted. All this despite an order for joint custody that had been in effect for five years at the time of the abduction.

Abductions have beginnings but no real endings. The damage is life long. I don’t think that there is such a thing as a happy ending, all the more reason to take steps to deter people from abducting their own children, which is the whole point to Senate Bill 1041, Aaron’s Law, and why HB 2014 is not only necessary but urgently necessary and important.

Recommendations:

[] Define “protracted” in the Custodial Interference statute. The lack of a definition contributes directly to the inaction of law enforcement. How lengthy a head start should a kidnapper have? What is a reasonable period of time?

[] Add child abduction to the statutory definition of domestic violence.

[] Recognize the abducted child’s mental and emotional injuries in statute and actual practice. Prioritize deterrence and access to medical resources.

[] Recognize abduction as a “continuing crime” in statute and actual practice.

[] Recognize that parental abductions often involve multiple perpetrators. Hold them all accountable, which is normally the case in property or violent crimes.

[] Require local law enforcement to pass all reports of missing or abducted children to the State Police Missing Children’s Clearinghouse.

[] Add a synopsis of Senate Bill 1041 Aaron’s Law to the OSP Missing Children’s Clearinghouse and elsewhere.

[] Recognize nontraditional family relationships in the Custodial Interference statutes.

[] Improve education and awareness throughout the state, beginning at the state bar, law enforcement and the courts.

Attachments: Beaverton PD news release, May 16, 2012

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