“Brandy” – My Story
Ottawa County mother
In 2014, my ex-boyfriend became violent with me when I was pregnant and threatened to kill me. I tried leaving him several times, but he would promise me he would be better if I came back. Three weeks after my son was born, he came over and shoved me against the wall while I was holding him, squeezing the baby between us. He was then trying to put me in a chokehold but the baby was caught in between again. I filed for another PPO the next day, and he was served and had to stay away from us.
Child Protective Services got involved and my case worker, Connie Velero said to me, “If you go back to him, I will take both of your children away from you, because he is so dangerous.” In the last three years, I have dozens of police reports and photographs taken by Ottawa County deputies of the abuse that my children and I have suffered at his hands. Doctors reports for the children indicate they’ve been abused by my ex-boyfriend on several occasions.
I stayed with my mom for awhile and my ex-boyfriend kept coming over to her home, stalking and threatening me. Then, I spent four months in hiding in the Center for Women in Transition (CWIT) domestic violence shelter after meeting all of their strict criteria to verify that I had been abused. Presently, CWIT is still helping me, since I lost my job because of his stalking and threatening me at work. My 2-year-old son screams in fear when he is forced to see his father by Ottawa County Judge Engle.
I have been brought back to court repeatedly for denials of parenting time. One was from protecting my son when he came back from parenting time at his father’s with a black eye at nine months. His father said he got the black eye from crawling on the carpet and the doctor from DeVos Children’s Hospital said my son’s injuries were not consistent with his story.
Judge Kent Engle has said that I have not proven domestic violence when there is medically documented child abuse. Judge Engle is forcing me into a custody evaluation with Friend of the Court. I do not drink or do drugs. My older daughter has been in the gifted and talented program at her school for the last three years. I’m a loving and very involved mother. What more do I have to do to prove we’re being abused?
Judge Engle does not care about my children. He is not protecting us after three years of constant abuse and harassment. He is not following child abuse laws and allows my ex to object to my filed motions, but throws my objections out stating it’s their policy that I cannot object. I cannot afford a lawyer and do not want one of the judge’s friends to “help” me. Three lawyers that I had previously hired all stated that Ottawa County is a father’s rights county, and I will never win in their courtroom.
I recently filed a motion to require the father to have supervised parenting time. Judge Engle
denied my motion and changed the hearing to a custody trial. Then he put Peter Armstrong, Friend of the Court Investigator, on the stand asking him if he examined the entire history of the case. He responded, “I did” and then gave Judge Engle the following recommendation:
“Ah, well, I—it–taken on face value, If the child is suffering so much, I would recommend that we place the child with a third party custodian and have supervised parenting time for both parties until we determine what’s going on. It’s a drastic move, but it’s the only way. The child is with mom more, could be—if it—taking it at face value, if the child is suffering from behavioral problems, it could be that it’s from mom, it could be that it’s from dad, it could be just normal behavior. We’re not going to know. We can’t determine that. The prudent thing would be to take the child out of the —out of the harmful situation and have supervised parenting time. See if that’s supervisors tells us for both parties—tells us how the party reacts. To have the third party custodian decide how—tell us how the child’s doing, and then we would have an idea. I mean, it’s —it’s drastic, and—and you hate to do that. But I don’t know any other way to really get to the truth.” Peter Armstrong, Ottawa County court appointed custody investigator.
Peter Armstrong has been court appointed as our custody investigator in Ottawa County. He really doesn’t know how to get to the truth. He is an attorney with no training in social work, counseling, domestic violence, child abuse, etc. When Judge Engle asked, “And one of the things you would consider is a third party Custodian?” Peter Armstrong responded with “I would….I don’t know how to get to the bottom of it.” Peter Armstrong then admitted on the stand twice that he hadn’t started his investigation, hadn’t visited either of the parents’ residences, hadn’t reviewed any of the doctor’s reports, counseling reports or any other evidence. He stated that he hadn’t started the investigation or reviewed the evidence and yet stated, “There seems to be no solution.”
How can a court appointed custody investigator recommend taking a child out of his home before even beginning an investigation? According to the Michigan Child Welfare Law, “A child cannot be removed for any other reason than for the protection of the child from abuse. The child cannot be removed in order to “figure out what is going on” as stated by Peter Armstrong. This is another example of how our family court system does not follow the laws created to govern it leaving the children unprotected and abused within the system.