News Report: Call for Fulton Family Court Investigation

What do Fulton County families and children need most?

If you ask parents caught in legal conflict, you’ll likely hear the word transparency.

Georgia news media, parents, advocates and legal professionals attended a press conference on April 24th that covered in detail the danger experienced by safe, loving parents and their children in family court cases.

The allegations are serious and a plea was made to Fulton County’s District Attorney Paul Howard to investigate the claims.

The press conference featured Georgia expert William Perry who is known for his news reports on ethics failures in government. Perry, who goes by Georgia Ethics Watchdog in his reports, learned just how dangerous the legal environment is for families, and decided to do something about it. Several tragic stories were shared and family law attorneys weighed in, agreeing that something needs to be done. Atlanta’s Fox5 News aired the story that evening, doing a remarkable job at laying out what is complicated and challenging to explain.

The news report explained that for these parents who are being victimized, nothing is more important to them than their children. Children are reportedly being taken from them without any regard for the law.

Perry addressed needed policy changes and spoke about his challenge to law enforcement and other authorities to investigate cases where good parents are wrongfully accused, torn from their children and set up to fail.

My Advocate Center’s term to describe the problem is profit over protection.

Outcomes make no sense given our laws and the facts in such cases.  The real needs of children are thrown by the wayside. Does it need to be this way?

The image here was taken by a news team at the Fulton County courthouse in recent years, when custody experts were paid to suppress evidence of child abuse that was substantiated by forensic evaluations and law enforcement. The litigation resulted in protection and proper medical treatment being withheld from the child.

Young adults are coming forward now to speak about their experiences such as what this child experienced when outcries for help were ignored and silenced. There is no need to wait in beginning investigations and working to remove danger by closing loopholes in state policies.

When families are exploited there is often a lack of transparency and due process in the management of the litigation, so Perry emphasized the need for parties to be allowed to record their own court proceedings.

Superior Court Rules on Recording Court Hearings

This issue was addressed by Georgia’s Supreme Court and Superior Court judges and includes recommendations from stakeholders in the press, My Advocate Center and other advocacy groups.

The new rule changes take effect in May of 2018, benefitting the public, professionals who are ethical and committed to protecting clients and children, and also benefitting the courts in creating more efficiency and positive outcomes.

Parents, grandparents, professionals and even children are speaking up about experiences and the need to take action. Contact My Advocate Center’s founder Deb Beacham here to report details to My Advocate Center or to ask for assistance.

Investigations and News Reports Matter

Learn more about what is happening across Georgia and how investigations can make all the difference in improving safety, family stability, and the ability for parents and children to recover from trauma.

Contact My Advocate Center to review case studies and data on these issues. Investigators will discover that the problems described here are wide-spread and found nationwide, but with Fulton County’s large population and high rates of domestic violence and child abuse, there is a special need for a concentrated review of cases in this area.

Background material for news reports and investigations can also be found in reports such as this story by an Augusta news station about glaring misconduct by a Guardian ad Litem who manipulated cases based upon whether vulnerable women would comply with his demands, or not.

What is Stalking and Why is it a Dangerous Crime?

The Fatality Review Annual Report for 2017 addresses misconceptions about stalking and explains why it is a much more dangerous crime, connecting to more deaths of domestic violence victims, than most people realize.

Stalking involves a course of conduct by the perpetrator that is meant to cause fear and uncertainty or an expectation of harm in the victim. It is often an unseen or almost invisible crime, but the danger lurking around the corner or in the shadows is always a sign of trauma and injury to follow.

This course of conduct is also found in civil cases where one party – the aggressor or perpetrator of crimes paying to avoid accountability and block protection for the victim and children involved – uses stalking tactics to destabilize the victim. It is no less of a crime when stalking occurs in the context of a scheme to cause harm during litigation. The intent is provoke the victim into appearing more scared and to the point of looking paranoid than the targeted party would be otherwise. Because stalking can be obscured and sometimes explained away by the perpetrator, the victim may be easily discredited and thereby unable to receive protection. The perpetrator is then free to continue the stalking and harassing behavior. In situations like the one just described, the perpetrator often uses others to stalk and harass by proxy.

This scenario is one seen in many cases reported to My Advocate Center, and it is often the case that professionals being paid by the perpetrator are assisting in the series of crimes by coordinating and covering for the perpetrator. Doing so is profitable because it also helps prolong litigation as the perpetrator will pay to escalate the stress and injury to the victim while avoiding accountability for the criminal behavior. This is a dangerous trend in family courts and one that must be addressed now before more lives are lost – including those of the children witnessing this form of domestic or family violence.

 

Georgia Domestic Violence – Fatality Review Annual Report 2017 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Ready, Aim, Fire at Pain and Anguish

Following the grief over the loss of life in school shootings, I started researching and realized that others were doing the same thing, trying to find the root cause for the extreme rage and motivation to harm others. I knew from a couple of situations that what happens to children during escalated and prolonged family conflict had something to do with these rampages.

A few insights shared on Mic.com:

“A parent’s death or divorce also appears to be a commonality among some of the lone shooters — Adam Lanza (Newtown, 2012), Elliot Rodgers (Santa Barbara, 2014) and Nikolas Cruz (Parkland 2018). Research indicates boys appear to be more at risk than girls when their parents divorce, particularly when it comes to higher suicide rates.

“It’s one brick or thread that could set a child up to have more a vulnerability if someone doesn’t step in and raise a child, teaching them to respect the rights of others and that actions have consequences,” said Richard Warshak, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and author of Divorce Poison, which explores acrimonious divorce and the psychological effects on children of parental bad-mouthing.

“Divorce sets in motion a set of changes that put kids at risk for problems in behavior.”

Divorce is not “inherently bad” for every child, he says. But there are risks, especially if it changes the family’s financial situation or parents “bad-mouth” each other.

Several studies over three decades show that divorce — especially an acrimonious one — can increase a child’s risk for developing depression, anxiety and engaging in criminal acts.”

These issues aren’t things we discuss often enough, but we should.

I wish I didn’t have a personal experience to validate these findings, but I do. I witnessed it in my own step-sons, when I was too young and without the authority to help them overcome what had happened to them and their mother. And, I didn’t have the right information at the time. I just knew they were suffering, and it seemed like there had to be a way to help them through it. I wish I could have done more to help them avoid failures in those early years, and the loss of one’s life later on.

No, I can’t go back in time, but I can engage leadership, stakeholders and problem-solves across society to do more with what we know now.

Perpetrator of Domestic Violence Commits Murder-Suicide

A nationwide extradition order for Kelley James McDonald Jr. wasn’t enough to stop him from showing up in Georgia to murder his victim and her sister. Fortunately the three children involved are still alive, but two of the three are hospitalized with injuries including a gunshot wound to the teen girl.

McDonald was on the run for the last two weeks according to local Tampa news sources before locating his target and murdering her and her sister before taking his own life.

Law enforcement is still searching for the driver of a Ford Explorer believed to have traveled with McDonald. The color of the vehicle is described as gold or champagne.

The two year-old child injured at the house during the murders is McDonald’s own child. As is typical of perpetrators of domestic violence, harming what is believed to be his own child was apparently not a concern of McDonald. A sixteen year-old girl was shot and needed surgery.

Lumpkin County Sheriff shared with Georgia news media including WSB-TV that the deaths in north Georgia stemmed from a domestic abuse situation in Florida.

However, it’s important to point out that what occurred in Florida showed clear intent to cause permanent harm. The perpetrator did not just act “in the heat of the moment.” He broke in and attempted murder by strangulation.

Domestic abuse is too generic a term for what escalated into murder in this case. The criminal report specifically state battery by strangulation and burglary with assault/battery.

The AJC reported that the Sheriff is trying to determine how McDonald made it to the home to take their lives. In the meantime, we need to better educate victims and the public on ways to identify the kind of behavior that leads to loss of life. Sometimes there is a weapon involved, like a gun or maybe a knife as in the Kristofak murder in Cobb County after John Kristofak was let out of jail only 7 months into his four year sentence. In other instances the murderous mind uses others in an attempt to keep his hands clean and his reputation intact, such as was the case with Fred Tokars. Sometimes the perpetrator stops just short of murder, leaving the victim severely injured and suffering for a lifetime.

But we know enough about these deviants of society who desire to do harm to their victims, no matter the cost.

McDonald’s victim, the mother of his child, was right to leave the state of Florida and flee to Georgia to shelter with family. Unfortunately, she likely believed that she and her family would be safe from him. He was able to obtain access to another vehicle and show up at the residence of a family member to find and kill her.

In sharing this story, I encourage anyone who is battered by another to take the warnings very seriously. If you are subjected to cruelty and aware that a perpetrator will not hold back on causing you injury just because children are present, this is a solid indicator that greater harm will follow.

When a perpetrator is determined to locate the victim, he or she will likely employ whatever tactics can be managed, whether legal or not.

 

To news media and law enforcement:

This is not just another unfortunate incident or shocking murder story. Please let it be a wake-up call – – call it what it is and don’t soften the descriptives.

When a perpetrator of any form of criminal act involving domestic violence, abuse, cruelty, stalking – whatever label is used – shows you who he is, follow through. Protect the victim and the children. Communicate and engage in ways to keep the victim’s location secured and private.  Deal more harshly at the first sign that the perpetrator is not concerned about accountability.

Let’s not merely be busy or shocked and dismayed, but moved to prevent the next tragedy and loss of life. These children needed their mother to be kept safe. They need what they can no longer have.

We know the warning signs, we have the laws, but do we have the willpower and stamina to stay after those with cruel, destructive mindsets to stop them?

 

Photo courtesy of WSB-TV investigative reporter Mike Petchenik.

 

Georgia Political Update: Victim Protection and Perpetrator Accountability

Many of our citizens believe that protection for victims is the battle cry only heard from the progressive side of the aisle, but in this past legislative session I learned about the role of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and how conservative values drove policy reform efforts to better serve victims of abuse and to improve safety and stability for our citizens.

One of the things that stood out for me is that the Georgia Baptist Mission acknowledged its members have as much to lose as other religious groups from extending statutes of limitations for suing not only sexual predators but also the entities that enabled and/or covered for the predator. In spite of this financial and public exposure risk, the Baptist leadership stated firmly its position to seek better protection for the vulnerable and real accountability for perpetrators of child exploitation.

This is not a liberal or conservative issue, nor is it a characteristic of one party or another.

It is resoundingly a matter of right versus wrong.

We need more of this form of advocacy, this type of integrity and leadership. We need more people across society to loudly and firmly, “No,” to putting profit over protection. In my work and social engagement, online and offline, I’ll continue to acknowledge and support good work by those on all sides of political, faith, protection and enforcement issues. The more we all pull together and close the divides that exist around this problem, the faster we save lives and stop abuses of all forms.

The topics of predatory behavior, the lack of transparency and accountability for perpetrators, the lack of protection for children and adult victims of abuse, and the extreme difficulty for victims and survivors to recover are ones I’ve been studying, analyzing and reporting on for years. I’ll continue this work far into the future, specifically focused on solutions that both prevent and assist in recovery.

I’m especially grateful to all participating actively and investing in creating change in this area of our society. Thank you for standing up, speaking out, and showing up repeatedly and demonstrating your commitment to improving safety and allowing for recovery.

In this section below, I’ve included an excerpt of the legislative update from the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s Public Affairs team:

SEXUAL ABUSE

“On a positive side was legislation like HB 732, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox, that increases fines and penalties for pandering and solicitation for sex trafficking. These are the “middle men” who are out there drumming up business for pimps and johns. This legislation is needed to crack down on all who are a part of sexual exploitation of individuals for sex trafficking in our state. See GBC resolution on this issue https://gabaptist.egnyte.com/dl/JTaByb5jS7/RESOLUTION_ON_HUMAN_TRAFFICKING.PDF_ .

Rep. Jason Spencer addresses the topic of sexual predators at a press conference. MIKE GRIFFIN/Index

A bill that caused a sizable amount of controversy had to do with HB 605, The Hidden Predator Act. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Spencer, (https://christianindex.org/children-hidden-predator-act-2018/ ) passed the House by a 170-0 vote. The bill basically allowed the statute of limitations to be extended to allow victims of child sex abuse to sue entities who had covered up child sexual abuse in the past. The bill was severely amended in the Senate. (https://christianindex.org/legislative-update-georgia-hidden-predator-act/ ) It was amended so much that there was very little legal remedy left for those whose statute of limitations had run out for criminal prosecution.  This legislation was introduced in the context of the legal cases regarding the Boy Scouts, The Catholic Church and USA Gymnastics.

Georgia Baptists supported this bill because we felt that it struck a balance in allowing the victims to sue, and the rights of the entities to defend themselves. However, because of the severe amending done by the Senate, the House did not agree with their version. The Senate would not appoint a conference committee and the House would not agree to the changes and the bill, therefore, died. This is a sad outcome for these victims/survivors of child sexual abuse.”

 

Let me know about your involvement in these issues and how I can better support you by contacting me here, and by connecting and engaging on social media.

Thank you,

Deb Beacham

My Advocate Center on Twitter

Facebook Advocacy

 

Early Intervention Key in Bullying of Children

Bullying is everywhere in our society and while we’re often made to believe we are over reacting or being too protective, the truth is that we may not be as responsive as is warranted given the lasting impact on bullied children.

How should you respond to a child who behaves like a bully or doesn’t handle stress well?

It’s hard to know when and in what form intervention should be provided, so it’s important to know the right specialists to evaluate each unique situation. Early intervention is always the best approach.

My Advocate Center’s data encompasses decades of study on forms of bullying, coercion and manipulation of both children and parents, so it is my hope that you’ll spend time on this subject and learn from the resource material shared here such as the CDC brochure below on bullying and suicide risk.

Another useful tool speaks to coercive control and can be found on this blog as the Judicial Guide to Child Safety.

This Judicial Guide addresses abusive conduct by a parent and was presented to family and juvenile courts across the U.S., but the terms, descriptions and responses are helpful in addressing bullying in other contexts.

What we know for certain is that the better informed parents are, and the more support they have in serving the needs of their children especially when any form of abuse is involved, the greater the opportunity for their children to remain safe, healthy and peaceful.

There are many forms and styles of bullying and harmful behavior, so if you do not see what you are looking for in this resource, please contact me using this request form.

Deb Beacham, Founder of My Advocate Center, Inc. and Pro Advocate Radio

 

Bullying and Suicide CDC Report_Violence Prevention by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Protected: Children Traded as Commodities

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Child Safety Must Come First by US Representatives

Great news for children and parents being denied protection from domestic abuse, who are often harmed during prolonged child custody litigation.

Please read, share and contact your state’s leaders to join in with their support of this House Resolution No. 72.

Georgia’s children and parents are especially vulnerable, as hundreds of cases across the state now prove. Television and print news media and several independent journalists have documented professional conduct in what is referred to as “sensitive” cases, including by filing Rule 22 Requests to Record judicial proceedings.

The big deal about the conduct being documented is this: the way many Georgia child custody cases are managed often puts children in harm’s way as they are given to the parent most likely to cause stress or injury.  It is hard to fathom if you can not see it firsthand, but sometimes court professionals, including child custody experts, go so far as to deny children and adult victims of domestic abuse protection and even necessary medical and psychological care.

If you live in Georgia, you can find your U.S. Representatives here. Please encourage your representatives to read and support this resolution. And, in Georgia, learn how you can encourage leadership to keep our courts and court records open and accessible.

As these cases are usually cloaked by a veil of secrecy, and speaking about what is happening to the family is frowned upon and outright discouraged, it is critical that journalists are not restricted in recording judicial proceedings or in obtaining case records.

Both of these issues, policy to improve child safety and rules governing the ability to record judicial proceedings, need your attention.

Thank you!

Child Safety and Child Custody in House Resolution 72 / Bipartisan Support by Deb Beacham on Scribd