IN THE SPOTLIGHT: MASS. DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
PART 2 of 5: BROOKE (14 ½) and SUMMER (11) “Grabbed” by DCF While at School
Attorney for Mother Exposes Arrogance, Gaps, and Prejudices
by Lonnie Brennan
BARNSTABLE July 2016 – On the first day of what was originally posted as a three-day child custody trial (now extended), Judge Robert A. Scandurra – who in January sent two sisters, Brooke (14 ½) and Summer (11) Mueller into the custody of the Mass. Department of Children and Families (DCF), released the girls from DCF.
Not a Time to Celebrate
In a move which surprised the girls’ mother, Ginamarie Tolentino of Falmouth, the judge released the girls to her ex-husband, Kurt Mueller.
Mueller has a long history of filing court orders to gain full control of his daughters. His most notable was a filing for “alienation” against Ginamarie. He made that filing the day after he was arrested for assault and battery on the girls. He subsequently filed to secure full custody of the girls and to terminate childcare payments to the mother.
Kurt Mueller’s arrest of 23 November 2015 resulted after multiple Falmouth police officers investigated and interviewed his two daughters and relevant individuals concerning an incident at his home (Falmouth Police Incident Report and narratives, ref. No. 15-25113-OF). Since that date, the girls have repeatedly resisted contact with their father.
Court exhibits detail a father determined to secure his parenting time by blocking his children from speaking on the phone to their mother. Incident notes contained in the court filing and DCF case notes detail a child injured from contact with a wall, another from a cabinet and floor, as well as scratches and a bloody nose. Mueller denies these ever happened.
He was subsequently sentenced to one year of pre-trial probation.
In February of this year, Judge Scandurra gave the two sisters a choice: return to your father’s home or go into DCF care. According to court documents, “the children told Court personnel that they would rather be placed in DCF custody than go with [the] Father, citing He needs help or he will never change,” and the children expressed their fear and concerns as to [the] Father.
Minutes later, court officers whisked the pair away on a so-called “emergency placement” to a foster home in Fall River. The children’s grandparents, Dr. Anthony Tolentino and his wife, rushed back from a Florida trip and managed to get temporary custody of the girls. Kurt Mueller continued with multiple court filings in an attempt to take the girls away from the grandparents. In June, he succeeded.
On June 3rd, with less than 2 ½ weeks left in the school year, a “crucial time of exams for two grade-A students,” grandfather Dr. Tolentino told The Boston Broadside, DCF “grabbed” the children out of school. “Grabbed was the word DCF used,” the grandfather related. Then DCF notified the grandparents and Ginamarie after the deed was done. The grandparents were in court that day with their daughter, Ginamarie, in what Dr. Tolentino described as “yet another visit.” “We go all the time; he’s [Kurt Mueller] always pulling our daughter into court, all the time, always. It’s become routine.”
The grandparents were told at the time that their home didn’t pass inspection. (See last month’s Boston Broadside and online postings) Hard to believe because their East Falmouth home is palatial.
The DCF Form Letter
A week later, the grandparents received a form letter, apparently post-dated, with the “grab” date and their names typed in, with a scribbled signature above the name of DCF Area Clinical Manager Betsy McDonnell. In the form letter, the grandparents were told that they failed to “support the reunification of the child and family, promote the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the child as well as assist the child in maximizing his or her potential,” and other form-letter language, including noting that while they have the right to submit written comments, they have no rights to a hearing.
Dr. Tolentino’s Reply
Dr. Tolentino, in part of his written response to DCF, refuted the form letter and detailed that the accusations against him and his wife were “False.” He wrote in part that “We do support the reunification of the family, but we are also concerned with the physical well-being of the children. We support the reunification if and when the Father is clean and sober and is undergoing counseling for anger management. Keep in mind that the Father is presently on probation for his last assault of the children.” He went on to detail not only the honor roll status of his granddaughters, but also the winning of multiple “awards for exemplary performance scholastically. AND, all done with a genuine happiness on their part.”
Judge Scandurra never ruled that either parent was unfit before separating the girls from their mother. Indeed, Kurt Mueller made note of this in yet another court filing, in which he partially took the judge to task for taking the children from him.
The Breaking Point: ‘Alienation’
While a long history of conflict between the divorced parents has been well documented, the breaking point came after the November 2015 incident when the girls refused contact with the father and the mother refused to force the children to return to their father. “I just couldn’t, not again,” she explained.
Mueller charged his ex-wife with alienation and poisoning the girls against him. Ginamarie responded that “there’s nothing I could say to alienate them more than what HE has done to them.”
See You in September?
Ginamarie has been denied any contact with the girls until the conclusion of the current custody trial because Kurt Mueller has charged her with alienation.
Meanwhile, DCF and court-appointed personnel recommended what can best be summarized as a series of psychological re-education sessions to de-program the children to accept their father. In a note the oldest girl smuggled to her mother just before “the grab,” Brooke refers to “mind games” on the part of DCF.
In an open letter this spring, Brooke wrote: “I don’t know where this will go to or who will read it, but I need HELP!” She went on to detail that “Basically, my father has been abusing us, me and my sister, not just physically but mentally, and we stopped going there.”
In one part of her two-page, handwritten note, she wrote “NO ONE SEES THE HIM THAT ONLY ME my sister and my mom see!”
A Scream, Then
the Line Goes Dead
Ginamarie’s last contact with the girls was via a telephone call which concluded abruptly: the youngest daughter, Summer, screamed to get her out of her current DCF foster home. The phone was apparently removed from the girl’s hands in a scuffle and the line went dead. Ginamarie filed a protest with DCF and the children were removed from that home. No explanation was given to the mother. The girls then began a journey through several more DCF foster homes.
The Latest Custody Trial
In court on July 21, 2016, DCF supervisor Mary Burkinshaw took the witness stand and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, “so help you God.”
As the minute hand ticked away, she replied with vague responses to the cross-examination by the mother’s attorney, James McMahon of Buzzards Bay. As the case supervisor, Burkinshaw had approved the taking of the girls from their grandparents. She was asked when that occurred and replied “not exactly, off the top of my head, towards the end of June?” The girls were taken on June 3rd.
When asked about the June 3rd court appearance, where the grandparents were surprised when they were told their home did not pass DCF standards, the supervisor said the grandparents failed to follow the [DCF] rules.When asked what was particularly deficient about the home, she replied “I’m not sure. Physically, no.” Atty. McMahon pressed her, “the home was sufficient? Was there a problem with the maternal grandfather?”
“Not that I recall,” the supervisor replied.
Asked if there was a problem with the maternal grandmother, she said “yes,” and explained that it had been reported to DCF that the grandmother had allowed her daughter to visit with the children “without notifying DCF.” When pressed for more detail, she replied, “I believe perhaps three or four times.”
Through a long series of questions, Atty. McMahon revealed that Burkinshaw had not spoken with the grandparents prior to taking the girls from them. She received allegations of unauthorized contact and that was “a violation of department rules,” she retorted.
Apparently, DCF received a report from Kurt Mueller’s legal counsel, accusing Ginamarie of sitting with her children at church (which she denies), and of sitting with a child during a school event (which she denies). A lawyer from the father’s counsel related that she saw Ginamarie walk into an auditorium with her parents and the children.
For this report on breaking the rules, the children were ripped from school in Falmouth and driven an hour to Fall River to a foster home. The blindsided grandparents received a phone call from DCF to pack up all the kids’ belongings and have them ready for pickup at the curb.
The Mystery Envelope
In an interesting twist, Atty. McMahon presented an envelope and its contents to Burkinshaw. The envelope had contained a certificate of praise for the grandmother, with other paperwork and a return address of the DCF Hyannis office. The exhibit bears a Pitney Bowes postmark of June 29, 2016, 23 days after the grab. Asked if DCF sends these certificates to other families, the DCF official replied, “I don’t know.” When asked again if she had any knowledge of it, she said, “I’ve never seen one.”
Privy to Adult Matters
Burkinshaw went on to state that she had requested a psychological evaluation for the mother because of Ginamarie’s “volatile” communication with DCF officials, following the taking of her daughters.
Ginamarie reportedly blasted DCF for taking the children without notification, for denying the children any voice or any say in anything.
Atty. McMahon again pressed the supervisor on what it is that troubles her, to which she replied: “the children having knowledge of court matters. It is unappropriate (sic) for the children to know what was going on in court.” A short time later, she accused Ginamarie of sharing court and custody information with her daughters and stated that she was “concerned the girls were privy to adult matters they did not need to be a part to.”
Silencing of the Lambs
When Kurt Mueller filed for sole physical and legal custody of the children, as well as termination of all childcare payments, Judge Scandurra appointed legal counsel to Ginamarie, the mother.
The Boston Broadside reviewed various court filings, including a standard form from Docket No. BA16P0800GD, which states in part that “A minor over age 14 has the right to be present at any hearing, unless the Court finds that it is not in the minor’s best interests.”
With the exception of the mother and her attorney, all DCF and related court personnel and appointees have apparently worked to silence any communication to and from the teenage girl and her near teenage sister. She has not appeared in court, nor are her words or actions represented.
While Atty. McMahon requested repeatedly that the court allow the girls to share their thoughts in any forum, at any time, in any manner, all of his attempts were blocked by DCF and most surprisingly, by the children’s court-appointed attorney, Margaret M. Eagan of Mashpee.
Atty. McMahon went so far as proposing a series of questions which he wrote, requesting that Atty. Eagan present the questions to the children and record their answers.
Through a court resource, the Boston Broadside obtained a copy of the questions which asked the children to describe why they refused to visit their father, how they felt about being removed from their maternal grandparents’ home by DCF, and to detail any actions by their mother and father which they found inappropriate, and to detail all methods of discipline, amongst other questions. (Note: DCF internal memos reveal multiple interviews noting strict punishments by Kurt Mueller, including locking a child in the basement, tossing a child, and other inappropriate actions.)
Atty. Eagan’s reply was to file a “Child’s Motion to Quash Interrogatories,” which she wrote was on behalf of the girls. In her filings, she wrote that her clients (Brooke and Summer), while the subject of the on-going custody case involving both parents, “are not considered a party nor are they represented by council in that case.” She went on to state that since the court has removed the children from DCF, she would no longer represent the children. She signed the request: “Respectfully submitted, Brooke and Summer Mueller, by their counsel, Margaret M. Eagan.” So, while the case is about the children’s custody, the children have no voice. DCF also downplayed in all of its actions all prior incidents of reported physical abuse by Kurt Mueller.
A pattern of responses from witness testimony and submitted court documents rapidly emerged: females without exception gravitated towards and spoke approvingly of the father, Kurt Mueller, and spoke despairingly of the mother. In contrast, males were neutral or indifferent – just sticking to the facts – with the notable exception of one DCF male social worker.
GAL Gets Destroyed on the Stand
Most glaring in the trial thus far was the extended questioning of Atty. Lorelei Hayward, who was appointed on June 8, 2015 as a Category F Guardian Ad Litem (G.A.L.), to investigate if there had been any significant changes in the circumstances of the divorced parents to warrant a modification of the court’s prior custody orders.
In Hayward’s testimony, it was revealed that she repeatedly took the word of the father as gospel truth, while assuming that the mother always lied. She wrote in part that the mother had lied to her in a telephone conversation, as the mother told her that she was alone, not with the children. Hayward testified that she heard voices in the background, so the mother must be lying. When cross-examined and asked if the voices could have been from a television, or perhaps a radio, she paused, seemingly shocked, nodded, and agreed that they could have been.
In the extensive questioning, Hayward, like DCF supervisor Burkinshaw, and one school principal (a female who spoke glowingly of the father), admitted that she had not followed up on statements by the children when they told her that they felt uncomfortable around their father. (Just as the principal admitted on the stand that she had never asked the children why, when they were younger, they would “cling to their mother.”)
All of the females apparently assumed that the fast-talking, agitated, emotionally charged, determined mother, who said she divorced her husband to protect herself and her children from him, was over-the-top and oppressive of the children, poisoning them against their father. “She talks fast, gets excited, skips from topic to topic, just ranting,” Hayward said as she discounted any comments of the mother and her daughters.
Older historical notes of incidents at school, of the mother rushing away with the kids on one occasion and of the mother questioning the curriculum, were noted. An attempt by Atty. McMahon to counter that the children were straight-A students despite any reports of tardiness, was objected to by the father’s lawyer. Indeed, any attempt to present any information which reflected the voice, thoughts, words, or accomplishments of the two sisters was rapidly quashed. Several side-stories of school exchange issues with the kids, a pet parrot (Hayward called it a “very large bird”), and such, were discussed at the trial.
Hayward’s credibility came into doubt with an audible gasp from the visitor benches in court when she repeatedly admitted that she took the word of the father and a couple of others, in all matters, and repeatedly failed to ask follow-up questions or in any way give weight to the concerns of the children. For example, she was asked why she didn’t follow up when the oldest sister said that “therapy doesn’t work,” and that it’s all about the person who can essentially pretend the most. “There are some questions I don’t ask,” Hayward replied. When pressed further on specific examples, she ended up repeating that she didn’t know the answer, wasn’t sure why she didn’t follow-up on a question, and couldn’t recall various items.
What is Fair for the Kids?
A review of court filings shows nearly a decade of acrimony between the parents (the docket summary sheet alone is approaching 400 court filings thus far, many of which The Boston Broadside has reviewed, along with other documents obtained from various sources).
The questions outstanding are: has Kurt Mueller presented an overwhelming case that his ex-wife has alienated the children from him? Or are his physical and emotional actions against his daughters alienating his own kids?
Should the mother be denied any and all unsupervised contact with her daughters because she refused to force them to go to their father?
Will DCF and female, court-appointed attorneys and GALS continue to silence the girls, and prevent them from obtaining any information with regards to their future living arrangements and contact with their mother and grandparents?
Will Kurt Mueller continue to refuse to allow his ex-mother-in-law and ex-father-in-law (the maternal grandparents) to speak with their granddaughters?
Will the court continue to keep Ginamarie away from her daughters, and not even allow her to visit with them, in the courthouse, at a supervised lawyer’s office, anywhere, while the trial is ongoing (that’s all summer: June 3rd through at least early September).
Will Kurt Mueller at any time accept the offer on the part of Ginamarie’s attorney to enter into comprehensive custody mediation and planning, to help the family establish short-term and long-term actions, methods, and compromises to prevent the daughters from being denied access to either parent?
Or will Mueller continue to push his all-or-nothing court cases?
This is at least Kurt Mueller’s fifth recent court filing to secure the children from Ginamarie, their distressed mother, and terminate childcare payments. ♦