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Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel Online
Monday, March 8, 1999

 Canaan family in Catch-22 over 2 boys

By JOE RANKIN, Staff Writer
Copyright © 1999 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

CANAAN - Last Christmas was not a very happy one for Clyde and Karan Campbell and their grown son, Peter.

 They had a tree with gifts under it. Carols played on the radio. Turkey with the trimmings. And Peter's sister, Stacy, and her family were up from Georgia.

   Staff photo by  DAVID LEAMING
The Rev. Clyde and Karen Campbell display  posters of their grandsons they  use to draw attention to the ongoing battle they  and their son, Peter, are having the state Department of Human Services.
Instead of holiday good cheer, however, there was tension, frustration and anger centered around who was missing from the family festivities - Peter's two young sons, Peterson and Ryan.

 Taken away by the state's child welfare agency on court order months earlier, the boys, ages 2 and 7, were in a foster home somewhere. The Campbells say their desperate attempts to see the boys, however briefly, to deliver their presents and their love were met with stony silence from caseworkers.

 "It was horrible," said Clyde Campbell, pastor of Skowhegan's Church of Faith. "It was on your mind all the time. We were absent of two boys who should be here."

 "It's dreary. It's just not the same," added a dispirited Karan Campbell.

 Peter, the boys' father, spent the holidays working double shifts at the Maine State Prison in Thomaston, where he is a prison guard. It helped take his mind off the children he could not see.

 "It's one of the worst nightmares of my life," he said. "It disturbs me emotionally even seeing my nephews and nieces, knowing I can't have contact with my kids."

 Campbell's nightmare began more than three years ago when he and his wife, Susan, were having marital difficulties. Campbell had filed for divorce, but the couple were still living together. According to DHS records supplied by the Campbells, the spark was an accusation that Peter Campbell had touched his 11-year-old stepdaughter's breasts.

 He denied it, but criminal charges were filed - and later dropped. But social workers from the Bureau of Child and Family Services, the state's child welfare agency, pursued the case.

 There were hearings. Protection orders were filed. Supervised visits replaced daily contact with Peterson.

   This portrait shows Peter Campbell with his sons Peterson, right, and Ryan. Campbell says he has not been allowed to see the boys since July  1998.
During this legal turmoil, Campbell's second son, Ryan, was born in May 1996. The state eventually took both children from Campbell's wife and put them in foster care.

 Eight months ago, agency caseworkers cut off Campbell's access to his sons. Two months later, they told his parents they could no longer see them.

 At this point, Peter Campbell said he fears he is very close to losing his boys forever and it is tearing him apart. He maintains he has done nothing wrong and will continue his fight.

 His parents have joined him on the front lines, marching in protests in Maine and Washington, D.C., and testifying at legislative hearings on DHS-related bills. The signs they carry bear a photo of Peterson and Ryan. They read, "Held Hostage by the Maine DHS."

 The Campbells say they are victims of a child-welfare system run amok.

 They say it is a system that treats people as guilty until proven otherwise, and sometimes not even then. A system that prosecutes from behind closed doors, using innuendo, hearsay and uncorroborated statements of suggestible little children.

 The engine driving the machine is an agency - the state Department of Human Services - that fails to follow its own rules or abide by federal regulations that mandate it give preference to placing children with relatives rather than strangers, according to the Campbells.

 And if there is one thing they have learned, they say, it is the more you fight, the more the agency digs in its heels.

 "It's government out of control," Clyde Campbell said. "People that work there should have a commitment to do what is right. Now they're committed to the system. They constantly throw this phrase at us - 'the best interest of the children.' I want them to prove that. I've never seen seen it."

 Added Peter Campbell: "They're an outfit that seems to jump to conclusions without facts. You're guilty until proven innocent."

 Critics of the system, including some legislators, lawyers, activists and the organization Maine Dads, say Campbell is not alone. Hundreds of other families feel mistreated by the system every year, they say.

 Accusations of abuse - physical or sexual - can come from anywhere. Relatives, teachers, guidance counselors, neighbors, a school nurse. The state's child protective workers investigate some 15,000 allegations of abuse a year, eventually deciding about a fifth are backed up by evidence, according to DHS figures.

 Once those allegations are made, once the DHS is involved in the process, the Campbells say, life will never be the same for those investigated.

 Campbell's wife, contacted in Pittsfield, refused to be interviewed about the child-protection case, calling her husband an "untreated sex offender." In police complaints, she accused him of harassing and threatening her, allegations he denies.

 DHS social workers said they could not comment on the Campbell case because of confidentiality rules. The judge responsible for the Campbell case, Twelfth District Court Judge Douglas Clapp, did not return a phone call asking for comment on the case.

 Campbell, however, said he wants his side told. At this point, he has nothing to lose, he said.

 Campbell met his wife in a sports bar in Florida in 1990. She had a son and a daughter from previous relationships. He had a daughter from a previous marriage. They dated for a year. Then she became pregnant; they were married.

 The marriage was rocky from the start. The couple separated and got back together several times. They moved from Florida to Maine. Campbell said he came home from work on day and found their Bangor apartment empty.

 With no idea where his family had gone, Campbell filed for divorce, he said, figuring it might give him some leverage in a later custody battle.

 Three months later, having tracked them down, Peter went to Florida and brought wife and son home. But he did not drop the divorce petition. He wanted to see how things would go, he said.

 Things did not go well, he said.

 In January 1996, Susan accused him in a telephone conversation with his sister and of inappropriately touching his stepdaughter, a sixth-grader. The girl eventually would accuse Campbell of fondling and having sex with her, accusations he denied.

 When he found out about the initial accusations, Campbell says he asked to take the girl to the hospital for an examination, but his wife refused. Two days later, she called the police. Unlawful sexual contact charges were filed. The couple continued to live apart.

 The charge was dismissed several months later.

 "After painstaking review, we determined there was insufficient evidence to pursue the case beyond a reasonable doubt," said Assistant District Attorney Evert Fowle.

 Fowle noted the "reasonable doubt" standard used by the criminal courts is higher than the "preponderance of the evidence" standard applied by the courts in determining whether children should be removed from their parents pending further investigation.

 Campbell said the girl had made similar accusations against one of her mother's ex-boyfriends in Florida. A physical exam eventually showed that she had never had sex, he said.

 The DHS became involved long before the criminal charge against Campbell was dropped, according to records. The DHS already had convinced him to give up his parental rights temporarily, he said. He did not want to, he said, but agreed because he thought it would move the process along.

 In October, the agency went to court seeking a protection order limiting Campbell's right to see his children. After hearing testimony from Campbell's stepdaughter, Judge Clapp found Campbell had abused the girl and granted the protection order.

 Campbell has appealed that decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

 Over the last few months of 1996 and most of 1997, Campbell's wife continued to let him see his children, he said. And, most important, she used his parents as a baby-sitting service, dropping Peterson and Ryan off when she had other business, he says.

 That ended in May 1998. Campbell told Clapp about the visits. He informed the judge, he said, because it was true and because he felt his wife was manipulating the court.

 Instead, the boys were put into foster care and Campbell's time with them was limited to an hour every two weeks - with the visits taking place under the eye of a visitation supervisor.

 In July 1998, Campbell saw his sons for the last time. It was a supervised visit at an agency in Hermon.

 When he went in, Campbell said, Peterson looked up from his play and said, "Daddy, don't spank me."

 Campbell said he was stunned. He claims he never mistreated the boy. Campbell said he asked Peterson why he had said that. The boy told him he was not allowed to talk about it, Campbell said.

 A week later, Campbell got a letter from a child protective services caseworker saying he would not be allowed to see his sons. Clyde and Karan Campbell saw the boys briefly on Sept. 18. They gave Peterson his birthday presents. During the visit, they say, the boys asked for their daddy. After that, DHS cut off the grandparents' access to the children, too, saying the visits upset the children.

 While state social workers say they are protecting the boys, Campbell has another view.

 "My boys are upset," he said. "They can't understand why they have been torn away from their family over and over and over again. They want to go home with us, and it's heartbreaking when you try to explain and they aren't old enough to understand what's going on."

 Campbell said he has done all he can to prove his innocence. The district attorney handling the criminal charge recommended a lie-detector test. He took it.

 When his lawyer tried to have the results introduced as evidence, Clapp refused. Polygraph tests are not admissible under the Maine Rules of Evidence. In his decision, Clapp said he was not convinced there has been enough change in polygraph techniques or technology to warrant an exception.

 As one lawyer noted, however, "If I was the judge, I may not have admitted it into evidence, but I sure would have been reading it over someone's shoulder."

 The judge also ordered Campbell to get a sexual evaluation done to determine if he was a danger to his children.

 At a cost of about $5,000, Campbell's family sent him to Georgia to be evaluated by Henry E. Adams, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Georgia.

 Adams administered a battery of tests, including a penile plethysmography. In that test, a sensor is attached to a man's penis and he is shown a variety of "stimulus materials" - videotapes and slides of people engaged in sexual activity, including some of children engaged in sex with adults. The sensor measures his sexual response to each.

 Adams' conclusion: Campbell is a passive personality and a normal heterosexual male with no tendencies toward pedophilia.

 "I doubt seriously any reports that state he is hostile or aggressive or a danger to children," Adams wrote.

 Campbell's lawyer now faces the task of getting the judge to take Adams' report into account.

 The one thing Campbell has refused to do was something the judge also ordered him to do: go to sex-offender counseling.

 "If I go, I'm admitting I'm guilty, that I'm a sex offender. And I'm not," Campbell says. "And if I go and say that I'm not, they'll say I'm in denial."

 Lawyers who represent families in DHS cases agree.

 "The DHS wants to hear people say they're sorry and that they'll follow all these conditions," said Farmington lawyer Walter Hanstein.

 "In that context, the person who did not commit the sexual assault is in a terrible Catch-22 situation. His choice is to stand by the truth, knowing the department will never be satisfied without counseling, or he has to lie to a counselor and say he did it."

 Campbell, who is living with his parents in Canaan, said if the DHS and the court system will not turn the boys over to him, there is a good alternative: Allow his parents to take them.

 Campbell believes the DHS' plan calls for putting his boys up for adoption. But that means terminating his and his wife's parental rights.

 He is determined not to let that happen. The question is whether he can prevent it. He and his family have already spent more than $30,000 on legal help and other expenses. It is a financial hardship.

 The next hearing in his case is set for March 25.

 Meanwhile, Campbell said he continues to pray for his boys and that things will work out.

 Tears well up in his eyes as he talks about watching the videotape his parents made of their last meeting with Peterson and Ryan in September. At that meeting, Clyde and Karan Campbell gave the youngsters a picture of themselves with their father.

 The entire ordeal, he said, is hard on him, his parents and the rest of his extended family. He believes it is hard on his boys, too. He pictures them lying awake at night in a strange house, wondering where their real parents are. When they are going to go home.

 Christmas presents bought for the boys are stacked in a corner of a bedroom upstairs in the Campbell household.

 "Sometimes when you go through these things, you think there is no hope," Campbell said. "That it's a lost cause. But I'll be honest with you. I'll never give up. Never. Until we get those kids back.

 "What the DHS did is start a war they aren't going to finish. They're not going to get away with taking these kids with no just cause."

 TOMORROW: Lawyers, legislators and activists describe what they see as a system running amok.

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