|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.
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.
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.
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
"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
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.
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.
portrait shows Peter Campbell with his sons Peterson, right, and Ryan.
Campbell says he has not been allowed to see the boys since July
Eight months ago, agency caseworkers cut off Campbell's access
to his sons. Two months later, they told his parents they could no longer
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
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
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
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
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
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.