The following is Part I of the O'Dell's story:
The Curmudgeon: A Vermont Newsletter
October 17, 2002
Christian Homeschooling Mom Taken Away in Shackles!
By Cindy Wade
On Wednesday, October 16, Patricia L. O'Dell, 34, of S. Newfane, was arrested at 3:05 PM at the Bennington District Court in Bennington, Vermont for contempt of court. O'Dell had been cited into court yesterday morning for refusing to submit to fingerprinting and a photograph for police files.
O'Dell was ordered to submit to this procedure on October 7 at another arraignment hearing for 'custodial interference' and 'impeding an officer' as part of her release conditions. That condition involved O'Dell going to the Bennington police station within 5 days of her release. On the following Friday, October 11, four days later, O'Dell contacted U.S. Attorney Brian Marthage in Bennington through an advocate to inform him she wished to turn herself in because she was still refusing to have the prints and photos taken. Marthage informed the advocate that the courts are closed over the weekend and according to his calculations the fifth day would be Monday, October 14. O'Dell waited the weekend and all day Monday until 5 PM. On the morning of October 15 she arrived at the police station to turn herself in and still refused to submit to the fingerprinting and photograph. She was promptly given a citation to appear in District Court the following morning at 11:30 am.
O'Dell arrived at District Court at 11:30 am and was told her case had been moved to 12:30 PM. O'Dell was finally called into the court room at approximately 2:30 PM where she represented herself and entered a plea of 'not guilty' to the charge. When questioned by Judge Howard about her refusal to submit to being photographed and fingerprinted O'Dell informed him she believes a person is innocent until proven guilty and the procedure violates her rights. After hearing testimony from the prosecutor who expressed his concern for O'Dell's ongoing contempt and that she basically 'holds the keys to her own jail cell', Judge David Howard ordered a 'show cause' hearing be scheduled for the following week. O'Dell was then released and presented with the conditions which she was expected to sign. Upon reading the conditions O'Dell found difficulty in agreeing with the requirement that she abide by Family Court orders. One such order is that she turn over her 15 year old homeschooling son to state custody. O'Dell refuses to do that because she feels strongly that it would compromise her religious beliefs and her son's Christian education. She also fears he would be subjected to abuse in the hands of SRS (Social Rehabilitative Services).
Upon O'Dell's final refusal and a warning from the deputy sheriff that she would be taken into custody if she did not sign, she was quickly escorted from the court lobby to a small holding room where she was searched and relieved of her wrist watch and wedding band. She was place in handcuffs attached to a leather belt around her waist and her ankles were secured with cuffs and a length of metal chain. These were placed on her to prepare her for transport by the Bennington County Sheriff's department to the Chittenden Regional Corrections Facility at 7 Farrell Street in South Burlington, Vermont.
It was brought to the attention of the attending sheriffs that they needed to take special care with O'Dell's right wrist and hand which were wrapped in a support bandage. O'Dell says this injury was a result of state trooper Jesse Robson's actions on Friday, September 13 when he tackled O'Dell to the ground at the home of Mrs. Pat Stewart on Rocky Lane. Mrs. Stewart is O'Dell's mother. Robson allegedly then placed his knee in O'Dell's back and cuffed her hands behind her back. Officer Robson then tightened his grip on her arm while twisting it in an attempt to prevent her from shouting to her family members to not let the other officers into her mother's home without a search warrant, according to O'Dell. Robson was there that day with several other officers to take O'Dell's four children into state custody for what he describes in his affidavit as 'The basis for the children being taken into custody was educational neglect.'
O'Dell also accused Officer Robson of pulling her by the hair and squeezing her face with his hand at the time of this incident. When O'Dell was taken into custody she claims she was never read her Miranda rights although Robson questioned her extensively and alone in the cruiser and at the Shaftsbury barracks. She says she also suspects the reason why she was not photographed when she was first arrested was because Robson left marks on her face and those marks would have shown up in the photograph. Robson was unable to take O'Dells' fingerprints because she was suffering pain from Robson's alleged abuse that caused injury to her right hand and wrist.
O'Dell sought medical treatment at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center at around 12:20 am once SRS took possession of her three daughter and she was released from custody. Her arm was wrapped and placed in a sling by attending physician Dr. G. Pellerin. According to the medical report O'Dell had a hand injury, sprained wrist and contusions. On Saturday, October 14 a highly visible thumb size contusion could be seen on O'Dell's upper inside left arm where she alleges Robson grabbed her. The marks on her face were no longer noticeable.
Besides the alleged abuse by Officer Robson there is a huge discrepancy in the times of the arrival of the police officers and the time the search warrant was signed. According to Officer Robson and Sergeant Lloyd N. Dean, another state police officer at the scene, they arrived at approximately 4:15 or 4:39 PM. Judge Howard did not sign the search warrant until 6:35 PM. This would show the officers entered onto the Stewart property without the proper warrant. According to O'Dell's family members the officers were told more than once they needed a search warrant to enter the property. It was decided by Dean that he would leave to obtain the search warrant. Family members also say two officers just prior to anyone actually being handed the search warrant kicked in the back door to the kitchen. The search warrant specifically says 'This warrant may (not) be executed without knocking and announcing the presence of law enforcement officers and their purpose.' Neither the word 'may' or 'not' were either circled, underlined or crossed out. The requirement for the serving officer to knock and announce is a federal law.
Prior to Dean obtaining the search warrant O'Dell's youngest daughter, Elizabeth, age 8, was chased screaming through the wooded lot near the Stewart home for some distance before she 'just disappeared', as her mother stated. This was of great concern to both Mr. and Mrs. O'Dell because just that morning Mr. O'Dell had been squirrel hunting in that same wooded area and he warned his wife to not let the children play in them for fear of them getting shot by hunters he saw there. O'Dell says she was terrified for her daughter's safety because the five police officers who were chasing her were showing little, if any, regard for the hunting taking place in those woods.
O'Dell Family Find Themselves Homeless
The O'Dell family has been living in their car, in motels and has camped out in warmer weather since they lost their West Haven, Vermont home to a fire in December 2000 just three days after Christmas. The family is not entirely homeless though. With the insurance money from their destroyed home they purchased a one-acre lot located on Hunter Brook Road in South Newfane in the fall of 2001. They also purchased a second hand mobile home from a woman in Shaftsbury to place onto their new lot. This mobile home was well kept and within the O'Dell's budget. The previous owner was happy to have the mobile home taken off her hands because she needed it removed in order to replace it with her new one.
Patricia found a company in New Hampshire willing to transport the mobile home to S. Newfane for a fee of $950.00 but the company had difficulty getting the home onto the lot. The mobile home continues to sit at the end of the O'Dell's driveway where it was left in the late fall of 2001. Plans are underway to connect the mobile home with the property by a group of concerned citizens who have taken the initiative to get the project done at no cost to the O'Dell family. The goal is to get the mobile home installed by Thanksgiving so the O'Dell's will once again be able to live in comfort and together as a family.
The O'Dell family purchased their S. Newfane lot as is meaning they had to remove the dilapidated mobile home and addition that was already on the property. These structures had been empty for several years and had been vandalized. There was also an abandoned car on the lot that needed to be hauled away. The O'Dell family went to work and dismantled both structures leaving huge piles of materials they intended to recycle into small structures for their pets and livestock. O'Dell's goat would provide her with fresh milk since she was unable to tolerate cow's milk and the family would have fresh eggs and meat from their flock of chickens.
Unfortunately, a few members of the S. Newfane community decided to intervene in the O'Dells' plans and progress. According to a Newfane selectboard meeting on January 1, 2002, line 7B, item #4 a 'motion was made by R. Marek and seconded by F. Bacon to have the Town Constable and the Windham County Sheriff's Department work together to file the necessary paper work to bring charges of cruelty and abuse against Patricia O'Dell and to have the animals removed from Ms. O'Dell's control. Unanimous. The Windham County Humane Society has home for all of the animals; dogs, cats, chickens and a goat.'
While the O'Dell's were working to prepare their property and establish their new home they were living temporarily in a homeless shelter in Bennington. They traveled the distance of 38 miles each day to there secluded wooded lot located on a dirt road to feed and care for their animals they had built temporary shelter for. Since they were not allowed to have pets or livestock at the shelter they felt it best the animals remain on their new land. Apparently town officials were entering the O'Dell property without authority or permission to do so according to O'Dell. At some point those authorities, without a search warrant and without warning simply removed the O'Dell's animals from their property when the O'Dell's were away.
According to another Newfane selectboard meeting on February, 7, 2002, line 7B, item #2 'R. Marek questioned what may happen if the amount due to the Windham County Humane Society if the alleged owner of the animals, Patricia O'Dell, does not pay for the housing and other services provided by the WCHS. Suggestions were made but no conclusions were reached at this time.' According to O'Dell her animals were never abused or neglected and the town had no right to enter her property illegally and seize her animals. She has since acquired the paperwork from federal court and plans to file a 'Notice of Claim' against the Newfane Town Selectboard, the Town Constable, the Windham County Sheriff's Department and the Windham County Humane Society for $10,000,000.00 and she fully intends to send the town a bill for the value of her animals.
A work crew will arrive at the O'Dell property in S. Newfane on Saturday, October 19 at 8:00 am to remove the unwanted materials and metal framing from the old mobile home. The old car will also be towed away along with remnants of the dismantled addition. Once this is done the new mobile home can be pulled up to the lot and set into place. The plumbing, water and electric will eventually be reestablished. This work is being done by volunteers from Vermont, New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts who will donate their time, money and materials for the project at no cost to the O'Dell family. These volunteers include former homeless people, home educators, politicians, ministers, off-duty police officers, mothers, fathers, teenagers, youngsters, contractors, veterans and others. According to one of the organizers the work crew is not a formal organization but are a group of caring, concerned citizens who have seen the need to assist a family that is struggling to stay together and improve themselves. They welcome anyone who wishes to join them in this effort by simply showing up at the property this coming Saturday. They also want the media to know they are welcome as well.
DOE Prevents Christian Home Education
According to first hand accounts SRS is using the O'Dell's homeless situation as an excuse to keep the children in their custody. SRS is also acting on an order from the Vermont Department of Education for a charge of 'educational neglect' stemming from a Home Study Hearing held November 20, 2001 for Patricia O'Dell. According to written documentation surrounding this hearing O'Dell established her right as a Christian home educator to homeschool her children without state or local interference and that she was providing her children with more than a minimum course of study as required by state regulations. According to documentation several state witnesses accused O'Dell of having 'standards' and expectations that were too high for her children.
When O'Dell first began to homeschool her children she received what some might call 'approval' from the Vermont Department of Education's Home Study Consultant Natalie Casco. According to law, however, 'approval' is not needed to homeschool in Vermont, nor are there any qualifications necessary to homeschool your children. O'Dell is a homemaker and has a high school diploma from Mt. Anthony Union High School in Bennington. Mr. O'Dell dropped out of school in the eleventh grade and is on disability for a physical problem. A parent wishing to homeschool their child need only send in an 'enrollment notification' along with a course of study covering the six basic topics and proof of screening showing the child has no impairments. A child is automatically enrolled at that time but the state can call a hearing to determine whether or not the application is complete. The key word here is 'notification'.
The state statute also reads 'a person having the control of a child between the ages of six and sixteen shall cause the child to attend an approved public school, an approved recognized independent school or a home study program for the full number of days for which that school is held....' The key word here appears to be 'a' home study program, not the VT DOE's home study program. O'Dell states that her children attend their homeschool 365 days a year. They have never been tardy or absent, since they can homeschool anywhere, anytime, even when they are with relatives or friends. In public school her children were accused by staff members as having behavior problems. In their homeschool O'Dell says the behavior of her children is not a problem for her.
O'Dells' children appear to be happy, healthy, normal, rambunctious children who enjoy their freedom to choose what they like to learn and learn best in the loving, secure, Christian environment that O'Dell provides for them. They use few workbooks and almost no textbooks. The use reading books including classic stories and do many hands-on learning which O'Dell says works best for all her children. O'Dell finds little need for testing because she can see their day to day progress since she lives with them. When the need arises to concentrate more on a subject or area of interest O'Dell takes the time to do that and will give that particular child more attention than the others. The children learn from each other as well, helping each other with reading, math or chores.
When O'Dell feels the need for support or assistance she calls on several others in her homeschooling community for help. Because of the lack of funding and their homelessness that community has come forward and established a fund for the O'Dell children at A Teacher's Closet in downtown Rutland, a teaching/learning material supply store. The O'Dell children were all provided with book bags filled with materials, supplies and books that can be used anywhere they may be including in the car, at a campsite or in a motel. O'Dell says that due to the lack of education on the part of the public school system she has had to do much remedial work with her three older children. Her youngest had never been to public school until SRS intervened by taking the children. SRS with the VT DOE's blessings have place O'Dell's three youngest children into public school against her wishes. Her oldest son, Andrew, is presently not in the physical custody of SRS.
Since the taking the children by SRS from O'Dell's custody on September 13 she has discovered her three daughters have been subjected to blood tests, physical examinations, x-rays, psychological testing, and counseling, all against their will and hers. Both she and the girls have been denied their right to freely exercise their religion and SRS is withholding the affections of O'Dell from her daughters as a tool to get the children to cooperate with them. O'Dell was only allowed two one-hour supervised visits with her daughters each week until her arrest yesterday. Now her children will not be able to see her at all while she sits and waits in the S. Burlington prison.
O'Dell says the first year Natalie Casco 'approved' her homeschooling they made her agree to keep two of her children in special education classes at the local school. However, O'Dell found this burdensome and her children were being abused and bullied whenever they were on school property, sometimes even by the teachers in charge of their care and well being. At other times the teachers themselves would actually do the work for the O'Dell children just to show they were making progress under their tutelage.
The second year O'Dell homeschooled she chose to withdraw her children from special education classes, which is her prerogative according to the VT Supreme Court ruling in the Karen Maple case (May 2000). After much research and discussion with other homeschoolers O'Dell also sights the 1920's Education Trilogy (Meyer v. Nebraska, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, Farrington v. Tokushige as well as Wisconsin v. Yoder in 1972) as supporting her constitutional right to homeschool and to provide a Christian education for her children. Things were fine in her W. Haven home and the local school didn't really bother her until her home burned to the ground just after Christmas. Within two months of the fire and with no place to live the Fair Haven Elementary School principal, Gloria Moulton, began pursuing the O'Dell family with the threat of SRS intervention. According to O'Dell the harassment and persecution continues to this day. O'Dell's present incarceration for pursuing a Christian home education for her four children appears to attest to that fact.