Sunday, November 25, 2007

Patricia O'Dell Case

The following is Part II of the O'Dell's story:

The Curmudgeon: A Vermont Newsletter
November 28, 2002

State Denies O'Dell Family Due Process and Free Exercise
By Cindy Wade

Off To Court--Again

On Thursday, December 5 at 9:00 a.m. Patricia O'Dell, 34, of S. Newfane, Vermont will be due in Family Court in Bennington to defend her right to homeschool her children before Judge David Howard. O'Dell has been assigned a public defender by the court (her third since September 13) but she has only seen him once since he was assigned to her case on October 7. This public defender has neglected to return any of O'Dell's or her advocate's telephone calls to his office and has deliberately made himself scarce since his one and only appearance on October 24 when he represented her at a show cause hearing. The show cause hearing was held the same day O'Dell was released from the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF) in S. Burlington, Vermont, where she had been incarcerated for 7 days for refusing to sign release orders. What was O'Dell's original crime? Homeschooling her four children: Andrew (15); Samantha (14); Angela (11); and Elizabeth (8).
O'Dell has been piecing together her own defense for the December 5 hearing. She herself has called upon several witnesses to attend this hearing on her behalf. She has also gathered together as much of the necessary documentation as she can to do battle with the bureaucratic behemoths Social Rehabilitative Services (SRS) and the Vermont Department of Education (DOE). Personnel at the DOE have alleged 'educational neglect' against O'Dell. In a November 14 interview with Ruth Dwyer on ABC 22 TV Natalie Casco, Home Study Consultant for the DOE, could not define 'educational neglect' although this is the crime which they have accused O'Dell of committing. When asked by Ruth Dwyer if the DOE calls in the SRS to pursue parents charged with 'educational neglect' Casco's response was a resounding, 'No, no, no.' Bill Young, SRS Commissioner, immediately followed Casco's interview during the broadcast and his response to the same question concerning whether the DOE calls in SRS was, 'A school or the Department of Education or both bring a matter to our attention alleging educational neglect.' There seems to be a conflict concerning who is making the allegations and it would appear that one department or the other is not being truthful with the facts.

The Capture

Meanwhile, SRS has taken custody of O'Dell's four children when the three girls were taken from her mother's property on Rocky Lane in Bennington on September 13. Approximately 20 people including state police, town constables and SRS members converged on the property without prior notice and without a search warrant. O'Dell was never contacted concerning this alleged violation of 'educational neglect' and no notice was ever served. O'Dell's youngest child, Elizabeth, was spotted outside the home and five members of the police force chased the child through the woods for several hundred yards. When O'Dell ran after her daughter to protect her from the intruders she tripped over a stone in the underbrush, falling into one of the officers and causing him to lose his balance. Later this same officer, Trooper Jesse Robson, accused O'Dell of 'shoving' him with both her hands and 'pushing' him, an accusation O'Dell hotly denies.

According to Robson's affidavit O'Dell 'repeatedly went inside her home'. This is a false statement because this was not O'Dell's home but the home of her ill mother, Patricia Stewart. Stewart was returning home from the hospital on September 13 when she was confronted by a number of police and SRS officials. One officer made threats against Stewart and was prepared to use pepper spray on her if she intervened. Stewart promptly told the officers to get off her property if they did not have a search warrant. It was soon after this confrontation that Officer Lloyd N. Dean went to acquire a search warrant.
At this point, however, Elizabeth had already been taken away by SRS member, Colleen Cummings. O'Dell had also been removed from the scene after she was thrown to the ground by Trooper Robson and two others, cuffed and escorted to a police cruiser where Robson grabbed her by the face and pulled her hair before forcing her into the car. O'Dell was taken to the Shaftbury Police station unescorted by any female officer.

Once at the police station O'Dell was simply detained until the officers could obtain a search warrant. Once Officer Dean returned with the warrant the Stewart home was searched and the two remaining girls were found hiding in the basement. O'Dell's sister, Samantha, told of how the officers pulled clothing and items from small spaces, including a small laundry basket obviously too small to hide a child, and threw them about.

While at the police station O'Dell was not fingerprinted nor did they take her photo. Robson had left a small red mark on O'Dell's upper right cheek where he pressed his thumb into her face in an attempt to prevent her from talking. This mark would have been obvious in any photograph taken at that time. Robson had also injured O'Dell's right hand and wrist when he threw her to the ground and forced her arms behind her back. Once he applied the handcuffs he deliberately twisted O'Dell's arms in another attempt to quiet her as she yelled to her young daughter to run away.
It was later determined at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center by Doctor G. Pellerin that O'Dell's right hand and wrist were sprained. Dr. Pellerin applied a wrap and sling to stabilize the arm and prescribed medication for the pain. In a video taped interview recorded two days after the incident, O'Dell can be seen wearing the support bandage and sling on her right arm and a contusion on her upper left arm from officer Robson's brutal treatment is visible
O'Dell's son, Andrew, was not at his grandmother's home the day the police arrived so he remained on the run for several weeks. On November 14 Andrew appeared as a fugitive from justice in a prerecorded interview with Ruth Dwyer on her Hard Look segment on ABC 22 TV. Andrew was eventually caught by police and SRS officials on November 10 and held in a detention center for boys for nearly a week where he was locked in a private room. The Hard Look interview was filmed prior to Andrew's capture. While Andrew was held in the detention center he became so distraught that he would vomit his food and he was denied bathroom privileges during the night according to his mother who spoke to him by telephone but was not allowed to see him.

More Abuse and Harassment from Officials

When SRS first took custody of O'Dells' children they made it obvious to her they had no intentions of allowing her children to return to her any time soon. They accused O'Dell of living with her mother in the crowded home on Rocky Lane when in fact O'Dell and her family were registered at the Ladd Brook Motel in Pownal at that time. The O'Dells preferred to rent motel rooms with their room service, cable TV, continental breakfast, shower facilities, lights, heat, telephone (they use calling cards) and housekeeping services as opposed to renting an apartment where they would have to pay separate utility bills, exorbitant security deposits and possibly be required to sign a lease.
In the summer months the O'Dells prefer to camp in the out of doors where they can indulge in their Native American heritage. SRS then accused the O'Dells of being homeless when in fact they own property and a mobile home in S. Newfane, Vermont. The O'Dells were in the process of preparing their newly acquired property last summer and fall when school authorities began to harass and hound them in August before the public school year began.
While preparing their S. Newfane property the O'Dells continued to camp out on their land during the warmer weather. Once the colder season set in they moved to a homeless shelter in N. Bennington but still traveled the 38 miles to S. Newfane to care for their animals and work on dismantling the structures that were on the property when they bought it. School authorities continued to harass them but by now the town officials decided to get into the act by confiscating the O'Dells' pets and livestock.
Town constables and Humane Society workers sneaked onto the O'Dell property without a warrant sometime in December of 2001 and removed the animals. The O'Dells were not at home and were shocked to return home to their property and find their animals missing. Every last dog, cat, chicken and goat had disappeared. Sometime later the town notified the O'Dells and threatened to charge them with abandonment and abuse if they did not sign the animals over to the authorities. The O'Dells refused and demanded their animals be returned but to no avail. The town of Newfane kept the animals and at several select board meetings discussed who would be responsible for the expense of caring for the O'Dells' animals. The O'Dells were never charged with a crime and were never billed for the care of the animals the town officials stole from them.
The taking of the O'Dell animals was the last straw for this beleaguered family. It was after this latest round of abuse and harassment from state and town officials that the O'Dells decided to try to make a go of living in another state. They contacted relatives in Connecticut and moved their homeschooling family to what they hoped would be a better and less hostile environment. It was a crowded existence in the home with family members but the O'Dells and their relatives made the most of it. The school officials weren't harassing them and they could live in relative peace. They missed their Vermont family and friends. They missed their pets, especially little Moses, Patricia's prized chow her family gave her as a birthday gift after their home in West Haven burned to the ground on December 29, 2000. When warm weather returned in the spring of 2002 the O'Dells packed their bags and headed back to Vermont and into New York to return to their first love--camping under the stars.
Once back in the area the O'Dells soon found out the local officials had not forgotten about them and the harassment began anew. While camping at several different sites state and local police started their methodical abuse of the O'Dell's property rights and their constitutional rights. Officials continued to harass the O'Dell family all summer long. When the school year officially began in the Bennington area that is when authorities made their move to forcibly take the O'Dell children from their parents and charge 'educational neglect' since the family continued to homeschool.
The O'Dell family continues to be denied their constitutional rights including their right to practice their religion without state interference. Since Patricia and Ray O'Dell are only allowed to see their children at two 1-hour supervised visits on Mondays and Fridays they cannot teach their children their religious beliefs nor can they practice their faith with their children. Patricia O'Dell, in spite of the state's intolerance of her faith, is a devout Christian. She has supplied her children with bibles and prayer books while they remain in the four separate foster homes they are being forced to live in.

Foster Home Abuse

On Sunday, October 27 Patricia and Ray O'Dell made a surprise visit to my home along with their two daughters, Elizabeth and Angela. That morning the two girls had run away from their foster homes. They managed to elude their caretakers long enough to get to a telephone where they called their mother. Once O'Dell had them back in her care she became alarmed when 8 year old Elizabeth showed her mother a bruise on her left hip. The two girls informed their mother they had run away from the foster homes because they were being abused and they were frightened to remain there.
I was able to talk directly with Elizabeth and Angela while they were with me. Elizabeth informed me the bruise on her hip was a result of being 'dragged' by one of the four boys in the foster home where she was living. She told me this was not the only time she had been dragged around by the foster mother's 15-year-old son. O'Dell noticed another bruise on Elizabeth's upper right shoulder during a supervised visit in the SRS office approximately a week prior to discovering this latest injury. O'Dell expressed concern that the foster mother who is single and works full-time left her small daughter alone with these four boys. According to O'Dell the foster mother also has a boyfriend who comes to the home.
Elizabeth informed me she was instructed to tell her mother that she 'fell' on the steps of the school. I asked Elizabeth if she fell on the steps and she said 'no'. I then asked her if she had ever fallen on the steps and she said 'no'. According to Elizabeth the injuries were not simply a result of horseplay. She said the boy does this to deliberately hurt her.
That same night the O'Dell family was taken to the Weston Priory in Weston, Vermont where they pleaded for sanctuary and political asylum from the Vermont State government. Two brothers offered to help by contacting a woman in Ludlow who then took the family to a local hotel for the night. Unfortunately, the next day the girls were turned back into SRS custody by another Ludlow woman who made it her business to intervene.

From Homeschooling To Failing Schools

Once SRS took custody of O'Dells' children they placed all four children into public schools in the Bennington and Pownal area. Elizabeth, who had never attended public school, was forced into Pownal Elementary School. Elizabeth was expected to function in a strange new environment without the love and support of her parents whom she had never been separated from before.

Angela was enrolled against her will in Molly Stark Elementary School, one of the six remaining schools on the state's 'failing' list until just recently. Both she and Elizabeth have been subjected to immunizations, harassment, testing, probing and psychological counseling against their will and against O'Dells' wishes. Angela was also handcuffed by police and carried back to school grounds when she and another foster daughter in her home ran away from school in October. Angela claims this girl was beaten with a belt in the foster home and she was thrown down when she tried to intervene.
O'Dell also had expressed her dislike for the pagan holiday of Halloween and did not want her children to participate. Once she realized the foster homes and SRS still intended to make the children participate O'Dell gave strict instructions to her caseworker, Athena Bolger, that her daughters were to be dressed as Princesses or Angels and not as any demonic characters. She was later informed her daughters were purposely dressed in ghoulish costumes and made to participate in Halloween functions.
Samantha and Andrew were enrolled against their will at Mt. Anthony Union High School where both teachers and students have subjected them to harassment. MAUHS is also on the state's 'failing' schools list along with Mt. Anthony Middle School. Of the six remaining schools on the state's failing list Bennington had three of them.
According to O'Dell one teacher in particular has caused Samantha to become distraught over comments the teacher was making about her daughter's appearance. The teacher has been making cruel remarks about Samantha's pretty features and telling her that being beautiful was not enough to guarantee success in life. Andrew has been accosted in the stairwells by upper classmen and is being denied any remedial reading, which his mother feels he needs since the schools failed to teach him to read prior to him homeschooling.

Guilty Of What?

So far, O'Dell has not been charged with truancy, neglect or abuse towards her children. In fact, she has been told by SRS they know she was not abusing or neglecting her children. According to the state police affidavits SRS and the DOE have charged 'educational neglect' but they have yet to define what it is. O'Dell is now being told SRS has changed it's mind and they want to charge her with homelessness. Her public defender is no where in sight and won't return her telephone calls. She has been told she can have her children back if she promises to keep them in public schools, a demand that is against the law and unconstitutional according to U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Also, the O'Dell family cannot practice their religious faith because of the state's interference.
Since losing their children to state custody the O'Dells have also lost nearly half their SSI income. Mr. O'Dell is on disability for a birth defect and one of the children receives SSI. They now cannot afford to rent an apartment for the entire family unless they use their remaining income for housing and forgo groceries and utilities. Their S. Newfane property is on hold while the winter season makes it virtually impossible to finish the work necessary to complete setting their mobile home in place. Many volunteers have storage sheds loaded with furnishings for the family and are waiting to see what becomes of the O'Dells. The O'Dells will need a 3-bedroom apartment or house until June when the work on their property can be completed. They are seeking a place in the Rutland area to be closer to those helping with their situation.
©Cindy Wade

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


What happened when Patricia O'Dell went to court on her criminal charges? What happened to using her as your political pawn to push your agenda? Something must have happened when you sat down and talked to her. I am guessing you realized that she is unable to read or write, therefore unable to "home school" her kids. Why weren't you with her in court when she was found GUILTY on all counts (hindering and impeding)