Judge sentences Eagar couple to probation for child abuse

Date: 2008-01-22

LeFevres treated adopted children differently than biological children, judge says

By: Judy Hayes

An Eagar couple each facing 15 counts of felony child abuse were sentenced last week to three years probation in a negotiated plea agreement with prosecutors.

The couple could have been ordered to spend up to a year in jail. Child Protective Services removed their six underage children from their home last fall.

Apache County Superior Court Judge Michael Roca sentenced Tamara and Jeffrey LeFevre last Tuesday by. In the agreement, Jeff LeFevre pled guilty to two Class 6 open-ended child abuse charges for "striking (an adopted 17-year-old son) on the back, buttocks and/or legs with a belt, wooden spoon and/or spatula."

Tamara LeFevre pled guilty to two Class 6 open-ended child abuse charges for making the 17-year-old live outside without adequate water and toilet facilities and "striking victim on the back, buttocks and/or legs with a belt, wooden spoon and/or spatula."

Court documents indicate the couple forced the 17-year-old adopted son to live in a tent outside the home for about two weeks where he used a hose for drinking water and showering, washed his clothes in a bucket and dug holes for his waste. He was not allowed back inside the home or to have any communication with his siblings.

The two-hour sentencing hearing began with County Prosecutor Brad Carlyon calling pediatrician Dr. Edith Bailey to testify by telephone. Bailey said she performed physical examinations on five of the six children while they resided in a foster home. When asked if she remembered finding anything unusual during her examinations of the children, Bailey said one of the adopted female children was well below the average weight for a child her age.

"That is a pattern you see with poor nutrition, poor eating habits, anorexia, among other things," Bailey said.

Bailey noted that during a follow-up examination of the girl, she was glad to see the child had gained several pounds, but she still remained well under the normal weight for her age.

Bailey said she also found a series of six scars on the back of one of the adopted teenage boys and two on his front. She said most of the scars, ranging in size from 1/4-inch to 1-3/4 inches in size, appeared to be fully healed. She was unable to determine how long the boy had the markings. While she couldn't tell for sure how the scars occurred, she indicated they were straight lines and could be consistent with marks left by a belt or other straight edge device. She said she didn't remember finding scaring on any of the other children.

Bailey found another adopted daughter was in the 30th percentile for a girl her age, and the couple's natural daughter was in the 90th percentile for a girl her age.

Defense attorney Robert Hitchcock, who represented both LeFevre parents, called oldest LeFevre son Dylan, 27, to the stand. Dylan recalled when he was growing up in the home his parents disciplined him by grounding him and spanking him on the rear end, and while he said that no child enjoys "correction," he does not feel he was abused.

Daughter Hannah LeFevre, 20, told the court she still lives in the family home and has several jobs including teaching violin lessons and cleaning houses. She recalled that while growing up her parents disciplined her by spanking or giving her timeouts, but she remembers the discipline as being appropriate to the infraction.

Doctor Edward Flake said he has met the LeFevre family on several occasions when he treated some of the children for foot-related problems. He said he was not aware of how the parents raised their family in the home, but when they visited his office, he found the children to be polite and disciplined.

Pastor Luke Gallagher from the Life in Christ Fellowship in Eagar said he has known Tamara and Jeffrey LeFevre for more 20 years. He said he and his wife have spent many hours with the family as a whole and have also spent time alone with the children. He said the LeFevres were open with him about their parenting techniques and he was aware their children were on occasion disciplined using "appropriate" corporal punishment.

He said that using a belt to discipline children in certain situations was appropriate but leaving scars was not appropriate. In that case, "I think you've gone too far," he noted.

He said he was aware of a situation the LeFevres had with their 17-year-old son whom they forced to live outside. "I don't see a problem with that for a young man that knows how to (camp)," Gallagher said.

Arianna Howe said she has often been in the LeFevre home, both as a friend of their two oldest children and more recently as a piano instructor and helping with projects in the home. While in the home, she said she witnessed the parents giving children timeouts that sometimes lasted up to a week.

When given an opportunity to address the court, Jeff LeFevre said he loves his children with all his heart. "This has been a very difficult ordeal for us. I truly am sorry for when I have hurt my children, and I felt that way any time that I felt that things had gone too far, that I'd been too harsh."

He "wronged his children" many times, he said, but he acknowledged his mistakes, had been humbled by them and apologized to the children and asked their forgiveness. He asked Judge Roca to "put this family back together. All these children want to come home."

Through her tears, Tamara LeFevre also said she loves her children very much. "I have made many, many mistakes. There's not a day, even before this all happened, that goes by that I'm not grieved over how I've hurt my children, caused them pain, been too harsh with them, spanked them too much."

She said she was sorry for the grief this situation has caused the "good people that helped us."

She said making her son live outside "was never to punish him, it was only out of concern for the other children. He was older, he was almost an adult, and the things that he was just playing, we were concerned that he was going to harm one of the other children. It was not a long-term situation. It was only temporary until we could find ... an answer."

In summarizing his case, Prosecutor Carlyon said the problem wasn't that the LeFevres don't love their children, "but the way they have chosen to discipline their children is wrong and potentially very harmful. And what really concerns the state is, I don't know if they really get it. I'm not sure if they really understand the wrongness of their conduct."

Carlyon said he believes Jeff LeFevre has taken a step in the right direction by admitting during a psychological interview that he has on occasion been too physical with the children, but he believes Tamara denied the corporal punishment used in the home was abusive.

"She talks about the situation itself being embarrassing, humiliating and devastating. Her response to the children's allegations of what she and Jeff did against them, she talks about the kids having a tendency to blow things out of proportion. So I'm not sure she feels she did wrong, if anything. From what she's talked about, it sounds like she doesn't feel she's done anything wrong."

Carlyon noted Tamara is grieved, "but it sounds more about grieved over how she's perceived than grieved over what's happened to the kids. And (from) neither one did I hear talk about apologizing to the kids for their actions.

"Neither one mentioned the harm their actions did to the children. And I'm concerned that's going to be hard for them to change."

The prosecutor read excerpts from more than 25 letters of support received by the court. "Typically I would discount a lot of what people say about them, about role models for parenting, because often times in these cases the people really don't know what goes on in the household. In this case, I'm afraid they do, and they condone it. The confusion this must cause the children is just staggering to me."

Carlyon discussed comments the children made to authorities. "All the kids were consistent in their statements to Child Protective Services, Matrese Avila with law enforcement, the psychologist, Guardian ad Litem (child advocacy program), etc., when they talked about the corporal punishment, when they talked about being hit with a belt and other items, they all talk about being hit on the back and on the legs."

He said the last time one of the teenage boys got hit with a belt was because he teased his siblings. He got 20 whacks. A daughter said the last time she got punished with a belt was because she did poorly on her schoolwork. The last time another teenage son got beat with a belt was because he argued with his siblings.

Carlyon said all six children were consistent regarding the circumstances for "timeout." "When they're in timeout, they're not allowed to eat with the family, they're not allowed to interact with the other family members, they're not allowed to do schoolwork, and they all six said this could last up to a month."

He said the children told authorities timeouts were for when they teased, lied or didn't do their schoolwork, chores or put their things away.

Carlyon asked the judge to give the couple a "correction" similar to what they gave their children. "Put them in isolation, put them each in jail for a week. I think that is just in this situation. And maybe that'll help them get it, because I don't think they do."

Defense Attorney Hitchcock said he believes his clients are "thoughtful rational people who are trying to make good decisions with respect to parenting. I think it's pretty obvious they take their duties seriously."

He believes the LeFevres showed a lot of courage when they adopted five foster children, some with special needs, and brought them into their home.

"The reason we're here is it just wasn't a swat on the butt. There were swats on the legs, on the back, there were red spots, there might have been bruising," Hitchcock said.

Although two of the boys have scarring, he said, his clients do not believe they ever left any scars on the children. Hitchcock asked the judge to let the couple rely on the support they have in the community and their counselor to help them change. He asked for probation with no jail time for his clients.

Judge Michael Roca said, "I have no doubt that if the children come back into your home that they will never again speak out, whether or not they should. I have no doubt that you both fervently and dearly love the children that have been in your home and equally love your adopted and biological children. The facts are nonetheless apparent to me that you've treated them somewhat differently. The results are radically different. The children who were taken from your home are not likely to be as confident in dealing with the world, in making entirely laudable choices that you have yourself, as your oldest two children have."

Roca said calling their methods "home-schooling" is, "bluntly put, an insult to the parents who have taken it seriously, studied the process of education and undertaken to actively teach their children. It's carelessly close to an insult to individuals who have been teachers as well."

Roca said he feels the couple understands the need for change, but "I think that you're getting some dangerously inaccurate feedback from those surrounding you who suggest that there really isn't a problem because, yes, there really is a problem. Yes, there really, really is a problem."

Roca sentenced the couple to three years of probation with counseling as directed by the Adult Probation Department. Other conditions include abiding to curfews set by the probation department, performing community service and having no contact with the six children who will continue to live in foster care for one year without Child Protective Services supervision.

"That's not punishment, that's not rehabilitation, that's an opportunity for those children to decompress, to form their own egos," Roca said.

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Peer support

Tamara denied the corporal punishment used in the home was abusive.

"She talks about the situation itself being embarrassing, humiliating and devastating. Her response to the children's allegations of what she and Jeff did against them, she talks about the kids having a tendency to blow things out of proportion. So I'm not sure she feels she did wrong, if anything. From what she's talked about, it sounds like she doesn't feel she's done anything wrong."

Carlyon noted Tamara is grieved, "but it sounds more about grieved over how she's perceived than grieved over what's happened to the kids. And (from) neither one did I hear talk about apologizing to the kids for their actions.

Classic.

"Neither one mentioned the harm their actions did to the children. And I'm concerned that's going to be hard for them to change."

Predictable and expected.

The prosecutor read excerpts from more than 25 letters of support received by the court. "Typically I would discount a lot of what people say about them, about role models for parenting, because often times in these cases the people really don't know what goes on in the household. In this case, I'm afraid they do, and they condone it. The confusion this must cause the children is just staggering to me."

Finally, some real insight into the pattern of abuse, and how it perpetuates.  If  "everyone is doing it", how can it be wrong?

I'm glad the judge in this case recognizes the way in which peer support really operates... especially in communities that condone 20 whacks with a belt for relatively small offenses like teasing a sibling. 

Roca said he feels the couple understands the need for change, but "I think that you're getting some dangerously inaccurate feedback from those surrounding you who suggest that there really isn't a problem because, yes, there really is a problem. Yes, there really, really is a problem."

And unless there is serious, significant life-altering intervention, that problem will get passed-onto the children, and more often than not, that problem will grow, repeating itself over and over again, from one family... one generation... to the next.

I remember growing up listening to my Afather's sisters talk about the beatings they got from their mother and father.  I remember finally understanding why my Afather reacted the way he did to stress.  It made sense.  His frustration...his anger and his reactions to that anger made perfect sense.  However, just because his actions and reactions made logical sense, didn't mean it was ok to repeat a destructive pattern, taught by his parents, and those parents before them.  Sure, my Afather can say he didn't beat me and his son as hard and as often as his own father did, but what exactly does that mean?  Did reduced abusive outburts make him a hero?  No.  He was in-control, but out of control, too.  It's easy to lose control after that first hit.  A child doesn't forget how it feels to be grabbed and hit, by a parent.  A child doesn't forget a parent's inability/refusal to offer a heart-felt apology.  A child doesn't forget a parent's unwillingness to change, and make things better.  These forget-me-nots manifest themselves in many different ways.

The way I see it, at some point, someone in the family has to stand-up and take adult responsibility.  Someone has to stop the madness that comes from over-zealous intolerant control-seekers, AKA very strong disciplinarians, with a short-fuse.  Someone has to be the willing student, and learn better ways.... and then teach others through improved example.

When I became a parent, I made a vow -- I would not do as my parents did.  I would not abandon my babies, and I will not lash-out in anger.  I promised myself I will learn how to communicate my frustration and anger and I will do what it takes to keep my hands from grabbing something.   It's not easy... especially when rage hits.  I'm not the kind of person who would hit my kids... I'm the type person who will take the hate and rage, and use it against myself.  I've done some stupid things in terms of self-injury.  The last episode, years ago, was the event that turned my life around.

It takes a tremendous amout of self-discipline and courage to break away from learned conditioning and easy habit.  It's like learning a new language, only much harder because it's not just mental and verbal re-wiring, it's physical re-training, too.  I found the learning process requires a few key things.  It requires some serious distance from those who see no problem in certain destructive actions/behaviors; it requires a lot of positive encouragement and support from non-abusing family and peers; it requires sincere apologies and genuine forgiveness; it requires an enormous amount of humility. The good news is, old patterns CAN change, and the ones who benefit most are the children... the ones who one day, might become spouses and parents.

Ugh, this old messiah canard, again

Defense Attorney Hitchcock said he believes his clients are "thoughtful rational people who are trying to make good decisions with respect to parenting. I think it's pretty obvious they take their duties seriously."

He believes the LeFevres showed a lot of courage when they adopted five foster children,

 

This kind of talk is what gives these jack--es tacit permission to do what they do. Hey, I'm a savior, I'm a hero, I get to treat you however I gd well please.

 

some with special needs, and brought them into their home.

"The reason we're here is it just wasn't a swat on the butt. There were swats on the legs, on the back, there were red spots, there might have been bruising," Hitchcock said.

Although two of the boys have scarring, he said, his clients do not believe they ever left any scars on the children. Hitchcock asked the judge to let the couple rely on the support they have in the community and their counselor to help them change. He asked for probation with no jail time for his clients.

Does PPL have a category or tag for disability and so-called "special needs" along with date, placement type, etc? I see a very dire pattern.

Special needs tagging

There is tag for special needs, and several abuse cases have been labeled as such, see: http://poundpuplegacy.org/posts/?cid=17897&tid=case

The tagging of cases with "special needs" has not been done exhaustively, so if you see cases we have not properly categorized, please let me know.

Wasn't a criticism,

I'm thinking people deliberately choose so-called "special needs" children because they are perceived as all the more vulnerable (and have the added burden of being made to feel all the more "grateful", with the parents being made out as all the more falsely heroic). Can't quite fully explain it yet, but I think it would be a worthy filter to look at a lot of these abuse cases.

Special = Extra

While there are those few who may really WANT to help those children who are more difficult to place and/or require special medical care, one cannot overlook or dismiss the simple truth that there are those calculating nut-jobs out there looking at "special needs" as a means to extract more money via adoption incentives/subsidies.  It's positively sick seeing what is being done to childen just so some "hero" can get some extra money on a montly basis.

Three of my 'favorite' case-examples of adopting for the money include children adopted byJudith Leekin, Adam Herman and twins adopted by Pompas.  Note the first two were homeschooled.

I've seen that with fosters, too

I think in the case of fosters it can be even more blatant; you are ONLY here because you are a stand in for a paycheck. My father once pastored a church where a few of the families "kept kids" as it was called. It came with some very interesting results, not all of them awful. Then there are the cases where people actually start to like the "kids" and want to have them as a legal part of the family.

But we also saw some very ugly things. All of the "kids" were women. One doesn't have to guess where I'm going with this.

the further abuse of these childern

What they let these people get away with was truly sad. The children eventually went back with the adopted parents and were further abused nothing changed. I know some of the family and its hard to think they had to go though all that. Those parents are truely out for themselves and the money. I wish I could do more for the kids that are around my age but everyone in a small town thinks they are the best people. I get sick thinking about what each one o those children went through and the pain and suffering one of the boys went though. I wish that the justice could be served but I feel it never will. To all the people that read this, no justice was made for those children and they have to live with the abuse and the fact that no one cared enough to defend them every day. Small town let abuse happen when its someone they like or someone with a lot of money. Please pray for these childern

this is RAD parenting

it is right in their literature... you know their self published expert literature....

they recommend only feeding the kids what they earned (often just PB&J for weeks)  making young children, like 4 years old, wash their own clothes...

making kids who mess up the bathroom inside use the one outside (even renting a port a potty)

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