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Millcreek abuse case far from straightforward


OCY, state checked Schoolfields' kids



On March 4, Millcreek Township resident Eugene L. Schoolfield II walked into the Erie County Courthouse and sought a temporary protection-from-abuse order against his former wife.

Schoolfield, citing evidence from a police investigation, accused Annissa D. Schoolfield of abusing their four adopted children by beating, cutting and choking them and locking one of them up in handcuffs.

Eugene Schoolfield wanted Judge William R. Cunningham to bar his ex-wife from having contact with the children -- two boys, 12 and 6 years old, and two girls, 12 and 9.

Cunningham turned down Eugene Schoolfield's request.

Eugene Schoolfield persisted. Erie County Judge Stephanie Domitrovich granted a final PFA on March 16.

And several weeks later, on April 12, Millcreek police charged Annissa Schoolfield with 14 counts that she repeatedly abused her children from 2006 to this year.

Some of the allegations in the criminal complaint mirror those that Cunningham rejected at the PFA hearing in March.

Annissa Schoolfield, a state prison guard who has been suspended without pay over the criminal case, is awaiting a preliminary hearing on May 11.

The criminal case, however, is far from straightforward.

Newly filed transcripts from the two PFA hearings show that Cunningham was not the only person who had questions about the abuse claims against Annissa Schoolfield.

The Erie County Office of Children and Youth and the state Department of Public Welfare, according to the court records, also investigated claims that the Schoolfield children were being abused or mistreated -- either by Annissa Schoolfield or by Eugene Schoolfield, both 41.

Between 2004 and 2008, OCY or DPW looked into four such complaints against the Schoolfields, according to the PFA-hearing transcripts, which the Erie Times-News ordered after police charged Annissa Schoolfield.

The transcripts show the agencies each time determined the abuse claims to be unfounded or invalid.

- In December 2004, child-welfare investigators looked into allegations that Annissa Schoolfield had choked one of her daughters, then 7. The investigation determined the claim to be unfounded, an OCY intake specialist, Catherine Allen, testified at the PFA hearing on March 16.

- In September 2007, the DPW investigated a claim that Annissa Schoolfield had "sicced" the family dog on one of her sons, then 9 years old, injuring the boy, according to the transcript. DPW determined that claim to be unfounded, Allen testified.

- In November 2007, OCY investigated a claim that the Schoolfields were providing inadequate health care because one of the children had no glasses to replace a broken pair. Allen testified that OCY found the claim invalid, and that the Schoolfields got the child the glasses during the investigation.

- In February 2008, DPW investigated claims that Eugene Schoolfield was inappropriately disciplining one of the children by choking her.

"Nothing was substantiated," Allen testified.

But during the course of that investigation, child-welfare officials kept the four children away from their father by having them live with their mother. Allen, reading from a document, testified that child-welfare officials said Annissa Schoolfield was "willing to protect" the children.

Millcreek police are now alleging that Annissa Schoolfield not only failed to protect her children, but routinely hurt them.

Among the charges, filed by Sgt. Richard Skonieczka, are that Annissa Schoolfield choked the children, forced one daughter to eat her own vomit and caused the family dog to bite one of her sons "on the forearm and ear, resulting in visible scars," according to the criminal complaint.

The police are basing the charges on interviews with the children. Annissa Schoolfield did not talk to police.

The four children are now living exclusively at the Millcreek residence of Eugene Schoolfield, whose 11-year marriage with his wife ended in divorce in September.

The two had been sharing custody of the children, which they adopted during the course of their marriage. Police allege Annissa Schoolfield abused the children at her residence at 5113 Kates Way, in a condominium complex in the Belle Valley section of Millcreek.

Records admissible?

Annissa Schoolfield's lawyer, Wayne Johnson Jr., an assistant public defender, said Schoolfield denies she hurt the children, and that he would elaborate on that defense if the case goes to trial.

He said the criminal case has damaged Schoolfield already, particularly, he said, because of the "bizarre" nature of the charges.

"It is very hard for her," Johnson said. "She has been suspended without pay, and the public humiliation."

Johnson said he will ask a judge to admit details of the child-welfare investigations as evidence if the case goes to trial in Erie County Court.

"I think it is certainly relevant," Johnson said. "It shows the credibility of the kids, and that they have been investigated for abuse allegations, and those were unfounded."

The prosecutor in the Schoolfield case, Chief Deputy District Attorney Beth Hirz, declined to comment.

On the sidelines, in the criminal case, is OCY. The agency's director, Mary Ann Daniels, said it will follow its protocols and cooperate with law enforcement in the case.

Daniels, who took over at OCY in February 2008, said she is confident the agency handled the Schoolfield case correctly in determining the claims unfounded. She said confidentiality rules prohibit her from going into detail.

"Based on the information that has been available, we believe that everything was done and acted on in an appropriate manner," Daniels said.

Eugene Schoolfield, pastor of St. James A.M.E. Church, 236 E. 11th St., has declined to comment through his lawyer.

The PFA hearings

During the first PFA hearing, before Judge Cunningham on March 4, Eugene Schoolfield asked for a temporary restraining order and also said child-welfare investigators had found a 2007 complaint against his ex-wife "not substantiated."

Cunningham told Schoolfield he would rule on the PFA request after the judge checked on the background "so I don't do anything inconsistent with what's already been done."

Cunningham denied the temporary PFA.

Eugene Schoolfield, as the law allows, sought a final PFA before Judge Domitrovich on March 16.

Allen, the OCY official, testified. So did Skonieczka, the police sergeant. The children were prepared to take the stand.

Domitrovich never had them testify. She allowed Annissa Schoolfield to consent to the PFA without admitting any wrongdoing.

Domitrovich suggested that option because, she said, any findings in the PFA case could be used against Annissa Schoolfield in the criminal case.

"She is not admitting any of the allegations, nor will there be a finding of the allegations," Annissa Schoolfield's lawyer at the hearing, Keith Clelland, said in court.

"Correct," Domitrovich said.

The allegations will come under scrutiny again, in the criminal case, at the preliminary hearing on May 11.

ED PALATTELLA can be reached at 870-1813 or by e-mail.

2010 May 2