This post is a bit different than previous entries. Below is an unedited excerpt from the book I'm working on which provides details surrounding the legal issues we dealt with immediately following Jacob's accident. If you have time to read it, I'd appreciate your feedback.
Over the next several months, we dealt with simply trying to survive our grief and the unexpected fight we found ourselves in for our rights as parents and to prove my innocence. We were destroyed inside and at the same time we were having to to deal with the legal fallout from investigations from both Child Protective Services and the County Sheriffs office.
We've all heard the heartbreaking stories of children being accidentally left in car seats by parents and those children dying from heat stroke. From the second the authorities showed up at our house on June 12th, this is the lens in which they were investigating the accident. It was another level of stress that was sitting on our shoulders while we tried to figure out how to live with our grief. It was a nightmare within a nightmare.
Being accused of something you didn't do is hard enough on it's own. But, dealing with it after the death of your child was unbearable.
A week after Jacob's accident, I was in an attorney's office going through the events of that day. My family had to hire a criminal defense attorney that charged hundreds of dollars an hour who defended the worst of the worst. I had never been arrested in my life and now I was sitting in an attorney's office talking about defending myself from being prosecuted for criminal negligence of my child. I felt sick to my stomach as the attorney talked about his experience and the type of people he defended. To him, it was just another case. Understandably, he didn’t know me or Jacob, so he didn’t have much compassion in his tone. He was rather matter of fact about the law surrounding the events of that day and whether any one could prove whether I was negligent or not. All I could think was "How is it possible that I'm sitting here trying to prove that I didn't leave my son in his car seat? Why don't they believe me?"
Thankfully, my Dad, brother in law, and father in law went to the meeting with me to support me and to help me get through it. Painfully, I recounted every detail I could remember about that day and the timeline of events. Once he finished interviewing me, he said he was going to get with the Sheriffs investigators to see what direction the investigation was going.
A few days later my attorney called. He said that he had talked with the Sheriffs office and he said I should take a polygraph test. "I need to take a lie detector test?" He said it would go a long way in providing evidence I was telling the truth and it would be proactive to push things along. After talking it through with my family, I agreed to whatever he thought was best. Three days later, my Dad and sister drove me to take this polygraph test.
I was incredibly nervous and my stomach was in knots. I wasn't afraid of failing the test. I was afraid of having to recount the details, once again, and reliving each painful moment. I was angry I was even having to take this test. The shock my body was in affected me so much physically, I could barely do more than walk and sit.
The defense attorney met us at the office where I was to take the test. When we walked inside, the attorney went straight into a private meeting with the person who was going to administer the polygraph. They were in there for about half an hour. It seemed like an eternity. With every passing second my anxiety and stress level went up. "How long is this going to take? I just want to get this over with." I thought. My sister did her best to keep me calm. God bless her and my Dad for being there. I don’t know how I would have got through that day without them.
Finally, my attorney came out and brought me into the room where they were meeting. He asked my Dad and sister to come into the room where all of us would meet. The administrator said he was sorry I was there and that he was sorry for what happened to Jacob. He then said "There is no way I'm giving you this polygraph test. Your son passed away just a week ago, and your body is not going to give an accurate reading. It's not worth putting you through this to get an inaccurate reading. So, I'm not doing it."
I was relieved to not have to take the test, but I was pissed at my attorney for not having enough foresight to know it wouldn't be a proper time to put me through the test. We are paying this guy a small fortune and I felt like he should have had enough experience to know this test wasn't going to work at this time. It had created an enormous amount of stress for me and my family and had been a complete waste of time.
Weeks would go by with questions back and forth from the attorney to the Sheriffs investigators. One day I got a call from the attorney saying the Sheriffs investigators wanted to come by the house for a face to face interview. He said they wanted to do one final interview before they made their recommendation to the DA on whether to prosecute me or not. We were ready to do whatever it took to put this behind us, so we told the attorney to set it up as soon as possible.
Around 5 p.m. one evening two Sheriffs investigators, my attorney, my sister, Brea, and I sat around a table in our living room. Once again, I'm full of nerves, scared of the unknown, and just under the surface I'm seething with anger at these investigators who keep dragging us unnecessarily through hell. My heart is broken and I'm missing Jacob, but I’m still having to put my grief on hold so I can get through this investigation.
The investigator starts the meeting with this statement "I know you gave a statement on the day of the accident, but I think it's time you tell us all what really happened that day. I'm not sure that we're getting the truth."
Those words pierced right through whatever thin sheet of composure I had holding back the tension built up over the last couple of months. I envesioned jumping across the table and grabbing him by the throat and beating the crap out of him. All of the rage I had towards this investigator boiled right up to the surface in that moment.
“I have told you the truth from the very beginning and I don’t know what else to do.” I told him; my voice getting louder with each word and trembling with emotion. I was so angry I started crying and I slowly started standing up out of my chair leaning slightly toward him. Brea put her hand on my leg, slightly pushing me back down into my chair. She didn’t say anything but I got the message. ”I got you honey, but you need to take it down just a notch." I knew I was losing control but I was done. I had enough of this. I don't know what else I said but I sat all the way back in my chair and looked at both the investigators, intentionally not breaking my stare.
After a few silent moments the lead investigator said, "OK, that's all I needed. I believe you." “What? That’s it?” I thought. The message was pretty clear. They were there to push my buttons and to see what came out. The lead investigator told me he would recommend the District Attorney not prosecute me and that he believed me. Before my attorney left that evening he said he felt good about the direction the case would take and that it should be over soon.
Unfortunately, a week or two later, I got a call from my attorney saying the DA was taking my case before the grand jury. We were all shocked. I couldn't believe it. Of course when you hear those words, you think the worst. But, our attorney then explained that it was the only way the case could ever be completely closed. If the DA didn't let it go to grand jury, then it could be opened up years later for any reason. I didn't like it but there wasn’t anything we could do about it. It was going to be a couple of more months of waiting with this hanging over our head.
At the same time, we were dealing with Child Protective Services. The night of the accident, a CPS case worker came to our house. She took down the names of family members who would be staying with us and we had to sign paperwork that said I could not be at home with my daughters by myself. It made me feel ashamed and like I was unfit to be a father. Of course, it made me angry. It was enraging and terrifying to see how easily someone who doesn't know you and your family can come into your house and take away your parental rights with the stroke of a pen.
CPS drug their feet on their investigation and they were terrible in communicating with us. We just wanted to get on with our lives but they wouldn't meet with us or release us from investigation. We didn't understand what the hold up was. It took one phone call after another but finally we were able to get some movement in the CPS investigation. Weeks had gone by and I was still restricted from being alone with the girls. Finally, CPS said they wanted to interview the girls before they would close the investigation and make a determination. The interview had to be with the girls, one on one, with an investigator. We were not allowed to be in the room with them. As parents, we didn't like the idea at all but we didn't have an option at this point. We agreed to the interview as long as we were able to review the questions they were going to ask the girls beforehand. We could have objected through the attorney we hired for the girls if we thought one of the questions was inappropriate for their age. After reviewing the questions, we approved them and set up the meeting.
At the CPS office, they took the girls back to be interviewed with the girls attorney present. They interviewed them together and then seperately. When they came out, they seemed fine and unaffected by the experience. The attorney said they did great and that the interview went well. Unfortunately, the girls were asked questions that were not on the list. We kept feeling like the system was abusing us, and this was another example of what seemed like an abuse of power and deceit. They asked them questions around topics of physical abuse and about mine and Brea's relationship and if we fought a lot. No questions like this were presented to us prior to the meeting. It wasn't that we were afraid of the questions, but it was frustrating they decided to ask them unapproved questions. We were angry and disappointed, but we were glad it was over. Our main concern was that the girls weren't traumatized by the interview.
After waiting several months, the case with the County finally went to the grand jury. I can't imagine what Brea was feeling at the time. Grieving her son and worrying about whether her husband was going to be prosecuted or not. Was our family going to be able to move forward or were we going to be stuck fighting a legal battle for the next year? She was amazing through it all and always supportive. Whatever we were going to go through, we at least knew we were walking through it together. Finally, the grand jury returned the decision and "no-billed" the case. Essentially, that means the case was not going forward with prosecution. It was a huge weight lifted all of our shoulders.
After months of questioning and defending ourselves, and what felt like unwarranted and unnecessary stress added to a very difficult situation; all the legal and CPS investigations were closed. It felt good to put these issues behind us and I was relieved for a moment. But, I quickly realized the real struggle with our new reality was just beginning.