Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Improper Child Interviews Exposed in Greene v. Camreta

Last time I discussed the ruling in Greene v. Camreta. This time I want to point out another typical tactic practiced during child abuse investigations. Improper interviews of children.

Camreta and Alford seek to justify the length of the seizure by pointing out that as the interview progressed, S.G. began disclosing sexual abuse by her father. S.G. maintains that for "over an hour" she repeatedly told Camreta that her father had never touched her in a bad way until she finally "just started saying yes to whatever he said." It is far from clear that it was reasonable for Camreta and Alford to continue to detain S.G. for an entire hour during which she continually denied such abuse even if it was reasonable to continue the interview once she started to say otherwise. Still, there is some case law applying the T.L.O. standard sanctioning a detention longer than an hour, and none refuting the justification Camreta and Alford offer for prolonging the detention beyond that - namely, that S.G. was just becoming - in their view - responsive.

Children are highly suggestible, and take their cues from the authority figure questioning them. In the case above, the caseworker, Camreta, broke the rules by asking the same questions over and over until the child wearily acquiesced and gave the response Camreta was seeking. Children will say whatever they think the authority figure wants to hear. We have conditioned them to "give the right answers." Their cue that they have given a wrong answer is when the question is repeated over and over. Even if Camreta stressed the importance that S.G. tell the truth, his refusal to accept that truth cued the child that she was giving a "wrong" answer.

A child cannot take much pressure before relenting and giving the "right" answer, which then become the facts of the case. The record on this case indicates Camreta was conducting a validation of his pre-concieved notions, not investigating to determine the truth. Can't blame Camreta, this is how it is done all the time.

I have a library of video-taped child interviews by "experts"  which parents have sent me over the years. Having been trained in the proper interviewing of children, I am asked to conduct an analysis of the interviews for attorneys. I also interview children about their interviews with child welfare agencies to uncover what motivated the child's responses.

I have advocated that all interviews with children should be video taped with all participants visible and face front to the camera, with a working clock in view. Proper practice dictates that the child should never be questioned prior to the taped interview. They should not be repeatedly interviewed, because repeated interviews taints the truth. And there is a right way and wrong way to question a child.

I had one case where the interviewer's back was to the camera. An examination of the video showed minimal improper questions, yet the girl changed her denials into accusations. When I interviewed her, she disclosed that she had changed her "story" because the authority figure's facial expressions indicated she was giving the "wrong" answer to his questions.

In another, a highly contested child sex abuse criminal case, a Denver, Colorado Children's Advocacy Center  interviewer blatantly violated every prohibition during their interview with the alleged child victim. She gave the child the answers she was seeking within the questions she asked. She asked leading questions. She repeatedly asked the same questions over and over until she got the answer she was seeking. She did not allow the child to tell the story in the narrative. She tainted that interview horribly, and an innocent man has had to stand trial three times on the same charges and still faces a fourth trial.

Camreta was just conducting over-zealous caseworker business as usual. This happens all the time, all over the country. It's no big deal. Children are removed, parental rights terminated, innocent people convicted and imprisoned, based solely on these tainted interviews. Just thought you should know.

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Leave the emotions, propaganda and rhetoric at the door. This blogger is only interested in intelligent, logical, well-thought out, factually based comments which are on-topic, indicating the writer has an open mind and a mature ability to reason.