Sunday, December 23, 2012

Confess or you'll never see your kids

Posted: Dec. 21, 2012 | 2:06 a.m.
It sounds like something out of the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials or modern-day North Korea: Authorities separate a husband and father from his family, warning that he can live with them only if he confesses to a crime he didn't commit.
This kind of twisted justice was repudiated by our Founding Fathers, and as a result, the United States legal system is the gold standard of the free world.
Yet this unconscionable scenario played out right here in Clark County over the past few years. And very soon, Southern Nevadans likely will pay dearly for it.
A Nigerian immigrant announced Tuesday that he has filed a federal civil lawsuit against Clark County for keeping him separated from his family for five months after a jury acquitted him of murder and abuse charges in the 2008 death of a 2-year-old boy. Victor Fakoya was not allowed to live with his wife and two daughters unless he admitted responsibility in Family Court to the charges he was found not guilty of in District Court.
"What has been lost in time and the joy of parenting my children is something I will never again regain," he said.
The lawsuit, which seeks $10 million in damages, alleges Child Protective Services employees tried to use the forced separation from his family to coerce Mr. Fakoya into admitting he caused Daniel Jaiwesimi's death.
"It seems morally incongruous for prosecutors to demand of Mr. Fakoya that, in order to settle his Family Court case, he confess to something for which he was acquitted," we wrote in this space in April 2011 - more than a year and a half ago. "It smacks of vindictiveness. There is no rational basis for the demand. The safety of Mr. Fakoya's children can be monitored without demanding a confession that would hang over his life forever, even if he is completely innocent."
Mr. Fakoya, a principled and observant Christian, has steadfastly refused to comply with the prosecutors' demands, even though doing so meant he had to live separately from his wife and two daughters.
A Department of Family Services caseworker recommended dismissal. "In light of the outcome of Mr. Fakoya's criminal trial ... it is respectfully requested and recommended that this matter be dismissed and the case closed," the caseworker wrote in a letter to the court, almost two years ago. But District Attorney David Roger's office pressed on, demanding the confession. (Mr. Roger has since left office.)
Although Mr. Fakoya has filed only against the county, individuals within Child Protective Services and the district attorney's office probably will be named later, says Mr. Fakoya's civil attorney, Brent Bryson.
"The mandate of Child Protective Services is, one, to protect children, and two, to reunify families together. We believe that mission was abandoned in Mr. Fakoya's case," Mr. Bryson said Tuesday.
Indeed. The two missions can sometimes appear to be in conflict. But children fare best within their own families - with both parents, when possible.
The conduct of the agencies in this case went beyond mere caution. They seemed unwilling to accept the verdict of a jury of Mr. Fakoya's peers, determined to use their power over the custody of the children to force a different outcome.
Now, in all likelihood, taxpayers will pay for that intransigence. And what measure of accountability might they get in the face of a multimillion-dollar judgment or settlement? Will anyone within Clark County government face suspension or termination? Will anyone step forward to renounce such Draconian tactics and vow that it will never happen again?
Meantime, as Mr. Fakoya notes, how can he ever be given back those months with his growing children?