Justice and Safety for Shirley Riggs and her Children
My name is Shirley Riggs, I’m 39 years old and the mother of 4 beautiful children. I’m writing this inside the Thurston County jail, Olympia, WA, waiting for extradition to Kansas City, Missouri to face charges of custodial interference. My bond stands at $500,000 cash only. This secures that I as a mother will sit in jail because I chose to protect my children from further sexual abuse and because of a broken system. My heart aches for my children in a way few will ever realize….
…. My children and I have suffered great injustices in our lives in the past 4 years. We have been denied our right to due process and protection. Laws have been swept under the rug, resulting in my children being placed with their father and grandfather, who both have substantiated sexual abuse findings involving my oldest daughter. My children have been illegally ripped from the home, family, society, and way of life they love, the place they felt safest and the community they held so dear.
Thus begins a letter dated Oct 8, 2008 by Shirley Riggs , who twice fled with her children from Independence, Missouri to rescue them from court ordered unsupervised overnight visits with their sexually abusive father and grandfather.
In what can only be termed a perversion of justice, Shirley has been extradited back to Missouri, where she sits in a jail cell awaiting 2 trials – one to terminate her parental rights and give full custody to the sexually abusive father; the other a criminal trial for felony custodial interference in which she faces a possible 16 years in prison.
Even worse, both these trials will take place under Judge Stephen Nixon – the same judge who has sanctioned unsupervised visits with the abusive father, and who has a record of giving light sentences to convicted pedophiles.
Meanwhile, Shirley’s four children (2 girls, 2 boys, ages 7-15) are currently in foster care under the legal custody of the Missouri Children’s Division, where unsupervised visitation with the pedophile father continues with the stated aim of reunification.
Don't be mislead by the statements in the above video by the father's lawyer and the Independence Police Department saying that there are no criminal findings of abuse and that the case is closed. There are multiple reports finding that abuse has occured. One wonders why the police failed to confirm the abuse that so many others had no problem seeing.
The March 2007 report from Oregon substantiating the father’s abuse, which was subsequently accepted and filed by the Missiouri Children's division states that there is:
...reasonable cause to believe this referral is Founded for Sexual Abuse, Fondling, on Raymond Riggs for making his daughter … touch his bare penis. The referral will be Founded for Sexual Abuse, Exposure and Voyeurism on Raymond Riggs for repeatedly showing his children pornography on the TV, computer and in Magazines.
Ray Riggs sought administrative appeal of this report and was denied. Currently he has an appeal before Judge Nixon – the same judge who ordered the unsupervised visits - to reverse this finding; decision is pending.
A more recent report (1/29/08) by a therapist at the Synergy group home in Kansas City where the children were placed by the court states:
[The daughter] disclosed in the first individual session that her paternal grandfather “touched her in a private place”…..[ The daughter] seems very afraid of her father, paternal grandfather, and paternal aunt. [The daughter’s] reports were very consistent with her siblings’ accounts of events, but [the daughter] and her siblings’ reports never seemed rehearsed. Due to the behaviors displayed by [the daughter], and the consistency of the disclosures, my therapeutic judgment is that the abuse did occur when she was in the care of their father and grandfather. I believe that having contact with anyone in the father’s family would be detrimental to [the daughter] and her siblings’ physical and emotional well-being.
A MISGUIDED COURT
Despite these findings, the Family Court’s order upon review advocating termination of Ms. Riggs’ parental rights, signed by Judge Nixon, says:
• the Court finds that …visitation with the parents…. including unsupervised and overnight visits… was reasonable….
• with regard to mother, the Court finds that permanency by way of Termination of Parental Rights is in the best interests of the children…..
• The Court finds continued reunification efforts of the children with the father to be in the best interests of the children…
• …visitation with the paternal grandparents…. may take place….and may include unsupervised visitation…
SERIOUS CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
The profound and blatant conflicts of interest in Ms. Riggs’ case make the State's actions against Ms. Riggs highly suspect.
The father’s sister, Leslie Riggs, works as an attorney in the Jackson County office of the Missouri Children’s Division – the very office that has been investigating the abuse allegations against the father and grandfather and making recommendations that the mother lose her parental rights.
Until recently, Leslie Riggs lived in the same house with her father and brother, the substantiated abusers.
The father’s first divorce attorney was a co-worker of Leslie Riggs who worked in the Children’s Division while representing Ray Riggs and while Riggs was being investigated by that office for child sexual abuse. He resigned abruptly when threatened with exposure of the conflict of interest. Riggs’ current attorney formerly worked in this same office.
Commissioner Molly Merrigan ordered the investigation of sexual abuse allegations against the grandfather be transferred from Jackson County DSS to an independent agency because of conflict of interest re: Leslie Riggs.
Case was transferred to Cornerstone for Care in Kansas City, but abuse allegations were not investigated by them. Instead, two other Jackson County DSS employees and co-workers of Leslie Riggs determined that abuse allegations against Al Riggs were unfounded. This finding contradicts the substantiated determination in Oregon and the opinion of the children’s therapist at a court assigned group home in Missouri.
Cornerstone regularly conducts Family Support Team (FST) meetings to oversee status of Riggs’ case. Leslie Riggs regularly attends these meetings as a family member. In addition, Leslie brings a friend, Maureen Patton, a social worker and frequent consultant to Jackson County DSS and the Family Court.
Patton has written a letter to the FST members offering her professional opinion “as a friend”, suggesting that Shirley is not a fit parent, that Ray and Al do not fit the profile of sexual predators, that the children “have been coached to have negative feelings about the paternal side of the family” and that reunification with the father and his family should be encouraged. Patton has also recommended consultation with specific experts, including psychologist Gregory Sisk who has diagnosed Shirley with Borderline Personality Disorder despite normal mental health evaluations, and Shirley’s court appointed therapist ,Karen Allen, who determined that Shirley committed Parental Alienation.
Last, the attorney representing the Children’s Division in the TPR proceeding is Leslie Riggs’ supervisor.
All proceedings against Shirley Riggs should be halted and these blatant conflicts of interest should be independently investiated.
WRONGFUL JURISDICTION AND DUE PROCESS VIOLATIONS
At the time of the divorce proceedings in Nov 2006, Ms. Riggs had lived out of state for almost 3 years. Further, Ms. Riggs had initiated divorce and custody proceedings in New Mexico in May 2005, and her husband had been served. Last, Ms. Riggs raised the issue of her children being of Native American heritage but the court failed to follow through appropriately in notifying the Tribe.
Although she was living in Oregon at the time, Ms. Riggs was given a mere 24 hours notice regarding the April 24, 2007 case management meeting during which Judge Nixon gave temporary custody to the paternal grandparents. Further, there was no notice that a change of custody would take place at this meeting. What’s more, the grandparents were not a party to the case, nor had the father or grandparents made any motion re: a change of custody. Additionally, Ms. Riggs did not have competent representation at the meeting as her attorney withdrew just prior to the hearing, and someone else from that attorney’s office who had never spoken to Shirley and was not assigned to represent Shirley attended instead. Last, there were no allegations or findings that Ms. Riggs was an unfit parent stated at this meeting.
In addition to the many egregious due process failures, the above facts suggest that there may have been violations of both the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act and the Indian Child Welfare Act which may render Missouri’s jurisdiction in this case unlawful.
The basis of the court proceedings against Ms. Riggs is the belief that she has committed Parental Alienation – that she has turned the children against their father and coached them to lie about being abused. In fact, Parental Alienation is a junk science concept that has been denounced by the National District Attorney’s Association , theNational Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judges , American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and more . PAS is nothing more than a legal tactic, a shell game, used by attorneys to get their clients off the hook for allegations of abuse by shifting the court's attention off the abuse claims and onto the motives of the person making the allegations. There are several reports, from examiners in Oregon and Missouri, who confirm the children's allegations of abuse. The only people who are saying the abuse did not occur are connected to Leslie Riggs.
There are recordings of the forensic interviews of the Riggs children from Oregon, where the abuse by both the father and grandfather was substantiated, and from Missouri, where allegations against the grandfather have been unfounded. There is a striking difference in interviewing techniques between the 2 states: Oregon using an open ended technique designed to make the children comfortable and allowing them to talk openly; Missouri using a technique that makes the child noticeably uncomfortable and defensive and seems intended to cause doubt or confusion.
Please sign this petition and show your support for her.