By: Hien C. Duong-Tran, Attorney at Law |
I dream of my family. And, it always leaves me grief-stricken. It has been 2 years and 239 days since I last saw my children.
I am a refugee – again. The first event occurred at dusk; the second triggering event occurred at dawn. Both were equally terrifying.
Flight From Certain Death
In 1975, I was a part of Operation Babylift. (Google “your daly bread operation babylift” and select “World Airways Alumni Page. Page 9”. http://www.yourdalybread.com/WPage-9.html. I am the boy in the last photo at the top of the page. The last two paragraphs of the top story, involving Father Crawford, is about us.)
I was 9 at the time. My mother helped Sister Michael, a childhood friend, and Fr. Crawford save war orphans and “orphans” abandoned because of polio. In exchange for letting the orphans hide out in our compound until their escape, Fr. Crawford allowed the youngest members of my family to join his flock. (The little ones were to impersonate war orphans; thus, the older siblings and my mother would have had to stay behind. My father had passed away from emphysema two years prior.)
It was late in the war; news from the front were bad; and, despite living mere blocks from the presidential palace in Saigon, lawful escape routes were nonexistent. My mother had almost given up hope of saving her brood of 13 from the advancing communist horde when a spur of the moment visit to a fortune teller kept hope alive. She was told her efforts would bear fruit. Then, out of the blue, Sr. Michael called, asking for help and giving my mom a way save both the orphans and her youngest children.
Shortly thereafter, to avoid undue attention, the orphans started trickling into our home from their countryside orphanage. Then, we waited.
One evening, as darkness fell, word came: we were to quietly and quickly board the buses as soon as they arrived. We feared desperate strangers would rush the buses, or cause a melee. The buses came. We rushed forward.
Chaos ensued. War orphans, with stubs where their limbs had been blown off, and orphans with polio were pushed, pulled or carried by Sr. Michael and other adults. I held one of my siblings’ hand, and boarded a bus. Then, I searched the bedlam for other family members, but saw none – save an uncle standing outside, almost swallowed by the night. I was frightened. I feared I would never see my family again. The advancing darkness fueled my growing sense of desolation.
The pandemonium ended abruptly when the bus door closed. Our part in the diaspora had begun. The headlights swept away scenes of my childhood, and illuminated a course through the foreboding darkness. We made our way to Tan Son Nhat Airport, to the plane where Mr. Daly awaited.
At the airport, armed soldiers blocked entry. They wanted to board the bus. They insisted. Our driver, however, were resolute in keeping the bus door locked while Fr. Crawford and others desperately negotiated airport entry. We children were told to hide on the floor of bus, and to keep quiet. Threats and shouts rang out in the night. Inside the dark bus, fear and uncertainty rigned. Tense minutes passed, then, with relief, we rolled forward.
At the small plane, chaos erupted once again as the children were rushed aboard. Kids were crammed, two or three deep, onto each seat. Although we children were exhausted and hungry from our ordeal, many were boisterous, having never been aboard a plane. When meals were served, the orphans clamored for extra cartons of milk, only to spit out mouthfuls of the unfamiliar fresh milk. (They were expecting diluted condensed milk or something sweet.) As the plan rose and flew thousands of feet in the air, orphans could be seen banging on the airplane windows with their forks and knives, adding turmoil to the already tumultuous day.
We landed on Midway Island and at Narita Airport, respectively, to refuel and transfer to a larger airplane. I still could not see other family members. It was not until dozens of hours later – when we landed at Camp Pendleton, California, were processed, and were assigned to rooms – that I first saw other family members. Over time, other siblings trickled in. Late that night, my mother arrived. Except for a sister studying in Europe, my family was unexpectedly reunited for the first time on foreign soil. Our new life in America had begun.
Rebuilding and Building a Brighter Future
Although we arrived penniless in the U.S., over the years, we were able to make something of ourselves, and make positive contributions to our adopted homeland. For example, of the 13 siblings, we hold five doctorates, eight master’s degrees, and 12 bachelor’s degrees. Included in our rank are educators at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels; a department chair at a medium-sized public research university; a physician, who runs pediatric intensive care units at major hospitals; a department manager for a Fortune 100 company; an officer in the U.S. Armed Forces; and, an attorney.
I, too, am one of the Operation Babylift beneficiaries who found success in America, and who worked hard to make her a better place.
Academically, I hold a Juris Doctor from The George Washington University School of Law. Prior to that, on full scholarship, I matriculated at Duke University’s Terry Sanford Public Policy Institute, where, except for the Master’s Memo requirement, I have completed all the course work necessary for a joint JD-MPP degree. I also hold a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon, where I was admitted into the Honors Program in Psychology and where I received a Dean’s Service Award and two Outstanding Services Awards.
Professionally, I have also achieved a measure of success as a policy analyst, lobbyist, lawyer, and legal consultant. For example, I researched, authored, and implemented the Emergency Winter Shelter policy for Arlington County,Virginia, to prevent hypothermia in the homeless population; I was named by The Legal Times as one of four major players on top priority employment legislation in the 105th Congress; although a life-long conservative Democrat, I received unsolicited letters of commendation from John Boehner, then-Chair of the Republican Conference, and Bill Goodling, then-Chair of the Education and the Workforce Committee, for the U.S. House of Representatives; I was asked to serve as lead attorney for a new office of a top-ranked boutique law firm with more than 30 offices in 20 countries; and, within 90 days of joining the largest managed care organization in the U.S., I was promoted to manage the regulatory function for its Northwest Region, where I obtained a new insurance license, which had eluded it for the preceding three years, and successfully lead efforts to resolve numerous and years-long insurance violations that harmed countless policyholders and resulted in a cease and desist order.
Despite school and work demands, I always remained committed to helping people and building a better society. For example, I have spent years helping asylum seekers in the U.S. and overseas, including a year in Hong Kong, helping an international human rights lawyer, Pam Baker, provide free legal services to the tens of thousands of asylum seekers there. I have also volunteered with a relief nursery, to prevent child abuse in high-risk families; homeless shelters, including the Emergency Winter Shelter and family shelters; and, food banks.
My most recent and most significant contributions include risking my career to protect the sick and dying by blowing the whistle against the largest managed care organization in the U.S. for fraudulent misconducts that spanned at least half a decade in some instances, and cheated policyholders of untold tens of thousands of dollars, http://www.bizjournals.com/portland/stories/2007/11/19/story6.html (state insurance regulators validated my allegations); volunteering with Legal Aid Service to protect a woman and her child from domestic violence; and, co-leading efforts to stop a church from holding weekly services for 120 convicted sex offenders and criminals at a location 60 steps from Quatama Elementary School and less than 500 yards from Orenco Elementary School, http://www.katu.com/news/investigators/Parents-battle-church-over-sex-offender-meetings-near-school-179596141.html. (I am in the KATU video.)
Those efforts came to screeching halt in January 2013, when my own nightmare begun.
Persecution and Flight from Corrupt Government Agents
The legitimacy of a government comes into question the moment society’s discussion becomes about putting body cameras on those we hired to protect and serve us, to prevent them from abusing us.
Today’s news is dominated by stories of police brutality and abuse, often surreptitiously caught on camera, see, e.g., stories about Samuel Dubose at the University of Cincinnati; Sandra Bland in Prairie View, TX; Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD; Walter Scott in North Charleston, NC; Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, WA; Tamir Rice in Cleveland, OH; Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO; Eric Gardner in Staten Island, NY; and, Zachary Hammond in Seneca, SC. But, our experience predates theirs.
Our ordeal began in January 2013, when Washington County Child Protective Services (CPS) took Ryan Clark, my fiance’s son, from school, and had him thoroughly examined by their physician/child abuse expert before releasing him to us at the end of day. That evening, after discussing Ryan’s medical history with Laura J. Leonard, Ryan’s mother, Dr. Keltner, the CPS physician/child abuse expert who thoroughly vetted him, confirmed that his injuries were consistent with self-inflicted wounds, his history of self-injurious behaviors, his medical history, his school reports, and his child therapy records.
At this point, we thought the misunderstanding was resolved, Ryan would be returned to us, and our lives would return to normal. However, Hillsboro Police intervened. At the police’s suggestion, CPS placed Ryan with his grandmother and Dale Powers, Ryan’s new step-grandfather. They also took away our other three children, awarding temporary custody of the children to our respective former spouses.
Despite the set back, we thought the CPS and Hillsboro Police Department (HPD) investigation would run its course, the truth would prevail, and the nightmare would end. This was especially true after two key events.
First, CPS and HPD canvassed our neighborhood, and found that the neighbors in our close-knit community (which included teachers, nurses, and other mandatory reporters of child abuse) corroborated our story. For example, our neighbors told us they informed CPS and the police that they had NEVER witnessed Ryan running outside by himself at mealtime, knocking on neighbor’s doors and asking to come in to eat and watch television.
(As his school and medical records show, Ryan does what he wants when he wants. For example, as a kindergartner, after learning about child abuse reporting in class, after being told by his mother to put away his toys, he threatened to lie and tell his teacher that his mom shoved him into the wall if Laura wouldn’t stop telling him to clean up. Typical of children with oppositional defiance disorder, as he had been diagnosed, he finds ways to act out when he does not get his wish.)
Second, after racking our brains and talking to Laura’s relatives about what, if anything, could have fueled this nightmare, our attention turned to Dale Powers, who had been accused of being a pedophile, “torturer”, and “abuser” by his former wife and adult daughters. We heard that his former wife divorced him in order to keep him away from his grandchildren, and that his daughters refused to let him anywhere near his two biological grandchildren. We also heard that his family cut off all contact with him after one of the daughters returned from a seminar about pornography and pedophilia. In hindsight, things fell into place.
For example, we once thought it odd that for Christmas Dale gave Ryan, a first grader, a high-end Cannon PowerShot A495 camera, which costs more than $250, and other expensive electronic toy, but gave Ryan’s sister, a preschooler who is part-Japanese, a bag of dice. With the clarity of hindsight, what we once found odd, we now found alarming. Dale Powers had been grooming Ryan.
We shared our concerns with CPS and HPD; they had temporarily awarded custody of Ryan to Dale Powers and his wife. Subsequently, we discovered that CPS had not only been collaborating with Dale Powers to serve as a key witness against us, but also to serve as a more permanent foster parent for Ryan.
At daybreak on a frigid February morning, 10 Hillsboro police officers, including a canine unit, stormed my home/law office on the pretext of conducting a search for our cell phones. I was awaken from sleep in the upstairs bedroom, turned the video recorder on my phone, and headed downstairs. I opened the door only to have my phone roughly snatched out of my hand, and my body physically yanked outside into the cold morning air. (I was in shock, having been a lawyer for nearly two decades and having never been on the wrong side of the law.) With my back to the house, the police assaulted Laura, a slight woman of 100 lbs at the time, when she came downstairs. They injured her so badly that the Urgent Care Clinic we subsequently visited had to send her to the emergency room for treatment.
Things quickly deteriorated. After acknowledging that I am a lawyer and this is my home/law office, the police mocked me when I raised concerns about the significant amount of confidential and privileged material on my cell phone and in my home office. They laughed and said, “We’ll keep our eyes closed then!” They then laughed at Laura about her injury. When Laura needed the lavatory, they made her use the hallway bathroom, with the door wide open as the male officers traipsed back and forth down the narrow hallway of our small home. When my lawyer arrived during the search, they refused to admit her, and made her wait outside until they could carry out bags of “evidence”.
The first “evidence” they seized was telling of their racist motives. HPD took two public library books, sitting on the dining-room table, about how to raise children the Asian way: Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, a Chinese-American Yale Law Professor; and, Top of the Class: How Asians Parents Raise High Achievers and How You Can Too by Soo Kim Abboud and Jane Kim, a Korean-American Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and her lawyer sister. The police made much of these books, gathering around, passing the books amongst themselves, and discussing at length how the books were “of the same genre!”
Tellingly, they left behind two other public library books, also sitting on the same table, about how to raise children the Caucasian way: Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman, a Caucasian American journalist; and, Ready for Preschool: Prepare Your Child for Happiness and Success at School by Nancy Hertzog, a Caucasian American psychologist. Apparently, it is “evidence” of child abuse in Washington County, Oregon, for an Asian-American parent and his fiance to read public library books about raising their children the Asian way.
The police went on to seize, among other things, notebooks clearly marked “Attorney Client Privileged” on the front cover, which contained our notes from meetings with our lawyers and thoughts meant for our lawyers; papers and documents we obtained or prepared at the directions of our lawyers, also clearly marked “Attorney-Client Privileged”; and, the deed to my house. They also removed sport equipment as well as accessories to my Halloween costume.
After seizing public library books, illegally stealing confidential and privileged communications with our lawyers, disgorging the contents of the other client files in my law office, stripping the fabric dress off the foot-tall doll that belonged to Laura’s three-year old daughter, making a complete mess of our entire home, the police left. In their wake, they also left anger, uncertainty, and overwhelming fear.
Laura, who had been a victim of domestic violence and who was helped by Florida police when her then-boyfriend sent her to the hospital with significant injuries, started having nightmares again. Likewise, having only recently recovered from a diagnosis of PTSD from my five year battle against the largest managed care organization in the U.S., I started having chest pains and anxiety attacks again. Sleep and peace eluded us.
We felt unsafe in our own home. We feared deadly assault by the police. Who would help us then? Washington County had already shown its racist motives, deceit, and flagrant disregard for the law by collaborating with a known white pedophile to testify against me and to serve as Ryan’s foster parent; by lying about having no evidence that Ryan engages in self-injurious behaviors even though, for example, on the day CPS took him, upon bringing him home, the CPS agent informed us that he had been biting the inside of his cheek all day and that it had been significantly more inflamed and swollen than it was by that evening; by omitting my name from the search warrant and the fact that the place searched was my home/law office; by assaulting Laura, a Caucasian woman engaged to an Asian man; by stealing confidential and privileged documents relating to our case; etc.
Through our lawyers, we asked Washington County to permit us to turn ourselves in, in the presence of our lawyers, should it ever come to that. They refused. The district attorney’s office said the Hillsboro police would be allowed to arrest us when and how they chose.
If HPD mocked us and sent Laura to the emergency room over cell phones, we feared what they would do to us if they ever came for us. Further exacerbating our fear were contemporaneous news stories about abuses by local law enforcement and by local CPS officials. For example, there were stories about a trial over the shooting of an unarmed many by Washington County law enforcement officers, and about a judge in Multnomah County (one county over) who was presiding over an active case involving CPS and who was so outraged by CPS misconducts and felt so powerless over CPS that she had to resort to going to the media. If a judge felt powerless against CPS abuse, what chance had we? If HPD sent us to the hospital because of a search warrant and their brethren shot unarmed victims, what would they do to us on account of an arrest warrant?
Thus, began my second journey as a refugee. A lawyer friend, who had worked with Pam Baker and me in Hong Kong and who subsequently joined the appeals board for immigration matters in his own country, reaffirmed my claim for refugee protection under international law, and strongly urged that I seek such protection.
Like Police Abuse, CPS Abuse is a National Epidemic, not Isolated Events
Stories of CPS abuse of free-range parents are but the tip of the iceberg. Google “child protective services abuses power” and you will get 3.39 million results. “On an average day, police officer and child-welfare caseworkers throughout the United States remove more than seven hundred children from the custody of their parents to protect them from alleged abuse or neglect…. According to statistics published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, … more than one in three were later found not to have been maltreated at all.” http://lsr.nellco.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1054&context=uconn_wps. That means more than 233 children were forcibly and wrongfully taken from their parents each day — or more than 85,166 each year.
The story of Vanessa Shank is illustrative. As reported by NewsChannel 32,
In a follow-up to a 3-year investigation of CPS, NewsChannel 32 interviewed a group of … social workers who alleged families are harassed and workers are pressured in efforts to boost adoption numbers…. Vanessa Shanks had her kids taken away and, when she fought back, her relatives had their children taken away. Then, after she won in court, her attorney’s child was taken away. The former CPS workers said that kind of retaliatory power is common and, in the secretive, one-sided system, they can take anyone’s kids away on a moment’s notice – and get away with it. (Emphasis added.)
Unfortunately for us and our children, we have been caught up in CPS’s web of lies and deceit, and in Hillsboro Police’s brutality. Help us expose this epidemic that is harming the lives of tens of thousands of American children and their families. Let our case be the Ferguson of CPS abuse, and the rallying cry that reigns in the systematic and widespread abuse by CPS agents and their cohorts.
Now, in less than a week, they will take my kids’ home…
Hien C. Duong-Tran
Attorney at Law (CA bar #200763 and OR bar #040599)