In reading the testimony of Judge Muroski I found one part particularly curious.
Since the indictments were announced there has been considerable media and public criticism about "why didn't the Judges do anything- they had to know." He goes on to desceribe some mechanisms that may support the reason Judges were kept in the dark. But this line is not as clear.
Prior to that I had never received a letter or any other notice of the systemic deprivation of counsel. I do not recall any news coverage regarding these issues, except for the 2004 incident regarding placement.
It is a shame that this particular story didn't receive the attention it deserved. The heartbreak of Richard and Gloria Habel over their daughter, Elizabeth, with the Luzerne County juvenile court system is compelling enough to keep it in the forefront.
A family’s nightmare
Plymouth girl, her parents upset with treatment she’s received in her nine months in state custody.
By JOHN DAVIDSON
October 29, 2006
PLYMOUTH – Richard and Gloria Habel pulled into the West Side Vo-Tech High School parking lot one morning in mid-February to a flashing array of emergency vehicles. Their daughter Elizabeth, then 14, was handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser, drunk, and crying, “James O’Brien raped me.”
Police said Elizabeth came to school that morning highly intoxicated with two friends. One of those friends was in the back seat of another cruiser; the other was in an ambulance, being rushed to the hospital to get her stomach pumped.
Authorities locked up Elizabeth in juvenile detention that day, and aside from a brief visit in September, she hasn’t been home since. Elizabeth was on probation that February morning for a simple assault charge in the spring of 2005. Showing up at school intoxicated was a violation of the probation conditions.
Four days after her arrest, Elizabeth provided authorities with a detailed – at times graphic – written account of the alleged sexual assault by O’Brien. A month later, police arrested James F. O’Brien, 26, at his Plymouth apartment on charges of statutory sexual assault, corruption of minors and furnishing alcohol to minors. He is currently awaiting trial.
O’Brien previously served time in prison after he was charged as a juvenile in 1997 with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. He said in a 2001 interview that the charges were related to sexual abuse of his 5-year-old nephew.
To date, Elizabeth has been locked up longer than O’Brien.
After the drinking incident at school, Elizabeth was sent to juvenile detention for several months while she awaited a hearing before Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella. While confined to Dorm A, Room 2 of the Luzerne County Juvenile Center in Pittston, she wrote a detailed affidavit explaining how she met O’Brien one afternoon while walking across the Carey Avenue Bridge with some girlfriends – and how, a few weeks later, he lured her to his apartment, where he allegedly plied her and her friends with alcohol before assaulting Elizabeth.
But the affidavit was for the district attorney’s office and their case against O’Brien; it had nothing to do with the adjudication of Elizabeth’s case.
After nearly two months in juvenile detention, Elizabeth went before Ciavarella and was sentenced to a program called Vision Quest, some 400 miles away from home in Franklin County. Richard and Gloria say they were never notified of the hearing or the sentencing.
“They told me I was going away and I said, ‘what about my family?’ Because every other time they called and told my parents,” Elizabeth said in an interview at Bridgeview in Wilkes-Barre, where she was transferred this summer. “I had to go to that hearing by myself. And they don’t explain anything; they tell you where you’re going and you’re gone.”
In the nine months since Ciavarella sentenced Elizabeth, the Habels have watched helplessly as judges, state psychologists and probation officers have shuffled her among juvenile detention centers, residential treatment facilities and psychiatric hospitals.
Elizabeth has been interned in at least four different facilities since February, including a brief stay at The Meadows Psychiatric Center in Centre Hall, where she was sent after “failing to adjust” to her program at Vision Quest.
At Vision Quest, Elizabeth said, she received no therapy or counseling related to the alleged sexual assault. The staff “screamed in your face,” she said, describing the facility as more of a military-style boot camp than a treatment center.
In lieu of counseling, Elizabeth was given powerful prescription drugs, including Zoloft and Prozac. Not only were the Habels never consulted about the medications, they weren’t notified when staff doctors decided to change them.
“When we saw her the first time, she was real agitated, she couldn’t sit still and she told us the drugs they were giving her were making her angry and depressed,” Gloria said. “I did some research on my own and I couldn’t believe they would give her these things without consulting us.”
“This is what I don’t understand – how she can be sent to this place and put on these psychotropic drugs and we have no say in the matter,” Richard said. “She’s our daughter, someone should’ve asked us.”
Drug treatments aside, Richard and Gloria weren’t prepared for what they saw at the Vision Quest facility after driving there to visit Elizabeth for the first time last spring.
The first sign that something was wrong: TV news vans were lined up outside the facility.
The day before, the Habels later learned, there had been a riot. About 30 girls attacked staff members with rock-filled socks; some escaped into the woods during the fracas and were later caught.
“There were about a dozen state police cruisers there that morning,” Richard Habel said. “This was where the judge sent my daughter.”
“Harder than it had to be”
The Habels now hope for a judicial decision that, to them, would seem like a miracle. Elizabeth is scheduled to go before Ciavarella on Tuesday, and there is a chance she could finally be allowed to return home.
The ordeal has shaken the Habels as a family, and ultimately brought them closer. But, they say, any good that has come from their daughter’s nine months away from home has been despite her placement, not because of it.
“Liz is closer to us than ever before, and she’s very respectful and loving towards us and her sister,” Gloria said. “But it didn’t have to be like this. We shouldn’t – no parent should – have to go through what we’ve been through.”
For her part, Elizabeth is resilient and speaks clearly and confidently about what’s happened to her.
“I’ve learned so much through all this, but they made it so much harder than it had to be,” she said. “I just wish someone would have listened to me and respected me enough to understand what was really going on.”
John Davidson, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7210.
Your honor, respectively, that story is from 2006.