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The painful legacy of a botched domestic violence case

Has anyone seen the TV clip of Tiger Woods falling to his knees after taking a swing with a herniated disc? (If not, see the attached You Tube video.) The pain is so bad and so disabling that he missed this year’s Masters to treat it and news is that he won’t be up and around any time soon.

The price of missing domestic violence
Terri Polm

As a mother of two young children in 2009, April McVeigh didn’t have the time, money or luxury to treat her TWO herniated discs – an injury sustained when she was at work as a teenager – instead she was placed on prescription narcotic medication for chronic pain management.

No one in April’s life had a problem with her taking the medication for her back injury – not her mom, Terri Polm, nor her husband – but apparently Child Protective Services did. Despite what the doctors’ thought, CPS thought April had a drug problem and they wanted her off the pain medication even if such an action would condemn April to a life in agony (and as someone with a herniated disc myself, let me assure you, it is agony!)

Good moms readily sacrifice for their children and that’s what April did: in order to keep her children April put her ego aside and took on the role she was expected to play, complying with the directives instituted by CPS that included going to an off-island rehab to address her “substance abuse problem”. Unfortunately, treatment for this “substance abuse problem” set off a chain reaction of other problems that led to tragic consequences and outcomes for all involved. See the previous articles “When the truth has nothing to do with realityhttp://www.examiner.com/article/when-the-truth-has-nothing-to-do-with-reality and “McVeigh court martial done but mother & daughter’s suffering far from overhttp://www.examiner.com/article/mcveigh-court-martial-done-but-mother-daughter-s-suffering-far-from-over for more on the history of this case.

Sadly, the events in this story continue to go from bad to worse: a few weeks ago it was reported that Hawaii will be appealing Judge Gary W.B. Chang’s ruling that named the Department of Human Services (DHS) as negligent as Brayden’s father in the little boy’s death.

In a recent Star Advertiser article http://www.staradvertiser.com/s?action=login&f=y&id=251870861, DHS was reported as commenting that:

Mr. McVeigh did not have a history of violence, did not have a criminal history and did not have a history of domestic abuse

and

That Mr. McVeigh ‘cracked' and assaulted his child was not foreseeable; we simply cannot predict violence in those without a history of violence.

Both of these statements made by DHS are false and it doesn’t take anyone with an advanced degree to figure that out by looking at the documented evidence.

Evidentiary documents in the McVeigh case clearly show that military police responded on more then one occasion to the McVeigh residence for domestic disturbance calls placed by April and while it’s true that the abuser didn’t have a criminal record at the time, the history of domestic violence was obvious just by the paperwork alone. Talk to April, review the actions and behaviors of her then-spouse and there’s no doubt about the DV dynamics playing out in the relationship and who was in what role; even Judge Chang recognized that “The father was subject to intermittent fits of anger or violence” just from reviewing the paperwork alone.

(To be fair to DHS, however, perhaps they intended to say “no publicly-known history of violence” and “no publicly-known history of DV”? Then again, DHS professionals should know that DV is typically discovered and made public by third parties rather then an abuser self-identifying or a victim announcing that she is one; pretty much the same as identifying child abuse victims who are typically identified through third party discovery rather then identification professed of their own accord.)

Re: the second statement about the abuser “cracking” and the violence being unforeseeable – absolutely not, the pattern of escalation couldn’t be any more “textbook”. In my entire career, I’ve never felt sorry for a murdering abuser EXCEPT for this one and this is why:

I haven’t come across a case yet where the abuser takes a step forward and admits he can’t handle – until this one. The abuser didn’t admit his temper and inability to care for his children quietly in a private moment alone with his wife – he openly admitted this in front of a judge in a courtroom and even went so far as to sign a military Power of Attorney to maternal grandmother, Terri, before the hearing!

Terri, April and the abuser were all in agreement that Terri was willing and able to take care of Brodi and Brayden but the judge on the case said, “We’re going to have to bite the bullet on this one” rejecting the plan and proposal to temporarily give both children to Terri which effectively became Brayden’s death sentence. Of all the things that happened from that point on, April says the “biting the bullet” comment is what still haunts her the most.

As Judge Chang recognized and the record shows, the violence towards Brayden was indeed foreseeable. During April's out-of-home rehab stay, Brayden’s daycare provider began noticing bruising on Brayden and witnessed other unusual behaviors (like he'd cry every time the abuser came to take him back home). The daycare provider repetitively called CPS to report what she was seeing and began taking notes to document everything she was observing but CPS didn’t respond.

Another sad aspect of this story is how preventable this entire tragedy was. From the very moment Terri, who had been with the children since birth, learned that her grandchildren would be placed into foster care she immediately contacted CPS to immediately take them. Although CPS employs a “family preference” when placing children into foster custody, they instead chose acquaintances of the abuser over Terri. Later it was revealed that Brodi was being brutally abused in that placement home and while Terri – a critical care nurse – never stopped fighting for custody of her grandchildren, the abuser’s parents were given custody of Brodi despite having only met her twice before her brother’s death.

Despite these facts, the Star Advertiser reporter who’s covered this case continues to misrepresent the facts and repeats these misrepresentations without thought to the long-term repercussions. Like is he at all aware that he’s writing a little girl’s family history, a history that she, her friends or classmates might Google search one day? The writer heard for himself that April was found innocent of all wrongdoing in the case so why does he continue to paint her as culpable? Does he understand the pain he’s causing April and the legacy he’s leaving for Brodi?

The writer persists in portraying April as a burnt out junkie that did nothing at home while praising the abuser’s many responsibilities (yet fails to point out that prior to her rehab stay, April maintained all of those responsibilities AND did them all without a break or a daycare provider! Then again, I guess there’s no glory in a woman doing “what she’s supposed to” whereas the exact same tasks performed by a man are viewed as Herculean or saint-like.)

When April was forced to relinquish her needed pain medication and enter rehab, the abuser had no choice but to put both children in daycare AND take on all the roles and chores that April previously did herself. The abuser had primary custody of the children upon April’s return from rehab and CPS allowed April to return to the family home on condition that she not be left alone with her children, so even though April had returned from rehab, it didn’t mean that she was back. As a matter of fact, CPS had April so loaded up with all-day follow-up outpatient treatment services it was like she hadn’t returned at all. This left the abuser still saddled with all the household chores and parenting responsibilities while April was prohibited from giving him a break!

Want to hear something worse? After Brodi was placed with the abuser’s parents in Illinois, April and Terri were allowed to speak to Brodi on the phone for about a year until the abuser’s father caught Brodi on the phone with them one day. The abuser’s father grabbed the phone away from the little girl and screamed that they could not talk with her any more because it was April's fault that his son was in prison, that April had lied and set his son up, that his son was innocent (uh, he might want to take a look at the evidence and rethink this statement) and that they could talk to Brodi again when his son got out of prison. (Gee, I wonder where the abuser learned his behavior from?)

So Brodi continues to suffer a life of loss: allowed to have her beloved mother and grandmother back one minute only to have them taken away the next, leaving Brodi to think that they’ve abandoned her again (yet, she’s allowed to talk with her father in prison on a regular basis).

In the meantime, here’s what’s happened to April (from her mom, Terri):

When I look at April and the shell of a person she is now, I can hardly stand it. She has been so good, but she just has shut down. She is here with me and stays in her room watching her TV and helps me here at the house and with errands but I do never hear any desires or hopes for the future from her – it just breaks my heart.

Terri had this to say about the whole situation:

It is such a helpless and isolated feeling and does leave one asking if anyone truly does care... especially listening to the state department on trial. They are trying to say that they are no way responsible for the actions of Matt; as if, he just went off one day, not that there was any history of him being violent. Then the big kicker is that he again might be rewarded some of the settlement for killing his own son! This to me on top of everything else is just about too much to bear...

Brayden’s death wasn’t about someone snapping unpredictably, it was about professionals failing to identify domestic violence and recognize an abuser in the home – then never factoring those two potentially lethal elements in. Until people/professionals recognize DV and understand the long-term consequences of it, preventable tragedies like this one will only continue to occur.