- Seven cases examined by The Daily Caller show police raids being used in custody battles, with some parents ending up incarcerated
- Experts say accusations of “parental alienation” are routinely abused
- In one NC case, a mother was jailed for having her child baptized
A pattern of cases across the country show how custody battles can escalate into police raids, which sometimes force children into abusive situations or “reunification camps” on the order of judges.
The Daily Caller took a closer look at seven, in multiple different states, which show a disturbing trend of custody cases being mishandled.
In 2013, the Connecticut legislature created the “Task Force to Study Legal Disputes Involving the Care and Custody of Minor Children” after numerous complaints about that state’s family court.
Minnie Gonzalez is a Democratic who is deputy majority leader in the Connecticut House of Representatives who has spoken to hundreds of parents and said that abuse continues.
“It happens a lot,” said Gonzalez, of police raids being used in her state. “It’s not about children or family here, it’s about money.” (RELATED: Arizona’s Department Of Child Protective Services Has A Pattern Of Sending SWAT Teams For ‘Medical Kidnapping)
Read on for details about these cases below.
Connecticut: Police Show Up At School To Take Away Ted Taupier’s Kids
Edward “Ted” Taupier was featured in The Caller in March 2019, when a SWAT team from the Connecticut State Police stormed his home.
In another incident, his local police, the Cromwell Police Department, came to his kids’ school to help his ex-wife forcefully take them during the school day.
Judge Elizabeth Bozzuto was presiding over his divorce when she signed an order on August 25, 2014, which stated in part, “The parties shall abide by the court order coded #127 dated August 13, 2013.”
No further explanation was provided by Bozzuto.
This created confusion, because even though that order granted Taupier’s ex-wife custody, it was expired.
The next day, Taupier’s ex-wife’s attorney filed an emergency motion to change custody. Before Bozzuto had a chance to rule, his ex-wife showed up to their school with police to remove the kids on August 26, 2014.
A representative in the Cromwell Police Records Department told The Caller the police were there to escort Taupier’s ex-wife, because she feared for her safety, but not to get involved.
Taupier is currently banned by court order from seeing his two children.
Connecticut: After Substantiating Neglect Against Lori Thaner’s Ex-Husband, Police Forcibly Gave Her Kids To Him
Lori Thaner said police repeatedly showed up after her kids ran from an abusive situation.
CPS substantiated neglect against her ex-husband but that report appears to have been buried as no action was taken.
On May 25, 2015, her ex-husband first reached out to the Glastonbury, Connecticut Police Department, where Thaner lived, after their kids refused to go back to him when Thaner’s custody time ended.
Glastonbury Police told her ex-husband he wasn’t even allowed on her property, according to a warrant.
That same warrant stated, “He [Glastonbury Police Officer] stated he explained the situation to him [Thaner’s ex-husband] and he told him they do not get involved in civil matters.”
So, Thaner’s ex went to the police department where he lived, the Norwalk Police Department and filed a report; the Norwalk Police Department later filed a criminal warrant for Thaner on June 2, 2015.
The Glastonbury Police then executed the warrant and removed the kids.
Glastonbury Police did not return messages for comment.
“The warrant speaks for itself,” said the Norwalk Police Department officer who spoke with the Caller.
Bozzuto also presided over Thaner’s case.
In January 2016, while in her father’s custody, Thaner’s daughter ran away to Thaner’s home and refused to leave. Another police department, the Trumbull Police Department, was dispatched this time to forcefully take her.
Thaner’s ex-husband referred to Bozzuto’s orders giving him sole custody in filling out the application.
He didn’t respond to a voicemail for comment. The Trumbull Police Department officer on duty who spoke with The Caller said, “You have the police report,” but declined further comment.
Another time her kids ran away and refused to return, Bozzuto had Thaner incarcerated until the kids returned to their father.
Thaner said she served fifty-eight days in prison for custodial interference in 2017.
Thaner described her ordeal when she testified in front of the Connecticut legislature in 2017.
Bozzuto did not respond to an email for comment.
Bozzuto was a judge on the Hartford District from 2000-2018; she became a court administrator in 2018.
Abuse Of Parental Alienation
Parental alienation is, “a mental condition in which a child, whose parents are engaged in a high-conflict divorce, allies strongly with one parent (the preferred parent or alienating parent) and refuses to have a relationship with the other parent (the rejected or alienated parent) without a good reason.” According to Vanderbilt Professor Bill Bernet, in a previous Caller article.
As a result of this designation, both Taupier and Thaner were ordered to give up their children so they could go to a reunification camp to be “deprogrammed,” according to parental alienation lingo, before being sent to their ex.
Yeamans said that abusive men and those of means are often able to falsely label a mother who is trying to protect her children an alienator.
A 2007 survey by the Leadership Council for Interpersonal Violence found that 58,000 children yearly are placed into abusive homes by American family courts. Dr. Joy Silberg, the president of LC, has said the false label of parent alienator is the primary driver of this number. (RELATED: Courts Separate American Families While Media Ignore Their Stories)
North Carolina: Diane Knudsen and Donna McCracken
Knudsen and McCracken have similar stories.
They were each the long-term primary caretaker for the children in their marriage and initially for years in a divorce.
Both their ex-husbands had only seen their children sporadically before court orders forced a switch in custody.
Both were accused of parental alienation.
Both provided video of the exchange in which their children were taken to a reunification camp.
While little can be seen in McCracken’s video, she said there was police presence, including, she believed, SWAT on the bus.
A man in blue can be seen in McCracken’s video. That man is a transporter, whose job is to make sure kids get on buses and get transported to these camps, which are often mandatory.
Knudsen’s order warned there could be consequences for non-compliance, including jail, placing her children in CPS custody, and switching custody to her ex-husband.
The order was also issued spontaneously. “The court issues this order upon its own motion — sua sponte — over the objection of Ms. Knudsen,” Mecklenburg County Judge Sean Smith said in the order.
Even though Smith is in Mecklenburg County, the warrant was executed by neighboring Union County, where Knudsen then lived, with their warrant stating, “order directing law enforcement to facilitate transfer.”
Tony Underwood, public information officer for Union County, stated, “We executed the order, without incident, and that was our involvement in the matter. An order such as this one is valid throughout NC, so it does not matter what county it is issued in.”
At roughly the same time, Judge Smith also jailed Kendra Stocks, a mother, for contempt of court for baptizing her daughter in violation of a Smith order.
Knudsen’s video is below. This is the last time she saw her daughter.
After reunification therapy, Knudsen said her mother intervened. “I have them 50%, my mom has 50% and he has visitation.”
McCracken said that when she mentioned to an evaluator that she was reporting abuse to CPS; she was warned by the evaluator she would lose custody if she did. That evaluator, Dr. Duke Bussey, did not return a voicemail.
Family Bridges: A Reunification Camp
McCracken’s daughter was sent to the reunification camp, Family Bridges.
Collectively the three exposés found that all the kids interviewed were forced to be there, and that reunification therapy failed to heal their relationship with the targeted parent, often making things worse.
Randy evaluated McCracken’s daughter as well.
In the NBC Bay Area broadcast, two of the children interviewed — Leo and Sam — said they were brought to Family Bridges by police.
Massachusetts Local Police Extract Cat Donovan’s Child By N.C. Court Order
Donovan said her story is like the three previous ones, only she doesn’t have video of the exchange.
She was the primary caretaker for her daughter during the marriage and initially during the divorce, like McCracken and Knudsen. Also like them, she said that until the order changing custody, her ex-husband had minimal contact with their daughter.
She was accused of parental alienation, also like McCracken and Knudsen.
The order changing custody stated, “Any and all law enforcement members are directed to assist defendant in obtaining custody.”
The order was signed on September 1, 2015. The Athol, Massachusetts Police Department, where Donovan lived, showed up at Donovan’s daughter’s school later that day and extracted her.
The order was signed by Judge Addie Rawls, a Johnston County, North Carolina judge. Donovan’s divorce started in North Carolina, but she moved to Massachusetts while it was being resolved.
A voicemail left with the APD was left unreturned, and an email to Rawls and the media department for the North Carolina judicial branch was also left unreturned.
Donovan was relegated to supervised visits with her daughter after this order. She last saw her in May 2018.
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s Battle With Minnesota Courts
Like McCracken, Knudsen, and Donovan, Grazzini-Rucki was the long-time caretaker until she was accused of parental alienation.
Based on one meeting, which lasted less than thirty minutes, Dr. Paul Reitman diagnosed her with parental alienation in August 2012.
“The children appear very depressed and browbeaten.” Reitman wrote in his report to the court. “Their mother appears out of touch and suffering from a personality disorder.”
He concluded, “The children will benefit from being removed from their mother’s custody and placed in a therapeutic foster home.”
Reitman didn’t respond to an email for comment.
The letter led to a telephone conference on September 5, 2012.
A court order signed by Judge David Knutson on September 7, 2012, ordered Grazzini-Rucki out of her home by noon that day and barred both parents from any contact with their children, granting temporary custody to David’s sister, Tammy Love.
Love didn’t return a voicemail for comment.
The kids ran to a police station when they came and their mother was gone; they were temporarily placed, despite the court order, with their maternal aunt, Nancy.
That remained the arrangement until April 19, 2013.
According to Grazzini-Rucki, based on conversations with her daughters, Gianna and Samantha, the girls were taken to a police station and told they were going to be living in their home with their aunt Tammy, as per the September 7 order, before transitioning to live with their father.
The girls were escorted home by police where Tammy awaited. Approximately 30 minutes after the police left, they ran away. On the road they called their mother for help.
“We’re running with or without you,” Grazzini-Rucki said she was told.
She took them to a friend, Dede Evavold, who recommended the girls live with a couple, Doug and Gina Dahlen, who ran a home for abused children.
Samantha made an audio tape to the judge and others while on the run begging to live with her mom.
He also chased after his daughter Samantha on her thirteenth birthday until she barricaded herself in her house. His son, Nico, told CPS that when he was eight years old his father stuck a gun to his head.
There were also numerous reports to CPS against David Rucki, but all of them were shut down by the court, said Grazzini-Rucki.
A fuller accounting of David Rucki’s violent history is below.
Rucki Police Reports by on Scribd
Katie Bauer, the public information officer for the Minnesota Department of Human Services which oversees CPS, didn’t respond to an email.
Despite her insistence she was trying to protect her children from him, law enforcement, courts, and the media painted Grazzini-Rucki as a vengeful mother who illegally kept her children away from an innocent dad.
Grazzini-Rucki has been arrested by a SWAT team, transported twice from Florida to Minnesota by prison bus, jailed with an accused murderer, physically assaulted in jail, and been convicted of six felonies.
David Rucki, his attorney, Lisa Elliott, and Judge Knutson, did not respond to messages for comment.
Gianna and Samantha are both over eighteen; neither responded to an email for comment.
On her college webpage, Gianna Rucki lists her four siblings and her father, but doesn’t list her mother at all. Erasing a parent — as Gianna appears to have done — is considered a form of parental alienation, the very thing Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was accused of doing.
Approximately a month before her mother’s criminal trial- June 30, 2016- Samantha sat with Lakeville, Minnesota Police Detective Kelli Coughlin for an hour-long interview. The Caller is releasing that interview exclusively.
Michael Volpe is a freelance writer who wrote a book about the Rucki case entitled “Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and the World’s Last Custody Trial” with Grazzini-Rucki’s divorce attorney, Michelle MacDonald.