New York County Supreme Court judges and their staff packed a court-sponsored forum Wednesday to hear the story of Twana Davis, a woman unjustly arrested earlier this year on child endangerment charges based on allegations leveled by her ex-husband and batterer. City Limits magazine revealed Davis’ story in a recent expose about the city’s aggressive new “must-arrest” policy in child abuse and neglect cases.
Criminal Court Judge Cheryl Chambers, who presides over the county’s domestic violence cases, hosted the forum to educate her colleagues about batterers’ false allegations of child abuse against former wives or girlfriends.
Such charges have long been common in family disputes and, indeed, women file false charges as frequently as men. What has changed is that the New York Police Department is now funneling large numbers of child endangerment cases directly into criminal court. In the past, if there was no obvious evidence of criminal neglect or abuse, cases were investigated by child welfare workers and adjudicated in Family Court.
In Davis’ case, a medical examination of her children had proven her innocence even before she was arrested. Yet no one in the police department or Queens County courthouse acknowledged this evidence. Charges were dismissed six months later, but only after Davis secured a top-notch pro bono criminal defense lawyer. “Obviously, this is not an exceptional case,” Chambers said in her remarks.
As City Limits reported in the August/September issue, judges report a rising number of women appearing before the court on endangerment allegations, which range from leaving their children home alone and heating their apartments with ovens and stoves to actual physical abuse.
Carol Stokinger, head of the Manhattan district attorney’s family violence and child abuse bureau, said she believes extended prosecutions based on false accusations are not common. Still, she acknowledged there has been pressure from top NYPD officials to make arrests in every domestic violence case. She told the audience that problems arise when police make an arrest without doing a thorough investigation. “If you have cases like this,” she told the judges, “bring them to me.”