Thursday, November 18, 2010

The last days of Aaron Cruz, pt 3: Aaron's Law: A very personal piece of legislation

By Sean Cruz

Portland, Oregon--

We were standing near the top of the hill, where my son’s gravesite lay waiting, that sunny day in May, at a place called El Dorado Hills, California.

I had never seen this place before. It was a field of strangers. No friends or family relations were buried here, the cemetery itself no more than 12 years old. There were no connections here, no family traditions, no history here, he was alone here. It was his mother’s choice to bury him here, to park his body here alone. My son was about to be parked here in this place.

I listened dumbfounded as my son’s mother continued her tearless matter-of-fact story, speaking about Aaron, about how he was sick back there in Payson, Utah, seriously ill; about how she had hoped he would agree to move to Hawaii and live with his sister, that maybe living in Hawaii would be good for his health; “But,” she said, “I didn’t think he was going to make it.”

She didn’t think he was going to make it? Did she just say that she didn’t think he would live? Yes! I was stunned and sickened. Again. Only a few days earlier, she had described the last time she had seen Aaron alive, about how he was sick and feverish and how she had left him alone with a sack of groceries and some Heavenly Father stories so she could join her new Mormon husband—the fifth time is the charm they say—who was waiting impatiently across town to get back to his dental practice in—El Dorado Hills!

So they had left Aaron alone, sick and feverish, that part was clear, and we were here in El Dorado Hills because it was convenient, because it was a good place to park, but most of all we were here because Aaron had died from lack of medical care….

My son’s mother plainfaced told the gathering on this grassy knoll that she did not think Aaron would live to board a flight to Hawaii, he was acutely ill, he was desperately ill. She thought he might die before he got out of Payson, Utah, where she had left him behind, and she was telling us all about it.

“I didn’t think he was going to make it”, she said, and what was not said was that she had made no effort at all to get my son medical care, not in Utah where she had left him behind, and not in El Dorado Hills, where she was busy with her new life now, in El Dorado Hills where there was no room for Aaron, not while he was alive, just this patch of hillside….

Aaron had needed hospitalization, urgently, and this was no secret, he had been ill for years, suffering there isolated in that rat hole in the Mormon desert, where they had drained the life out of him rather than let him be happy and free to be with me, to be himself, that’s the real Mormon way….

“I didn’t think he was going to make it”, she said, and then she assured us all that she had seen that Aaron knew all about Heavenly Father before he died, she had done her job you see, shedding no tears, she was devout, and that’s what counts….

Gina had told me that her new white-haired husband number five Ben Foulk had a dental practice but that he was mostly retired, that he had sung with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which must have made him a real catch in Mormon country I suppose, and that his ex-wife was putting a lot of pressure on his wallet, and this was the general impression I had at the time, which turned out to be only a partly true story….

I was angry with her, could not understand why her husband had taken no interest in his new wife’s son, in obvious critical need of medical care, didn’t this man have a medical degree?

She did not want to get her new husband upset over Aaron, she told me, speak-his-own-mind unMormon non-Mormon Aaron. She had told me in the hospital that Ben Foulk wouldn’t have understood Aaron, would have been impatient with his drug history and she did not want to upset the great man, former singer in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir….

This explained why Aaron had received no invitation to travel to El Dorado Hills.

Years later, a couple of years ago, I learned about the string of senior care centers that Ben and Gina Foulk own and operate, offering skilled medical care to those in their tender years….

El Dorado Hills Senior Care Village

Oak Haven Senior Care Village

Oak Creek Senior Care

Oak Grove Senior Care

Oak Hill Senior Care

Oak Ridge Senior Care

"Located in beautiful El Dorado Hills, California"

  • 24-Hour Responsive, Compassionate Care
  • Fresh Healthy Home Cooked Meals
  • Private Rooms with Private Bathrooms
  • Enjoyable Social and Recreational Activities
  • Music, Arts, Crafts,  and Games
  • Assistance with Bathing, & Personal Hygiene
  • Medication Management & Assistance
  • Manicured Landscaping with Paved Walkways
  • Scheduled Transportation to Appointments
  • Personal Housekeeping and Laundry Services
  • On-Site Salon Services

“Please take time to visit us and see for yourself why El Dorado Hills Senior Care Villageis considered one of the best resident care facilities for the elderly in the El Dorado Hills area,” so the brochure reads….

She had hoped that someone else would take care of Aaron, someone besides herself, had hoped he would just get on that plane to Hawaii and be his sister’s problem. That’s the way she was, our children having spent their entire lives making the world happy for their mother, no relief from that burden once they were taken into concealment in Utah, not then, not since, not now. They are locked into the Mormon world, keeping the world safe for Mom, fighting against evil non-Mormons….

Aaron Cruz suffered a seizure and died in Payson Utah after having run out of his prescription meds, his anti-seizure meds, alone in his mother’s left-behind empty house. He had also probably been unable to get to the methadone clinic a dozen miles away in Orem, adding to his suffering. His mother grabbed all of Aaron’s medical records, where they remain concealed behind a wall of Foulk lawyers.

I was back at my desk in the Oregon Senate Monday morning following the burial, where I led the workgroup on Senator Gordly’s landmark child abduction bill, SB 1041.

Senate Bill 1041 had its first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 25, National Missing Children’s Day, where I testified on the abduction of my children and the death of my son.

Senate Bill 1041, creating a new path to prevent and resolve child abductions through a civil process outside of both the family law and criminal law systems that routinely fail to protect children from non-stranger abductions, would require ten major rewrites and would benefit from the near-record length of the 2005 legislative session, would need every hour of that time. No other state in the US has a law like this….

On August 1, 2005, the Oregon Senate passed SB 1041 on a 26-3 vote, the same day that I received the Utah Medical Examiner’s report on Aaron’s death, from “undetermined” causes. It was waiting in the mail for me when I got home that night. The report identified my son as “white.” That would need correction.

Passing the Senate was an important step but we were only just arriving at the legislative halfway point, and it had taken months to get here. SB 1041 would yet have to get through the entire House process, and the end of the 2005 session could come at any time. We were entering the session’s final week. There were only a handful of bills still alive in the building, and I held no realistic hope that the bill would see the House floor this biennium.

The following evening, however, as Senator Gordly and I prepared to leave the building, we received a call from staff that the House State and Federal Affairs Committee would hear SB 1041 in just 15 minutes. Another two minutes and we would have missed the call and the hearing. We put our briefcases down and walked across the Capitol building to testify.

Representative Linda Flores, a member of the HSFA Committee, took a particular interest in the bill as the hearing unfolded, disclosing that her grandchild had disappeared into Mexico in a parental abduction and had been missing for a year. Her support was crucial, and the bill was voted out of Committee with a “do pass” recommendation.

After the hearing, we first started referring to SB 1041 as Aaron’s Law. It was a very personal piece of legislation. But the session was coming to an end and time had run out….

The next morning, on August 3, in a stunning surprise, Senator Gordly and I arrived at the Capitol to learn that SB 1041 was scheduled for the House floor. Carried by Representative Flores, the Oregon House passed SB 1041, now called “Aaron’s Law”, named for my son Aaron Cruz, on a dramatic unanimous end-of session vote, 59-0 with one member absent.

I stood in the side aisle and received the congratulations of many of the House members. It was a good day for justice, for children at risk of parental and family abduction, although the legislation did not cover children who had already been kidnapped, like my own.

The legislature adjourned the following day.

To be continued….


Sean Cruz led the workgroup on Oregon’s landmark anti-kidnapping statute Senate Bill 1041 “Aaron’s Law”, named for his late son Aaron Cruz.

The provisions of the bill resulted in large part from the multiple failures of both the family law and criminal law systems in the wake of the abduction of his four children.

With Aaron’s Law, Oregon is the only state in the nation where abducting a child creates a civil cause of action.

Under Aaron’s Law, any victim can hold his or her abductor(s) accountable in civil court, including those who provided logistical, financial or planning support to the abduction or who otherwise participated materially in the crime, “enticing, taking or keeping” a child in violation of felony Custodial Interference I.

The civil process requires proof “by a preponderance of the evidence” instead of the much stricter “beyond a reasonable doubt” requirement for conviction in criminal court.

Local law enforcement agencies rarely invest the time and resources required to reach the higher evidentiary standard in parental and family abduction cases, and there the investigations usually end, opening the door for the kidnappings to take place, for the actors to escape justice.

This fact applies in every state in the US, where each year more than 12,000 parental and family abductions lasting longer than six months take place, with lifelong consequences for all of the victims.

The system itself enables the abductions.

Aaron’s Law anticipates that defendants will lawyer up and that their lawyers will use every legal means to protect their clients, to buy time, to keep justice at bay for as long as the system permits, which is indefinitely, as the Kyron Horman kidnapping currently getting some national attention demonstrates fairly conclusively.

I had to fight against a dozen lawyers in three states, mostly representing myself, year after year, losing every time, as the lawyers won delay after delay, buying long stretches of time for my children’s abductors, despite an Order for Joint Custody that had been in effect for five years at the time my children vanished.

Aaron’s Law provides for the appointment of mental health and legal professionals to protect the abducted child and authorizes the judge to assign the costs to the party or parties who are the cause of the problem.

Aaron’s Law takes the additional step of authorizing the judge to order the parties into counseling sessions directed at educating the parties to the harm that their conduct is causing the children, at their own expense.

These provisions are designed to address the real-life consequences of parental and family abductions and to deter the parties from carrying out the kidnapping in the first place.

Had Aaron’s Law been on the books in 1995, the Cruz family abduction would not have taken place and Aaron would be alive today. The Mormon non-family members, the Mormon Bishops and other officials who participated in the abduction would not have risked the consequences of Aaron’s Law.

Chris and Kory Wright, Bishop David Holliday, Bishop Donald Taylor and Relief Society President Evelyn Taylor would have all been subject to Aaron’s Law, all ordered financially liable for the damages, all subjected to the public humiliation of counseling directed at educating them to the harm their Mormon absolutism was causing my children and my family.

Aaron’s Law would have been a significant deterrent.

Once the Cruz kidnapping had begun, however, there was no way for them to end it without consequence, and my children’s conversion to Mormonism became their most important line of defense. I would never see my children again except under circumstances under Mormon control. They would never leave Utah except under Mormon supervision.

Aaron was too independent-minded to buy into their force-fed Mormonism, too much like his father, and they made him pay for that in Utah, where his despair became so complete that he began slicing up his arms with a knife at the age of fifteen.

Sean hopes to see the provisions of Aaron’s Law applied nationwide, that it might help reduce the number of parental and family abductions from its rate of more than 200,000 child victims a year to zero. More than 12,000 of those abductions last longer than six months, with lifelong consequences for all of the victims.

He also believes that Aaron’s Law provides the legal means for victims of child sex trafficking to hold their pimps and other abusers financially accountable for their crimes, having violated the Custodial Interference I statute.

No information about Senate Bill 1041 currently appears on the Oregon State Police Missing Children Clearinghouse website, five years after its passage.

There is much work yet to be done on this issue.

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