"No bruises, no abuse," cops say -- Good citizen gagged for reporting child's screams
Letter to PTAVE from Susan Lawrence, September 18, 2005

I live in a house in the suburbs, sharing a good portion of my backyard border with Mr. & Mrs. O___, and their 4 year old daughter A___. Every summer when the windows are open, I hear frequent, near-daily screaming and crying from A___. The screaming and crying is of a piercing, angry nature. I have never heard her laugh.

I tried being friends with the O___s when they first moved in, we got along OK and talked & visited occasionally. But I was very concerned about all the screaming and crying from A___. Once I heard "Mommy don't!!" and then loud screaming; once I heard *SLAP* and then loud screaming. I hear the screaming and crying from my backyard and from my upstairs windows.

In June 2003 I contacted the police after a particularly extreme bout of screaming from A___. I asked to remain anonymous and was assured my identity would not be revealed to the O___s. The police went to the O___s and then came to my house. They said they had seen no abuse, the child looked well-fed and had no bruises. I told them I heard screaming and crying nearly every day. They said all children cry and this child was not being abused.

In September 2003 I was feeling very upset about hearing the crying and screaming all summer. I didn't think the police were going to help. But the girl sounded so angry, so pitiful, all that screaming and crying and never sounding happy. I wanted to speak up, to do something, so after a loud bout of angry screaming from the girl I went over to the O___s and knocked on their door, and politely asked "Is there anything I can do to help? I was concerned about all the crying." Mr. O___ said A___ cries because she's 2 years old and asked me to leave. I started backing away toward the sidewalk. Mrs. O___ then conferred with Mr. O___, and screamed "SHUT UP!" to him. She approached me, and started screaming in my face that I was crazy, and said "FUCK YOU!" and "If you ever call the police about us again we'll call the police on you!" and "If you ever come over here again I'll beat you up!". I was in shock, I had never seen her like that before and I was more worried than ever about A___, knowing she had a mother who threatened to beat people up! I also didn't think the O___s knew I had called the police in June 2003, since the police had assured me the call would remain anonymous! I said "If you're hitting her, please stop" and went home.

Then, the O___s called the police who came over to my house after speaking with them. They said they checked A___ for bruises, there were none, and they said there was no abuse going on. I tried to reason with them about the daily screaming and crying, how abuse is hard to detect and abusers deny it, to no avail. The police told me to stay away from the O___s, I said I would. I said I reserved the right to call if I suspected abuse, they said I had that right. I also asked about Mrs. O___ threatening to beat me up, they said that was illegal and I had the right to file a criminal complaint against her, but recommended I not do that.

A few days later I received a letter from the O___s threatening legal action against me if I called the police again about the screaming and crying.

Summer 2004 - Much screaming and crying from A___.

July 21, 2005 - A friend of mine called while A___ was screaming, I held the phone up so she could hear. She agreed it was extreme and called the police about it, they came to her house and said "It's still legal to hit your kid!" and said she had no evidence A___ was being abused.

July 24, 2005 4AM - Piercing screaming from A___ woke me up. My husband heard it too. I called the police from my cell phone, hoping that would keep me anonymous this time. I said "I want to remain anonymous. I heard screaming from ___ Avenue, it woke me up and it's disturbing the peace." They said they'd check it out.

August 21, 2005 – I needed to do a lot of weeding in my back garden. I dreaded spending a long time out there, listening to A___ screaming and crying. I brought out a boom-box and played Mozart & Bach full-blast, to drown out the screaming. Sometimes I heard the screaming anyway it was so loud.

August 24, 2005 - I received a summons to a hearing at the District Court. The summons listed the Police as "complainant"; Mr. O___ as "victim", and me as "accused of criminal harassment". The date of the "incident" was listed as July 24, when I was awakened in the night by A___'s screaming. Receiving this summons was very upsetting; nothing like this had ever happened to me before! I called the police office number, asking what this was about. They said to speak with Michael S___, the police chief who filed the complaint. He was out so I left a message. He never returned my call.

I started keeping a log of the screaming and crying, for use in court:

August 24, 2005 – 2 incidents of loud screaming and crying that afternoon.

August 25, 2005 – Crying in the morning, heard through our bedroom window by my daughter, who said “Poor A___! She’s crying again.” I heard loud crying while in our office, through the windows, around 8pm.

August 26, 2005 – Out all day talking with lawyers. Each of them says there is no case against me.

August 27, 2005 – Loud crying and wailing from A___, at 9am (heard from our bedroom), loud crying and wailing at 10:15am (heard from our home office), loud crying at 10:50 (from office). Then I mowed the front lawn where I couldn’t hear the screaming and crying, and took a bath with the window closed to shut out the noise. Lunch inside with the windows closed in the dining room. 4:15pm went into the backyard with my daughter, heard loud crying. 5:15pm heard very loud screaming and crying, rage-filled, while mowing back yard. Loud wailing heard from the office at 6pm, and off and on between 6:40 and 7:40. Went out for a walk. More crying around 9pm. I'm sick of doing this log.

September 6, 2005 - I arrive at the hearing with my lawyer. He says they have no case against me. He speaks with the policeman who is representing the other side, before the hearing. The policeman and my lawyer come to an agreement to drop the case with no hearing, if I will refrain from calling the police about A___s screaming for 6 months. My lawyer says this is the best route, so I agree. But to my surprise, suddenly the Clerk of Court asks us to go into a room, along with Mr. O___. We are all asked to raise our right hands and swear to tell the truth. Then the policeman talks, and says I called the police 4 times about A___ crying. This isn't true! But the Clerk denies me the chance to speak. Then Mr. O___ speaks, he claims I refused to leave his property in September 2003 and that I physically tried to take his daughter away. These statements aren't true either! Then the Clerk asks Mr. O___ if he's considered taking out a restraining order on me! And then the Clerk, Mr. O___ and the policeman all agree I should refrain from calling the police about A___ for at least 1 year, or the case will be re-opened. Then all 4 men file out, and I am never even given a chance to defend myself!

My freedom of speech has been infringed with this 1 year "gag order". The policeman and Mr. O___ both lied under oath about me. I called Michael S___ who filed the original report, and again, he has not returned my call. I want to know how they can do this to me, how can I be treated like this, for caring about a child, for wanting peace and quiet? How can my right to call about someone screaming in the middle of the night, waking me up, get taken away? And if the police really think my calls to them are "harrassment", why didn't they try to talk to me about it? Why was I kept in the dark? Why did they file this bogus complaint? And why didn't they protect my identity from the O___s, when they said they would?

My lawyer found out that the O___s hired a lawyer who "spoke extensively" with the police, who then filed the "criminal harassment" complaint against me.

Is there anything I can do to get rid of the "gag order" and regain my freedom of speech? What if I hear screaming again in the middle of the night?

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