CW: abuse, child death, suicide
Greyson Kessler was just four years old when his father shot and killed him and then turned the gun on himself in his Fort Lauderdale condo on May 20. John Stacey had picked his son up the night before the shooting for a scheduled visitation, against the wishes of the boy’s mother. Greyson’s family described the young boy as “a shining light, a child who was always smiling and laughing,” according to CBS4 News in Miami.
A Mother Desperately Trying To Protect Her Son
While her son was with his father, Greyson’s mother Allison Kessler was working with her attorney to file a protection order to keep the boy’s father away from them. A judge denied the protection order — though even if he had approved it, it would have been too late. The murder-suicide had already taken place.
But it wasn’t the first time Kessler had sought legal protection from her child’s father. Court records provided to CBS4 show that Stacey had a well-documented history of erratic and extremely troubling behavior.
In the court filing from May 20, Kessler included some of Stacey’s more threatening texts:
“You deserve to have your head separated from body, and deserve to die. But I am not the violent type. God will deal with you.”
“I know you think I’m crazy. And it’s true. Crazy about YOU! Instead of calling me John going forward, you can address me as Baby Love!”
Kessler also told the court that Stacey had been setting up fake social media accounts in order to harass Kessler and her friends and family, and that he had placed a tracker on her car in order to stalk her. He left threatening and abusive voicemail messages, telling Kessler he knew where she was and what she was doing. He pulled credit reports and background checks on friends and family.
According to the court documents, Kessler said, “His behavior is erratic and escalating, and I fear for my life, my boyfriend’s life, and most of all my child. He is unstable mentally. I am requesting a permanent restraining order against Mr. Stacey.” Kessler also claimed that Stacey had been a member of a religious cult called “The Moonies,” which she believed caused him to have PTSD for which he had received no therapy or treatment.
The judge denied Kessler the order of protection, saying, “Petitioner has failed to allege any overt acts by Respondent which would constitute domestic violence under Florida Statute.”
The day she received the denial, Kessler was becoming more frantic because Stacey had stopped responding to her, which was unusual. She then filed for an emergency pick up of her son, her attorney telling the court, “…the father is wrongfully detaining the minor child. The Mother is justifiably concerned the minor child may be injured in the Father’s care.” Kessler’s attorney told CBS4 News that the emergency pickup was also denied — 12 hours after the father and son were found dead.
CBS4 News requested a comment from the 17th Judicial Circuit, and this is the statement they issued: “The 17th Judicial Circuit is aware of the tragic situation reported in the news over the weekend. Judges are prohibited from commenting on pending proceedings and cannot discuss the specifics of any orders. It cannot be stressed enough that if someone has reason to believe a child or any other person is in danger, they should call law enforcement — in all instances. We extend to the family and mother of this horrific event our deepest condolences.”
A Child Died Because The System Refused To Believe A Woman, An Abuse Victim
Read the statement above again from the court. Note how they attempt to deflect all responsibility for Greyson Kessler’s death by saying Allison Kessler should simply have called the police.
Bullshit. Not only can police not really do jack shit without a restraining order — especially if the abusive parent has visitation rights — but even if Allison Kessler did have a restraining order, the police still aren’t under any obligation to do a damn thing about it. A mother’s fear is not enough to warrant removing the child from the other parent’s care, nor even to check on him, should the police feel her fear is unwarranted.
The justice system is every bit as culpable in this child’s death as the man who pulled the trigger.
Not The First — Or Last — Time The System Has Failed A Mother
Restraining orders are pieces of paper that often do absolutely nothing for victims in the moment they need help most. They can be useful in creating a paper trail (retroactively) that can punish a person for a violation typically only after said violation has occurred and has been proven. And that punishment? Arrest? Charges? None of it is legally required to occur. Except for two states (Tennessee and Montana), the decision to act on a protection order is solely at the discretion of the police officer responding to the call. In no other state can a person sue police for failing to act on a protection order.
This may seem hard to believe, but the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2005 that this is the case. In the landmark case of the Town of Castle Rock Colorado vs. Gonzales, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that a town or its police department cannot be sued for failing to enforce a restraining order.
This decision came after Jessica Gonzales’ three daughters were murdered by her ex-husband Simon Gonzales, against whom Jessica had a restraining order. According to the order, he was not to “molest or disturb” their children, nor was he allowed within 100 yards from the family home, except for when he was allowed to pick the girls up for “parenting time” that was permitted by the pair’s divorce agreement.
The order declared in capital letters that the police “shall” use all reasonable means to protect Jessica Gonzales and her children, and that Simon Gonzales could “be arrested without notice” in the event of probable cause to believe the order had been violated.
When Jessica discovered early one evening that her children were missing, she called Castle Rock police. Officers came to her home and she showed them the restraining order, asking them to enforce it immediately. They told her they couldn’t do anything and asked her to call back at 10:00 p.m. if the children still weren’t home.
At 8:30 p.m., Jessica was able to get ahold of Simon, who told her he had the girls with him at an amusement park. Jessica asked the police to go check to see if his vehicle was at the park, and they refused. They told her to call back at 10:00 p.m.
At 10:00 p.m., Jessica called as requested to tell the police her children were still not home. This time they told her to call back at midnight. She called at midnight. Still no help. She went to her ex’s apartment, and when she found it empty, called police. They told her to wait for an officer to meet her there. She waited. No one showed up. At 12:50 a.m. Jessica went to the police station and filed a police report.
At 3:20 a.m., Simon Gonzales drove his truck up to the police station and opened fire on police officers, who shot and killed him.
Officers found the bodies of Jessica Gonzales’ three daughters in the back of Simon Gonzales’ pickup truck.
The Supreme Court Rules That Police Cannot Be Compelled To Enforce A Restraining Order
Jessica Gonzales sued the town under the assertion that the Police Department’s “official policy or custom of failing to respond properly to complaints of restraining order violations” had violated her rights to due process. The case was dismissed, then reinstated, then eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. There it was determined that the police could not be sued for failing to protect her, despite that word, “shall,” in the protection order against Simon Gonzales.
Justice John Paul Stevens said in his dissent that Jessica Gonzales’ “description of police behavior in this case and the department’s callous policy of failing to respond properly to reports of restraining order violations clearly alleges due process violations.”
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the decision that police must be allowed “discretion” for when to act for numerous reasons, including “insufficient resources and sheer physical impossibility,” and that the ruling “does not mean states are powerless to provide victims with personally enforceable remedies…. The people of Colorado are free to craft such a system under state law.”
Chapman University law professor John C. Eastman, the attorney who argued for Castle Rock at the Supreme Court, said, “I think the justices rightly understood that if you deprived police of the necessary discretion in how they respond to these calls, it would mean that they would have to drop everything every time a call comes in from someone with a restraining order.”
Then Who Will Protect These Children?
The 17th Judicial Circuit in Florida said that if someone fears for their safety, they should call law enforcement. But the Supreme Court of the United States says law enforcement cannot be compelled to respond even if a protection order is in place. And what if there is no protection order? That’s even less reason for them to help, isn’t it? A mother’s fear is not enough.
A statement issued by the family of Greyson Kessler said, in part: “Greyson’s mother, Alison Kessler, did everything she could to keep her child safe from harm. We feel that the system failed us at every level, from her attorney to the police department, to the court system.
There were many red flags exhibited by John Stacey that were never acted upon, even though Alison reported his bizarre and threatening behavior and went through all the proper channels. This tragedy could have been prevented if proper action had been taken to help Alison and Greyson.”
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