Despite lack of charges, man loses four children
Pinellas County leads state in number of children taken from families
Greg Pound holds a photo of his family. His three children were taken from him after the second-youngest suffered an attack by a relative's dog. The court is seeking to terminate Pound's parental rights in September. His wife remains on the run more than a year after disappearing with their youngest child. Melissa Pound absconded with their baby so as to prevent the state from taking custody. Pound has no criminal record in Pinellas County and has not been charged with any crime. He maintains the state is dead wrong regarding the handling of his case.
CLEARWATER -Greg Pound says he wasn't even at home when the accident occurred. He was at an auto parts store purchasing a new battery. He called home to inquire of the battery model number and learned of the horror that had taken place in the short time since he had left the house.
His youngest child at the time, Susanna, was bitten by his sister Diane's German shepherd. Susanna was just two weeks old. Diane was visiting from out of state and had brought the dog with her.
According to police reports, the baby was sleeping in a bedroom and the dog snatched the infant from the bed. Melissa Pound, Greg's wife, was in another room at the time of the attack. Baby Susanna was flown to All Children's Hospital by a Bayflite helicopter after the attack. She received sutures, was given blood, and suffered a fractured skull in two places, but has since made a full recovery, according to Pound.
Nevertheless, life for the Pound family hasn't been the same since that fateful day in August 2004 when his daughter was mauled. Pound told the Sun it all started when he arrived at the hospital and wasn't permitted to see Susanna. Instead, he said the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies wanted to interview him.
"They were trying to imply that perhaps I was at home during the incident and that I may have had something to do with the baby's injuries because they said they didn't see any blood on the dog," said Pound. He said one of the first questions investigators asked was if he objected to medical care for his children. The question came after authorities learned the Pounds chose not to provide their children certain immunizations.
Regardless of the view one may hold concerning such a practice, the law is crystal clear concerning parental rights in this regard. While the law directs that children must have required immunizations prior to beginning grammar school, it allows specific exemptions for religious beliefs and medical necessities.
Pound provided the Sun a Religious Exemption From Immunization document dated Aug. 5, 2004. The document contained the insignia of the Florida Department of Health and was stamped "Pinellas County Health Department." Pound and his wife are just a few of the thousands of parents across the country who oppose certain immunizations for their children.
Pound said authorities hounded him with innuendo at the hospital and repeatedly asked the location of his other children. "At that point I kind of figured where they were going with this and told them I wasn't going to answer any questions without legal counsel," said Pound. He left and went home.
Pound said the next day, when he arrived at the hospital to visit his infant daughter, Pinellas County officials abducted his other children. "They kidnapped my kids," he said. "I asked if they had a court order but they provided nothing," said Pound.
Pound maintains he and his wife are being discriminated against because of their religious belief, one of fundamental Christianity. He is quick to mention his family is not against modern medical treatment or technology. "On the contrary," he said, "Melissa was attending dental hygiene school."
A Pinellas County Sheriff's Office report filed the date of the dog attack indicates the "Investigation revealed dog bite was result of paternal aunt leaving bedroom door open, accidentally." "Accidentally," Pound reiterated. "They're kidnapping our children," he added.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office assigned Meghan Gallagher to the Pound case. Gallagher indicated the Pounds provided no medical care to their children, a claim Greg Pound vehemently denies. Pound provided the Sun documents indicating he took at least one of his children to conventional physicians for a routine checkup.
Pound also provided the Sun transcripts he said were taken from his cross-examination of Gallagher during a court deposition in 2005. The transcripts indicated Gallagher was asked what she thinks of families who choose not to provide immunizations to their children. "If they had decided not to get their children immunized, I'd also think that they're anti-medical in that area, as well," the transcript attributed to Gallagher.
In February 2006, Melissa Pound gave birth to another child, baby Moses. A standing order to pick up the child was issued by Pinellas County officials. Melissa went on the run and into hiding to stop officials from taking her baby. Greg Pound spent a month in the Pinellas County jail because officials said he refused to provide authorities the whereabouts of his wife and son, now more than a year old. "I don't know where they are," he said.
On Oct. 5, 2006, Pound filed a Demand for Trial by Jury motion before Judge Marion L. Fleming, the judge who separated the Pound family from their children. His petition was denied. In February 2007, Judge Fleming removed herself from the case. Pound filed a motion to have all of Judge Fleming's previous orders reconsidered.
Judge Ray E. Ulmer, the judge who took over the case from Judge Fleming, denied Pound's motion for reconsideration and a trial by jury. If one is accused of a crime, one may elect a trial by a jury of one's peers. Not so in family court. One is at the mercy of the judge.
Chief Judge David Demers then appointed Senior Judge Thomas Gallen as an independent judge in the Pound case in May 2007 and appointed Michelle Floria as their public defender. Pound maintains she failed to return his calls and just "happened" upon her one day at the courthouse while he was protesting the actions of DCF and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department. "She said she would be in touch," said Pound.
Pound indicated he had given explicit permission to his public defender to talk with the Sun. However, Florio refused to return inquiries to her office.
In June of this year, Greg Pound delivered what is known in the legal arena as the Family Law Interrogatories to Sheriff Jim Coats. The Interrogatories are a set of questions specific to the Pound case of which Pound laments are critical to the proper representation of his case. Coats refused to reply to the Interrogatories. A spokesperson at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office told the Sun Coats chose not to reply to the questions because proper protocol was not followed, and that the Interrogatories were not filed and presented by Florio. "I cold never get in touch with her," Pound reiterated.
Despite allegations of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, failure to supervise his children and more, Greg Pound has no record in Pinellas County and faces no charges. He was elected to the Pinellas County Juvenile Justice Council in October 2006 along with Norm Roche, Dwight Waller, Bruce Wright and Susan Biszewski-Eber. He is a member of the Circuit 6 Juvenile Justice Board along with Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats, the state attorney's designee, Pinellas County Commissioner Calvin Harris, and other prominent local officials.
Melissa Pound is not wanted by law enforcement authorities but baby Moses is listed as a missing child.
The Pound children have since been placed into foster care. Currently, they reside with their maternal grandmother. Greg Pound says his mother-in-law is estranged from both he and his wife and has always wanted to take custody of his children. "She works for the state and because she works for the state, is qualified to receive a cash stipend for each child," Pound said. Pound is referring to a program allowing state workers to take in foster children and collect either $3000 per year per child or $6000 per year per child if the child is designated a special needs child.
Executive Director Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform told the Sun, "The federal government pays states a bounty of $4,000 to $8,000 for every finalized adoption over a baseline number. And if the adoption fails, the state doesn't have to give it back - in fact, they can place the child again and collect another bounty, as long as they exceed the baseline. This creates both an incentive for needless terminations of parental rights, and an incentive for quick-and-dirty, slipshod placements. Looking at a statewide average, foster care continues to be widely misused and overused in Florida. I can tell you that in your region, and especially in Pinellas County, things almost certainly are worse now."
Wendy Chappelle wrote a revealing news article last year in the Tampa Bay Scene detailing the alarming rate which Pinellas County officials remove children from their homes on nothing more than suspicions and testimony from investigators, such as Meghan Gallagher, the investigator assigned the Pound case. In such cases, the parents are not even allowed to explain their situation to the presiding judge.
Chappelle noted in a vast majority of these types of cases, the courts remove children with no evidence of abuse or a poor home environment. Instead, Chappelle asserts children are snatched with little to no evidence, only allegations and testimony from investigators like Gallagher, who has since left the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department after pleading guilty to charges of falsifying at least 26 investigative reports. She was also charged with Grand Theft for the submission of time slips for hours never worked.
"And those are only the cases they're aware of. How many times did this type behavior occur and goes undetected?" asked Pound. Taking into consideration three other Pinellas County child-protective investigators who were arrested the same year as Gallagher and the law of averages, Pound submits this behavior is routine rather than the exception. "I wasn't even permitted to admit Gallagher's case as evidence. Judge Marion Fleming would not allow it," he said. Gallagher received probation for one year. It was terminated after six months.
Chappelle uncovered case after case where parents have not been proven unfit or abusive, including cases where children were taken on nothing more than accusations by a third party. One common thread a majority of these parents share: they were never charged with a crime. "If neglect or abuse is alleged, it should be proven and proof of abuse or neglect or abandonment should result in criminal charges, should it not?" asked Pound.
As of press time, a court date is set for September to terminate Pound's custodial rights. "They say I wouldn't conform to their program. Well, their program includes admission of something I did not do. I won't sign anything admitting to something that is blatantly false," said Pound.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said its agency can provide no comment regarding any case involving allegations of abuse involving children. The same response was given by DCF spokesperson Terry Fields.
Pound has taken to protesting outside the Pinellas County Criminal Court Complex. On July 23, Pound and Justice for Kids founder Cathy Corry were handed an envelope by Pinellas County employee Joe Manninen who was accompanied by Pinellas County Sheriff's Capt. Gary Schobel, according to Corry. Corry said it was a personally addressed "Trespass and Demand Warning", pursuant to Sections 810.08 and 810.09 of the Florida Statutes, signed by Pinellas County Administrator Stephen M Spratt.
"The assertion in the letter is that Greg and I left the areas designated by law while engaging in constitutionally protected speech," said Corry. "Both of us, along with two others, were handing out small non-commercial fliers in the courtyard area in a non-obstructive and nondisruptive manner. PCSO Sgt. Ken Luth provided a copy of Pinellas County BCC RESOLUTION NO. 00-151, dated Aug. 15, 2000, which stipulates manner, times and places for 'regulation of expressive activities in its county-owned and county- leased facilities.' The resolution does not define 'expressive activities', but the Resolution preface states that 'County Attorney Susan H. Churuti advised that expressive activities would include commercial speech, petition drives for constitutional questions, and street rallies.'
Corry said, "The only portion of the resolution that references 'designated areas' is: 'All solicitations for money, sales, or signatures shall take place in the area designated area. There is a map of the court complex that shows two 10 by 15 feet areas noted as 'Petitioning Areas''. We are not petitioning or soliciting. Almost every weekday morning, a TBT/St Pete Times newspaper distributor stands at the courthouse door handing out TBT newspapers (which includes commercial advertising). Last week, Pinellas County Sheriff's Sgt. Ken Luth explained that the TBT newspaper is permitted to be distributed because it is not 'expressive activity' or protesting."
The Sun contacted the Pinellas County Attorney's office for clarification of the matter. Susan Richardson referred questions to Pinellas County Senior Assistant Attorney Michael Zas. Asked why Pound and Corry were singled out for trespass warnings when the distributor for the Times was not approached, Zas said he would look into the matter. "If that in fact is what occurred, I will take appropriate measures," he said.
ACLU attorney Bruce Howie feels Pinellas County erred in its actions. "On the distribution of literature of any kind, I can also see the county making the argument that they are trying to limit the influx of potential trash into the court building. As long as they permit the distribution of the bulky TBT, however, I don't see how they can make that argument effectively against individual pieces of paper containing pure political speech," he said.
"Further," he said, "it's a legitimate argument that if commercial speech through the handing out of TBT is allowed anywhere in the plaza, so too should political leafletting. My chief concern is the utilization of trespass warnings against individuals for exercising free speech rights on a traditional public forum, the courthouse steps. This would result in criminal prosecution of individuals who would have a First Amendment defense."
Howie added, "The county should not be putting itself or these individuals in this position. I believe we should get involved to either petition for a writ of prohibition against enforcing the trespass order or be prepared to represent these individuals if they are charged with trespass at the courthouse "with trespass at the courthouse."