Not long ago I posted a piece on the administrative hearing of Tacoma, Washington’s chief domestic violence advocate, Gloria China Fortson (pictured). She had gotten herself involved in a custody battle between Keisha Jackson and Kelvin Jackson. Keisha claimed she was a victim of DV and, even though a court had found no evidence of same, Fortson used city funds to rent a van that Jackson then used to kidnap the children to Florida. She spent seven months there in violation of a court order that she return within three weeks so Kelvin could have his visitation time.
In short, Fortson seemingly took part in a conspiracy with Jackson to kidnap her children and violate a court order. And she used city money to do it.
So it’s not a big surprise that the city has investigated. An initial hearing found that she had done the above intentionally and lied about the purpose of the van rental. She now claims the van was for local use only, but apparently the rental receipts show that she knew where Jackson was to take it.
Fortson appealed her discipline by the city and now that appeal has been heard and decided. She lost again. Read about it here (The News Tribune, 8/12/10). Hearing examiner Rodney Kerslake found that she had
“knowingly misused her official city position and city funds’ to help a client illegally flee the state with her children in 2007.
He also found that her testimony that the van was to be used only in the Tacoma area to be contradicted by the rental receipts and by her own previous sworn affidavit.
Despite the findings, both at the first hearing and now on appeal, Fortson remains on the job receiving her city salary of $61,000. Earlier, the city paid Kelvin Jackson $29,000 to settle his suit against it arising out of Fortson’s assistance to Keisha in kidnapping his children. A decision on Fortson’s discipline will be forthcoming soon.
This case gives us a peek at the goings on behind the usually-closed doors of the DV industry. It’s a “believe the woman” kind of place that’s not much used to being scrutinized by impartial judges. Put simply, Fortson, despite all the evidence and a court’s ruling on the matter, believed Keisha Jackson when she said she’d been abused by Kelvin.
I suspect that’s pretty typical behavior of DV advocates. I suspect that because they’ve long said that when a woman seeks DV services, it’s inappropriate to inquire into the validity of her complaints. In short, it’s an article of faith with many in the DV industry that skepticism, even when it’s clearly warranted, is wrong.
The City of Tacoma has just registered its disagreement with that point of view.
Earlier hearings found that there was little-to-no oversight of spending in Fortson’s office. That’s not Fortson’s fault, but she certainly took advantage of the fact. My guess is that she’s done so many times before, but of course I can’t be sure. But when you have a true believer like Fortson, a pot of public money and no oversight, I’d be surprised if she just happened to get caught the first time.
I wondered earlier why she isn’t facing criminal charges. After all, misuse of public money can be a crime as can conspiracy to interfere with visitation and conspiracy to violate a court order. Why her only punishment will be job-related I don’t pretend to understand.
Still, one hopes that, in Tacoma at least, the city will start keeping a closer eye on what its DV advocates are up to. And that could inaugurate a whole new era in which DV advocates and shelters are finally subject to the type of oversight given to every other public entity short of the CIA. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget says frankly that it has no idea of whether the DV industry we so lavishly fund is doing its job or not.
Federal, state and local governments spend billions of dollars each year funding an astonishing array of DV entities. It’s far past time that they were scrutinized and made to show that they’re part of the solution and not part of the problem.