Lucinda: She reported that her child had said that a substitute had touched her. It didn’t go into any detail, but the intake people were brand new and they didn’t have proper training. The state protocols say that if you get told that there’s something like that you are supposed to call Cares Northwest. And at Cares Northwest they’re supposed to go to a 2-way mirror and interview with an impartial set of questions that can ascertain whether there’s really been a crime committed.

It’s supposed to be a trained person that’s an MD, psychiatrist, psychologist, and so on, not just anybody. And it’s all supposed to be fully recorded, not just audio but a videotape. So, there is state precedent for what they were supposed to do and they didn’t do it. What they did instead was DHS [Department of Human Services] contacted the school and then put things into the hopper for police.

 They immediately jumped to conclusions. They didn’t ask enough questions. They presumed my guilt. They were obviously thinking it was abuse. So second day I’m teaching and things are a little bit better. I write up the end of the sub report. I clean up the room enough so [the regular teacher] can see the substitute report and my phone number and I say, “Please call me and ask me any questions. We really need to talk about what happened with these kids.”

So I left all that information for her. The third day I worked at a kindergarten classroom in the same school. I’d already known I was gonna do that. The kindergarten classroom was actually connected with an equipment room right next to the room where I had been teaching. I was looking for supplies that the teacher from kindergarten had said would be in this back room and when I looked, I said, ‘O my gosh! I think that’s the classroom I was just in.’ I knocked and  opened the door and there was the regular teacher back! And guess who she was talking to? The troubled girl.

And I said, “Oh good! You’re here. I was your substitute teacher for the last two days and I’m teaching right next door today. I see you’re busy, but I really need you to read your substitute report. Have you had a chance to read it yet?”  (It was 14 pages, written with really big handwriting and half sheets of torn construction paper, cause I couldn’t find regular paper.)

And she just kind of looked at me.

 Sylvia: So, what happened? Was there a legal process?

 Yeah! Cause the DHS had contacted the police and so on the third day I was finishing up, starting to write up my sub report for kindergarten, and the vice principal walks in and he goes, “How’s your day been?” And I told him some good things that had happened. And he acted distracted and said, “Well, I need you to come down and talk about something in the office.”

He took me into a room in the back office and there are two uniformed police officers and just one chair. The vice principal nodded to the policemen and then he left. And I thought, “That vice principal just lied to me.” He told me he wanted to talk to me and he didn’t. And I was very aware of the fact that I was a Quaker and these guys had guns, but I’d been a teacher a long time and I’d reported 16 times in my career for children who’d been either neglected or physically abused and had marks on them and things that were obvious evidence of a problem.

 So I sat down and I said, “How may I help you?” Cause I thought they needed my help. And they started doing the Reed technique of interrogation where they have one person on one side of you, to the far side of your peripheral vision and the other is on the other far side of your peripheral vision. They go back and forth asking rapid fire questions with a very harsh tone.

 It was brought from Nazi Germany and to this day they train police officers in interrogation methods at our Oregon police academy with those techniques. Some states say it’s illegal. [big inhale] They started asking me questions with this technique and it makes you dizzy. It disorients you. Cause you’re going really quickly from one face to the other and you’re starting to answer the question and the other one starts asking questions on top of that one.

 You’re disoriented by it. And you’re going, “Why is this happening?” Cause as an innocent person you don’t know what the heck they’re talking about. It’s all based on a presumption of guilt. It’s really horrible. But, anyway, it made me dizzy. And it was very frustrating because you couldn’t answer the question fully before they’d start asking the other one.

I thought they were wanting me to help them and they were asking what’s my name, and some other basic stuff. But then they started asking did anybody have any physical contact with … I can’t remember how they’d say it. I didn’t see any kid attacking or molesting another kid. And I thought to myself, well maybe Aldo who’s really big, maybe he bumped up against one of the girls or something. But, I hadn’t seen that. This was May 15th of 2008. I was trying to answer their questions completely but I said, “Wait a minute. What’s going on?” And then they said, “No, no. You are being accused of assaulting a student.” And I said, “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

I says, “I’m a teacher. [gasp-y laugh] I’ve spent, my whole career sacrificing and giving and helping and serving and I don’t hurt people.” I couldn’t believe it. I said, “You need to investigate very thoroughly and carefully, because if somebody really has assaulted somebody then you need to find out all about that but you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’m not it.”

 And then I said, “I’m going to reach down,” and I put my hands up in the air because they had guns, “I’m going to get my cell phone from my purse and call my husband.” Because he was a federally commissioned law enforcement agent for the park service years ago so he knew about police work. “I need to have a witness to what you are saying and what you are doing to me here. Because what you’re doing to me is wrong.” And I told my husband, “Sweetie, you’ll never guess what’s happening. These people are accusing me of assaulting a child.” And he says, “What?! You’ve gotta be kidding.” I said, “I know! I don’t have time for this. Well, stay on the line, Sweetie, because I need you to be a witness to this and I need this to be recorded.”

They didn’t have the right to interrogate me and say things about me when there was no witness. So I said, “I’m gonna walk out that door and find the union rep and then we’re gonna come back and if you need to ask me questions, then that person is going to write down exactly what questions you’re asking me and, verbatim, what my responses to you are. Until I have a witness I’m not gonna say another word.”

The building rep had gone home already. There was a young teacher who was a union rep and I said, “Sweetheart, this is not meant disrespectfully, but I need to have the oldest, white haired guy who’s been up against administration with unions, because I don’t think you’ll understand why you need to listen as carefully as you’re gonna need to listen.” And just as I was out there in the hallway talking to other teachers trying to get some help, the policemen come trotting after me and they said, “We want you to come down to the station with us.”

And I said, “No, I’m not going anywhere. I have not done anything. I am innocent and I need to have a union rep to record everything and then we can talk.” And I said, “I’ve got a class that I’ve got to go to for renewing my teaching license. And I’ve gotta get home. I’ve got a family. And I’m not going anywhere with you tonight.”

They handed their card to the vice principal. And then the vice principal handed me a little short letter typed up from the personnel director that said, “As of this moment you are no longer a substitute teacher for Woodburn School District and you are to leave the property of the school.”

The vice principal said, “I need you to get your stuff with me.” And so I said, “I haven’t finished my sub report for the teacher. I feel really badly leaving it unfinished.” But I grabbed my stuff and I said, “I assure you, I have not committed any crime. I have not hurt any child.” And I had tears in my eyes. And then I was escorted off the property. I got in my car and I cried a little bit but I thought, “Well, I’ve gotta get to my class.” So, I drove to my class in a different school. I gave my presentation to the class to get my credit and then I asked one of the other teachers, “Are you still the building rep for the union?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Can we go talk?”

[After I explained what had happened,] he said, “Call this number for the Uniserve rep and they’ll get you in touch with the lawyers with the OEA.” [The Oregon Education Association is the teachers’ union.] The Uniserve is Union rep specialists that cover several districts. I called the Uniserve rep. and they said, “You did exactly the right thing. You asked for a union rep and that helps to start the Weingartner act. It prevents them from being able to arrest you on the spot.” It’s like declaring your rights with the ACLU.

“You asked for a union rep so they could witness and record what was happening. They were interrogating you illegally. It was improper for the vice principal to leave the room and leave you alone with them. You didn’t have to say a thing. The bad news is they’re going to use everything you have said against you. Tell me about your day. Were there any kids that misbehaved?”

So I told him the story I told you. And they said, “Of all those people, who do you think maybe caused this?” And I said, “Well the first person  I would have guessed was Aldo, but they said it was a girl.” So it was probably the girl that I had tapped. Cause I had disciplined her and she didn’t have her recess and she was shocked, maybe. She didn’t act shocked but it may have been surprised when I tapped her.”

“You haven’t broken any laws.” he said. “The bad news is they’re gonna try to twist this and put you in prison. And they may actually be able to do so because they wanna make an example out of a bad teacher.”

Then I called the union itself and asked, “Should I go down with the building rep?” and they said, “No, no. Don’t go until you go with the OEA attorneys.” I’d belonged and paid my dues for many years but that year I didn’t have a contract. I was substitute teaching. And it didn’t matter if I’d been a member for 25 years. I was not under contract. So the OEA said, “I’m sorry. We can’t help you.” I couldn’t believe it. I was left high and dry. I was gonna have to pay for this by myself and they would not be able to assist. Which is wrong. They said, “ They’ll probably charge you with child sexual abuse 1 which is a felony. It’s 6 years, 3 months in prison and then you’ll be registered as a sex offender for the rest of your life.”

I said, “That’s not what happened!” And they said, “It doesn’t matter that that’s not what happened. They’ll try to twist that into being the story cause they want the conviction.

We’re sorry, we can’t help you.” But I should go instead to Todd. He’s a good attorney that has taken some OEA cases. He’s expensive, but he’s good. So I looked him up, got an appointment, paid 350 bucks for an hour of his time. And had a friend drive me down cause I was so shaken up that I couldn’t drive. My husband had to work so my friend took me down

 Todd was a good attorney. He started at the very beginning saying, “Tell me about the day in question. What happened?” So I was able to tell him the details. And I said, “May I touch you to demonstrate how I tapped her? It was very light, like a feather but, it zapped her chakra points so energy did flow through them for the first time in a long time.” [deep breath

 On the third day, when I was there in the kindergarten room, first recess in the morning this girl taps the teacher and she says, “The substitute teacher touched me.” And the teacher, who’s a second year teacher, freaked out. And presumed things. She thought that the kid was pointing down with her finger. But the gesture that she made could have been interpreted quite differently.

And instead of saying, ”Where did she touch you?” the first year teacher thought that some kind of abuse had happened down somewhere. So she went running to the principal and said, “My child from my class has just said this.” And she’s forgetting that this is the kid that lies. She’s forgetting that this kid has falsely accused other people of other things. She’s just freaking out and the principal freaks out with her.

The school counselor was called in by the principal. And the principal said, “I want you to talk to this girl. We believe she’s been sexually abused. We want you to find out what happened and get a statement.”

She never should’ve given out this sort of judgment in advance.

 But the principal did judge. The school counselor brought the kid in and, unfortunately, she didn’t record it. By law you’re supposed to record it. She should’ve taken her to Cares Northwest and had them do it. She did take anecdotal records for her counseling files. Which is good. She wrote a little bit in there. What she asked was just open-ended questions. “Can you tell me what happened?” And the girl shows her a chi gong tap. One finger chi gong tap, just bloop! And [the counselor] looks at her and says, “What?” At first she said, “The teacher touched me.” And the second time she said, “The teacher hit me.” And she shows her this “chi gong” tap. And it looks like a little flying thing with her hand, just a little flying thing that grazed her front was all she showed her. And the counselor said, “How do you feel about that?” “Well, OK.” “Anything else you want to tell me?” “No.”

Did she mention the tap on the forehead?

 No, she didn’t. So the counselor said, “We want you to feel safe at school. If you have anything else you wanna tell me, come back.” She went and said to the principal, “There’s nothing to report here, nothing that rises to the level of a crime.” And the principal wanted there to be something. She didn’t like me. Because I didn’t think she knew what she was doing and it must’ve showed. [chuckles] Cause I’d been kind of critical one time when I had sent a different kid and they had sent the kid right back and I had said, “I would appreciate it if you would keep this child and would counsel, you know…. So anyway, the principal didn’t like me. So the counselor was told that she needs to talk to her again because the principal believes that there must be something more.

So the counselor calls her in again and she shows her the same thing, this little chi gong tap and she said, “Is there anything else?” And “No.” “How do you feel about that? Do you feel okay?” And she goes, “Mm. Yeah.” She hesitated a little bit, maybe she didn’t like it, the second time. Because the adults were putting a lot of pressure. You taint the statement of the kid if you keep badgering them — and if it’s not recorded, how do you know?

 That’s one of the things the Innocence Project really looks at is the tainting of statements of witnesses. So, the counselor goes back and says, “There is nothing reportable here. No crime has been committed.” And the principal says, “Well, it’s too late anyway. It’s out of your hands, I have called the police.” And that’s when they’d come and taken me.

 So then I’d gone to Todd, the attorney in Salem, and had showed him and tapped on him the way I had on the student. And he said, “This is fine. This is not gonna be a problem. The jury would just need to hear you tell your statement about this and then learn about you as a teacher and your work, have people who know you as a person of good moral character. And then we’ll do an investigation to get these kids and everybody as witnesses. Alibi witnesses, that nothing had happened.” Cause I was with the whole class when this had happened.

 Todd tells me it’s gonna cost $136,000 to fight these false charges. And I said, “Well, my house isn’t even worth that much. I could sell my house and be homeless and I still wouldn’t have enough to pay you. I could give you barter and exchange of organic vegetables and fruit for life. I could work for you as an interpreter/translator for court or something but I don’t have that kind of money. I’ve always given my money away to people who needed it more than I did.” He says, “Well, you’re gonna need $10,000.00 for bail. Otherwise, you’ll be going straight to prison and be in the county jail right away.

“You’ll be manacled and led over and they’ll probably hurt cause they put ‘em on too tight. You’re gonna be taken over to the county jail and they’ll be making you undress and checking out your body cavities and then they’re gonna put you into a jail cell and you’ll be there for a little while.” Well, it ended up being 6 ½ hours with people who were crazy, who were on drugs and all kinds of things. But anyway, they did arrest me. But then my husband paid $5,000 bail. They released me to his recognizance but I couldn’t be near children. So suddenly now I didn’t have a job. And at church I couldn’t be around children. Just all the things that I do in my life.

 Fortunately, I didn’t have small children. My son was 19 and in college. And then he’d gone off to Alaska to work so he’d been up in Alaska a few months. And thank goodness he was as mature as he was during all this, to handle the stress of it. Anyway I said, “I don’t even have $5000. I don’t have that kind of money in my bank account. We’re not rich people. I have a teacher’s salary, but we don’t have a lot.”

My husband worked as the caretaker for the United Methodist Church. And then he was working for an old couple that had been in the church. He was their gardener and did landscaping for them. And also helped them a little bit with stuff in the inside cause they were in their 90’s and they were needing help. So we were suddenly thrust upon his salary alone and it’d always taken the two of our salaries to pay all of our bills.

 We unplugged our TV and we turned off the heat. We did all kinds of things to save money. Because we only had his salary which was a meager one in comparison to my teaching salary that I’d had. I was suddenly unemployed.

I started immediately calling my friends and telling them what had happened. And asking what they thought I should do. Cause I couldn’t afford the good attorney. I qualified for the public defender. But when I showed up at the public defender’s office the first words out of his mouth were, “I have 87 open cases and I don’t have time to hand hold. I want you to just plead to this and get it over with.”

 And I said, “What?! I’m a Quaker. I don’t lie. And I’m not gonna say I’m guilty of something I haven’t done.” He said, “Well, the teacher says that and the principal says this is a good kid.” I said, “This principal doesn’t know the children at the school. And she doesn’t know this child. And that’s not true. I’m being lied about and the whole class are my witnesses to this.”

 But the public defender wanted me to take a lie detector test instead of actually going out and investigating. And I did take a lie detector test. And I knew I would pass it because I was innocent, but I had asthma and I was on eight different asthma and allergy medications which affect my heart and my breathing. And when you study those things you discover that you can get a false reading or an inaccurate reading that is not able to determine your innocence fully.

And I thought, “Oh my god.” I know I told the truth and I figured it would save me. And instead they’re telling me that these are things that they can’t really tell. But I didn’t do this! So I need to have those kids, I need those witnesses. I need their affidavits. And so I told people to go and search there. And the public defender wasn’t even gonna listen to me.

They’re understaffed and underpaid.

 Yeah, they’re very understaffed. I called to my friends, I said, “I need a real attorney. This guy’s not gonna help me.”

 People from the Bridge City and the Fanno Creek and Multnomah [Quaker] monthly meetings all helped me. I had friends from California, from my Quaker meeting down there that helped me. They sent me the money I needed to afford an attorney that would hopefully listen. Problem is they didn’t send me enough. That guy was not making up that figure, that was the going rate, between $125,000 and $136,000. And you could pay more for a really good attorney but I didn’t have $150,000. What does a poor person do in this country? Everybody who’s black or Hispanic and has poor financial means is put in that situation. They’re stuck.

 There’s absolutely no justice for people that are poor. And I didn’t know that until I experienced it. My eyes were opened to a whole set of people that I would never have been friends with or gotten to know that had slipped between the cracks. They were people I would have avoided most of my life. You know, “Oh, those people have troubles. I’ll just walk on the other side of the street.” I had to deal with people like this every day in my cell. So that they wouldn’t kill me. It was a very different experience.


About Sylvia

Sylvia Hart Wright, the interviewer and blogger, has combined efforts to help achieve a more peaceful world and social and economic justice, with a career as a librarian, author, and longtime college professor. For more about her, please visit her website at There you can also find the first chapter of her memoir-in-progress, ACTIVIST: Adventures at the Cutting Edge of Social Change.
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