ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — They lived like kings, he said, he and his four boys in a six-bedroom home near a park and enough space to ride four-wheelers in Los Lunas.
When he wasn’t working as a technician at Sandia National Laboratories and the boys weren’t in school, there were camping trips, fishing trips, football, baseball, tailgating gatherings, boating at Elephant Butte. There were the things fathers and sons do. There was, he said, a lot of love.
“I was completely involved in their lives,” John Pyle said. “I was the parent who went on field trips, who took the whole day care class to the zoo in this bus I bought. I helped with science fair projects. I did their laundry. My kids, they were my life.”
Pyle, 50, chokes up when he says this, and it will not be the last time as we talk outside a bagel shop, where he arrives with photos of his handsome, dark-haired boys and binders of meticulous documents that prove just how devoted a father he is.
He has not seen his boys — ages 5, 11, 12 and 14 — or a daughter, now an adult at age 18, since Dec. 21, when Albuquerque Family Court Hearing Officer Rosemary Cosgrove-Aguilar rushed a court clinician’s report into a recommendation that became an immediate order that took nearly everybody by surprise. Before Pyle was even allowed to leave the courtroom that day, the boys were divvied up — the two youngest to their mother, Luigia Pyle, and the two oldest to her parents, because of the court clinician’s concerns over her ability to parent the older two.
John Pyle, the father the court had consistently awarded the majority of custody to since the divorce in 2004, was ordered not to have any contact with his boys — no phone calls, no supervised visits, no cards, no goodbye.
Because on those rare instances when the boys misbehaved, he had disciplined them the way he had been disciplined as a boy, the way he believed the Bible meant when it spoke of sparing the rod and spoiling the child: He spanked them.
Not often, he said. Not hard or out of anger and not, he said, in at least a year.
He kept the wooden paddle in the garage, it was used so infrequently, he said.
But court clinician Kim Kennedy, who had only spoken to the boys and the parents for a few hours before the hearing, told the court she believed the boys were in imminent danger because of Pyle’s “extreme” discipline. There was the paddle, she said. There were other things, too, she said, that she had gleaned from her interviews the day before with the children: a slammed door, angry words, the family dog accidentally shot with a BB gun, a child’s suicidal feelings, a belt whipping in 2005.
The state Children, Youth and Families Department had conducted two investigations — one in 2005 and one just before the hearing — into John Pyle’s form of discipline, recommended parenting classes and closed both cases. It had never found reason to remove the children.
But just like that, Kennedy and Cosgrove-Aguilar did.
Cosgrove-Aguilar’s report makes no mention of the issues that might be cause for concern in the mother’s home. Those include Luigia Pyle’s relationship and impending marriage, announced on Facebook (until I mentioned it to her attorney), to a brawny, tattooed felon fresh from a 12-year prison term for a series of armed robberies. Court documents indicate that her beau had previous dealings with gang members and was ordered to complete substance abuse and anger management counseling upon his release last year.
Luigia Pyle, 39, also exhibited some potential issues of anger management and substance abuse, according to police reports and court documents. In an October 2011 police report, one of the boys told police he called 911 after she struck him on the arm. In an August 2008 report, an officer reported that she screamed obscenities on the phone — apparently thinking he was her ex-husband — angry over being asked to pay a day care bill. In a 2006 court clinic report, she had been asked to submit to random weekly drug tests.
On March 27, more than three months after the boys were removed, Family Court Judge Alisa Hadfield appointed psychologist Theresa Miller to conduct a custody evaluation — at a cost of $10,000 split upfront between the parents 55/45 percent, with John Pyle paying the greater sum.
Hadfield also ordered Miller to “immediately” recommend what, if any, contact John Pyle should have with his children.
As of Thursday, six months since John Pyle’s boys were taken away, Miller has not made a recommendation.
Luigia Pyle’s attorney, PJ Hartman, refused to answer questions on the case, citing attorney-client privilege and concerns over compromising the case. Instead, she issued a three-paragraph statement, a portion of which read: “I have confidence in the system that justice will be served by the process, whatever the outcome.”
Confidence in the system seems a bit more shaky for M. Michelle Cortez, John Pyle’s attorney.
“I have been practicing law for 17 years and have never seen anything like this,” she said. “Spanking is clearly legal in this state but apparently not for fathers.”
Arguments will rage on as to where to draw the line between tough love corporal punishment and abuse, but a family court system that pulls apart families with little or no recourse or due process for months and months comes perilously close to crossing the line into abuse as well.
If John Pyle could speak to his boys, he knows just what he would say.
“That I love them, that I miss them, that I can’t wait to hold them and to be with them,” he said. “That I’m still fighting for them.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal