Of the many kids police and c-p-s have interviewed during the investigation into a local boot camp, Maria Robillard was one of them.
"They didn't give me the choice not to talk or tell me that i didn't have that option."
But they didn't have to -- something Maria didn't know before being questioned. That's why she feels compelled to make sure other children and teens know what rights they have in those situations. Her rights not being read to her isn't what upset her the most.
"...the way that they're treated whenever they're being interviewed, it's not right at all."
That is her perspective after her own experience with police. She says after telling the detective she had never seen the boot camp instructors with a stun device, he questioned whether or not she was telling the truth, brought up her dream of being a Marine, and explained why Marines cannot lie. Then, he focused most of the interview on physical fitness.
"What i ate. Do i run? Do i like to run? How's my cardio? To keep up physique. I have to work out everyday and to not put crud in my body like a big mac and a diet coke," Maria recalled.
It's a topic, Maria says, confused her, since the investigation was into allegations of child assault. Confusion wasn't the worst of it.
"For him to bring it up, and he doesn't even know me, it kind of hurt," Maria said.
It's a pain that is deeper than the young teen would let show while i sat with her. Her mother, Melissa Robillard explains.
"Maria would ask questions like, 'mom, am i too fat? Will i ever be a marine?' she would start crying for no reason. And then she would say, 'why do people look at me that way?' it broke my heart."
Melissa and Nick Robillard adopted all of their children thru CPS, all of them from broken homes. They say their effort to give their kids a loving, peaceful atmosphere and reverse some of the damage from their past was shattered the day their kids were questioned.
"We've had to put them back into therapy. It's brought back a lot of emotions, and it feels like we're starting back at square one," Melissa said.
In some ways, their experience has been square one for the Robillards. They had never before had a reason to know exactly what they, their kids, and investigators were entitled to when questioning juveniles.
"The first thing we felt was like our rights were taken away from us. We're not really the parents. The police and cps have way more control over our kids than we do. We're just babysitters. And it's a helpless feeling to have," Nick said.
So, they are doing something about it -- making a website, cards and t-shirts to raise awareness for Fifth Amendment rights. Nick and Melissa have also filed a complaint with APD and talked to them in person about their experience with the hope that, from here forward, kids who are being interviewed as potential victims don't end up feeling like a victim for the wrong reasons.
"Our goal is not to change the law. I've been a resident of Abilene for over 30 years. I believed in our police department. And, what i would like to see changed is policies put within place within our own police department, within our own city of Abilene and change the way that kids are spoken to. There are better ways, and they need to be implemented," Nick said.
They would also like to see more consideration for a child's background, especially since they've spent several years helping their kids combat the trauma from their past lives. Maria had this question for the people who interviewed her.
"Have (they) ever been abused in any way or taken away from their home and family? Because i have, and it's really hard. And it's definitely not something to fool around with, because i heard that they've told kids that 'we're going to take you away from your family', but it's not something to mess around with whenever you have something like that happen to you."
Whether anyone was in the wrong or not, the past several weeks have quite clearly taken an emotional toll on this family, but it's not all tears anymore. Maria is turning her dejection into motivation to encourage other kids to believe in themselves. Besides, she has a lot to be proud of, already earning quite a few accolades in her first year of Jr. ROTC.
"I won the push-a-thon...Outstanding Airman award...Honor Flight...Elite Honor Guard MCO."
Sounds like a good start for an aspiring Marine and for a 14-year-old who's already aspiring to change the world.
The Robillards talked to an APD lieutenant and child advocacy representative who told them that the detective who questioned their children did interview them as some adults would be interviewed. They also assured the family that APD would make sure that, from now on, every officer is specially trained on how to talk to children before questioning them. Assistant Chief Mike Perry says APD always looks for ways to make improvements after an investigation and will do the same in this case.
Here are some of the rights that children have when talking with law enforcement:
- A right to remain silent.
- The option to request an attorney, in which case, the investigator must cease questions.
- In Texas, an investigator does not have to notify parents that their children have been pulled aside for questioning.
- If a child requests their parents be notified before the interview begins, the investigator still does not have to notify the parents.