By Araceli Cruz
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By the same turn, Friedman says, Darel's ex-husband can't get relief from possible libel through a Family Court protective order. As for Darel, he continues, "Why shouldn't she be allowed to make her pitch in the public arena?"
Darel clearly believes she should. Outside ACS headquarters, she paces with her picture and shouts. At one point, an agency security guard approaches, flashes a badge, and orders her to move across the street.
"Why?" Darel asks, with calm force. "I'm not doing anything illegal."
She lifts up her cane, points it at the guard, and says, "You're helping to protect the people who protect pedophiles."
Judges, lawyers, and ACS employees may regard Darel as an agitator, or a lunatic, but among those pushing to reform the state's Family Courts she has become a figurehead. These days, Darel can be found on the legal-reform circuit, talking about her Rikers stint, advising parents stuck in their own Kafkaesque nightmares.
Reformers say Darel's case epitomizes the dysfunction in Family Courtsthe way a judge can act with near complete impunity. From the start, they argue, the proceedings fit a familiar pattern: The parent concerned about child sexual abuse is often made into the defendant, the focus of judicial scrutiny. Meanwhile, the parent accused of the abuse ends up winning custody.
"Dyandria's case crystallizes so much of what is going on in the Family Court," says Monica Getz, who heads the National Coalition for Family Justice, in Albany, and who has sat on panels alongside Darel. "It shows how once the train derails, there is no way to stop it."
Irene Weiser, of the Manhattan-based advocacy group Stop Family Violence, puts it this way: "Her story lays out the kinds of injustices and misdeeds that can happen in New York Family Courts."
That's how Darel sees things, of course, painting her story in black-and-white. "My case is simple," she claims, sitting in a busy diner on the Upper East Side, around the corner from her home. "It's that my ex- hus band is a retired New York City cop who raped my daughter, and it was covered up."
Her ex-husband refused through his new wife to speak with the Voice for this article. So did his attorney, James Caffrey. But the new spouse, who has witnessed the Family Court proceedings from the start, has an equally simplistic version. "The mother lied," she says, in a brief phone conversation with the Voice. "She has done all she can to push this story of cover-up and sexual abuse, and it's all lies."
The new wife insists that her husband never molested his daughter, now 16, and that the teen is doing well in their care, excelling at school, preparing for college. "She says my husband is connected. I wish he was as connected as she says," she scoffs. "That's not it. It's just that the courts have seen this woman is a fake."
This messy saga started in 1997, when the couple's child told a doctor her father had touched her genital area, and twists its way through to 2002, when Sturm sent Darel to jail. Records of the proceedings are sealed, but Darel and her attorney made them available to the Voice.
Flip backward through hundreds of pages to the winter of 1997, when Darel brought her then seven-year-old daughter to Bellevue Hospital "to evaluate her for emotional problems," as the hospital's February report states. At the time, Darel and her ex-husband had been separated for two years, duking it out in divorce court in Queens. During an exam at Bellevue, the report says, the child told a doctor that her father had molested her. The doctor reported finding abrasions on the girl's genital area"an adhesion of the base of her hymen to the inferior aspect of her labia minora"consistent with sexual abuse. According to the hospital document, "The child stated to the psychiatrist that her father touched her vagina on multiple occasions."
The disclosures didn't surprise Darel. In the spring of 1995, she says, she returned home one day to find her husband lying in bed with their daughter, naked. "I thought it was disgusting," she recalls. So she grabbed a camera, she claims, snapping the photograph she now displays in her weekly protests.
By May, Darel had filed for divorce and her husband had moved out. The kid, then five, began revealing to her mother that her father had touched her, Darel claims. Darel did not report the news to the police or to children's services. "I figured he was out of the house," she explains, "so I didn't do anything about it."
At Bellevue, her explanation for not reporting her daughter's disclosures didn't pass muster with city doctors, who notified ACS of the sexual-abuse claim. When ACS filed an abuse-and-neglect petition in Manhattan Family Court, the agency went after both parents. In March 1997 papers, ACS caseworkers alleged that the father had "sexually abused the subject child on more than one occasion." They also alleged that Darel "failed to take any steps to protect the child from further abuse." In another twist, the petition noted that the girl's "anxiety and depression" could have resulted from her mother's "emotional neglect in part caused by her socially isolating the subject child."