How Could You? Hall of Shame-Martin and Kathleen O’Brien UPDATED
This will be an archive of heinous actions by those involved in child welfare, foster care and adoption. We forewarn you that these are deeply disturbing stories that may involve sex abuse, murder, kidnapping and other horrendous actions.
From Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, international adoptive parents Martin and Kathleen O’Brien, both 49, “each face 10 felony counts of physically abusing their six adopted children after being accused of offenses ranging from spraying the kids with pepper spray to making them stand naked in the snow” and “seven additional misdemeanor counts of being party to a crime of disorderly conduct. If convicted of all felony counts, each would face a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.”
The Town of Bloomfield Police Department was notified Aug. 3 by the Walworth County Department of Health and Social Services that children adopted by the O’Briens were reporting abuse by their parents. Four of the six adopted children are siblings from the former Soviet Union.
The six adopted children range in age from 9 to 17. The couple have two biological sons.
The 17-count criminal complaint details different instances and types of abuse that it alleges occurred in the couple’s home at N2128 Clover Road. The couple, either independently or together, are accused of:
– Stripping the children naked as part of punishment.
– Dragging the children by their arms while the children were naked.
– Kicking the children in the groin.
– Spraying the children in the face and on the neck and chest with pepper spray.
– Bending a child’s arm into a “compliance-type” arm bar.
– Hitting the children with a stick.
– Slapping the children in the face.
– Stabbing one child in the hand with a knife.
– Grabbing children by the throat and lifting them off the ground.
– Striking children in the groin with a knee.
– Picking one child off the floor by an ear causing the ear to tear and bleed.
– Striking children with a ruler.
– Placing one child in a “bin” while Martin O’Brien struck the outside of the bin with a log.
– Striking one child in the chest with a flashlight
– Forcing the adopted children to eat frozen loaves of bread off the floor before bedtime while the biological children watched.
– Forcing the children to stand naked in the snow three to four times a year.
– Locking the children in a bedroom for four to five days at a time.
– Beating the children with a belt.
– Choking one child because of a prayer he said.
The complaints indicate that the incidents occurred between Jan. 1, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2011. The children reported the abuse Aug. 3, 2011. The complaint does not say where the children are now.
Court records indicate the O’Briens were released Friday on $10,000 signature bonds after initial appearances. The court ordered that the O’Briens have no contact with the children unless court-ordered in an accompanying Child in Need of Protection or Services case.
Walworth County Judge James Carlson scheduled a preliminary hearing for the O’Briens at 2:30 p.m. Friday, July 6.”
[Gazette Extra 5/19/12 by Stan Millam]
“They also allegedly forced the children to stand naked and kneel in sharp rocks as punishment.
Authorities say they found notebooks in the home that detailed the punishments.”
[Today's MJ4 5/21/12 by Michelle Richards]
REFORM Puzzle Pieces
Update: Russian Media identifies these children as Russian adoptees. Homestudy agency remains unnamed. It is not known at this time whether this was an independent or agency adoption.
“Sadly, another case of the abuse of Russian Orphans has come to light in the United States and has come to the attention of the Russian Foreign Ministry. According to child protective services workers and professionals with knowledge of the case the level of abuse amounted to what could be called torture and had been going on continuously since 2004.
This time the case revolves around a couple from the state of Wisconsin in the US, whose own children are reported to also have taken part in the abuse of the Russian adoptees. The couple, Martin and Kathleen O’Brien, had been considered to be ideal parents by neighbors, although some have reported that sometimes they noticed odd things. The mother, Kathleen, is even reported to have received an award from the State of Wisconsin for being an exemplary mother. Sadly this was all a farce.
The four Russian foster children, victims of abuse that had been going on for eight years, are now between the ages of 12 and 19 and have been taken from the O’Brian family and placed in protective custody. However their exact location was not revealed by the Department of Social and Child Protective Services.
The parents are facing 17 charges detailed in an 11 page complaint of abuse with the next hearing scheduled for July 6th.
The Russian Foreign Ministry Commissioner for Human Rights, Konstantin Dolgov said that the complaint includes charges that the children were regularly beaten, were victims of suffocation, and that the foster parents even used tear gas on them.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has called on the U.S. authorities to thoroughly investigate the case and to pass fair judgment, something which has clearly not been done in the past where even in recent history parents have gotten off with a slap on the wrist for charges including the murder of a Russian orphan.
The Foreign Ministry Commissioner of the Russian Federation for Human Rights, Konstantin Dolgov stated that Russia views this case with extreme indignation, as another case of infringement on the rights of minors in the U.S. and call for a thorough investigation to be completed, and the perpetrators to be brought to justice and face punishment commensurate with the gravity of their deeds.
The facts and the charges in the case are sickening and are coming in from various sources. According to the police report the O’Briens forced the children to kneel on sharp stones in a yard full of dog excrement and stay there for six or seven hours in the cold and even to stand naked in the cold for extended periods.
Investigators have also found a dairy[sic] belonging to the O’Brien woman which she had kept for many years and where she methodically and in detail described the punishments she subjugated the children to. Why she would keep such a diary is a cause for argument and can only be known to her but it points to the fact that she knew exactly what she was doing and continued to do it, these were not blind fits of rage. Was she proud of her horrible abuse? Did she get some sort of sadistic pleasure from humiliating and torturing these children and then go back and read about her deeds again and again?
Sadly for the children the US legal system was extremely slow in responding. Even in a country where they will take away children from their parents for the slightest offense it took over 9 months for charges to be brought against the O’Briens. According to the police the children complained about their treatment in August of 2011 but it was not until this May that the charges were brought. Was this because they were Russian?
In a country now used to such cases was this just more of the same for them? Did they believe the children were lying? If that is the case what redress do children have in the United States? What can we do to stop cases like this from happening? Or is it impossible?
In a country so steeped in violence: where children are accustomed to an endless torrent of violence on television, including the cartoons they watch and where over 400 murders are shown an hour, where people rejoice when other people are executed, where they openly joyfully call for the bombing and killing of the peoples of other countries if the government says there is a reason (no matter what it may be), where the people support and applaud a president engaged in the extra-judicial executions of (even American) citizens, where the violence and tension are so over-hyped and provoked by the police and the “authorities” who see themselves as engaged in a “war” against the citizenry, where everyone has a gun, where rampant racism and social injustice are the norm…. is there any hope for small defenseless children and will their cries be heard?”
[The Voice of Russia 6/6/12 by John Robles]
Update 2: “A Wisconsin judge has commenced the trial of a married US couple who are charged with abusing their adopted children, including those they had adopted from Russia.
The judge ruled that the prosecutors had gathered sufficient evidence to prove the guilt of Kathleen and Martin O’Brien, who are accused of abusing their adopted children.
It has been alleged, among other things, that on one occasion Mr O’Brien and his own son held down one of the adopted children while Kathleen was hitting the latter in the groin and then sprayed pepper gas into the boy’s face.”
[The Voice of Russia 7/7/12]
A public search of Wisconsin case records reveals that Martin and Kathleen will be arraigned on 7/31/12. The number of counts against them have changed from the initial media report. Martin currently has the following charges against him:7 H felony counts of Child Abuse-Intentionally Cause Harm and 5 misdemeanor B counts of disorderly conduct. Kathleen currently has the following charges against her: 4 H felony counts of Child Abuse-Intentionally Cause Harm and 7 misdemeanor B counts of disorderly conduct.
Update 3: “Kathleen O’Brien has been charged with four felony counts of child abuse and eight counts of disorderly conduct [one misdemeanor has been added since 7/7/12]; Martin O’Brien is facing six felony counts of child abuse and six counts of disorderly conduct. [A change of 1 less felony and 1 more misdemeanor since 7/7/12]
Making the most of a court appearance, Kathleen O’Brien changed attorneys. She and her husband, Martin, also requested a new judge be assigned to their case.
Their children told a social worker the couple would strike them, spray them with pepper spray, even stab one of them with a pocket knife.
More than once, the kids claim their parents made adopted kids stand naked on an enclosed porch while the biological family ate dinner inside.
The news of what’s alleged to have happened in that home has sent shockwaves through that rural community.
Neighbors are now watching this case closely and waiting for answers.
Neighbor Lynne Marquette would often see and speak to the O’Brien children on walks. She came to court to watch the case play out.
“I couldn’t believe some of those things. We had no idea,” said Marquette.
Neighbors will have to wait a little longer. The O’Briens await a new judge and a new court date.
The couple could spend decades in prison.
Their children were removed from the home last year.”
[620 WTMJ 7/31/12]
Even Russian News is reporting this case in real time, though some of their details are not quite correct. U.S. Foster Parents Charged Over Abuse of Russian Children [RIA Novosti 8/1/12] Each adoptive parent (Russia likes to refer to all adoptive parents as foster parents)has 12 counts against them for a total of 24, not 17. We double-checked the public court case records. It appears that there is contention over “hearsay” and the judge allowed that as part of the preliminary hearing. Perhaps this is why they are asking for a new judge? Their attorneys tried to get most charges dropped in early July without success.
“Judge John Race ordered a different judge be appointed and continued the case. No date for future proceedings was set.”
“At Tuesday’s proceeding, it was announced that Kathleen O’Brien had a new attorney, Pamela S. Moorshead of Glendale. She replaces Stephen R. Kramer, who represented her during the preliminary hearing.
Martin O’Brien continues to be represented by Kathleen B. Stilling of Brookfield.”
[Gazette Extra 8/1/12 by Stan Milam]
Update 4: New article goes into extreme detail about the alleged abuse.
“Last summer, while taking a walk, Lynne Marquette came upon a girl in front of a neighbor’s home attempting to shove a dull push mower through a swath of thick, long grass.
Marquette was bewildered. She had lived in the vicinity for 39 years and she knew the couple that lived in the home – Tim and Kathleen O’Brien – owned a riding mower. Why, she wondered, would this child be out on such a blistering day attempting to accomplish what appeared to be an impossible task?
“She doesn’t look at me. She doesn’t smile. She doesn’t wave,” Marquette said this week.
“It just wasn’t natural,” she said. “I thought, ‘Something isn’t right.’ ”
A few weeks later, in early August 2011, child protective services took custody of five of the O’Briens’ six adopted children – three of them siblings from Russia.
Another adopted child, a sister of the three Russian siblings, had been handed $200 and told to leave the house when she turned 18, according to investigative reports.
The O’Briens were charged in May with 11 felony counts of child abuse and 12 misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct involving their adopted children.
The allegations come at delicate time.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office announced that he has ratified a long-awaited agreement with the United States that tightens the rules for U.S. citizens adopting Russian children.
“Not every international adoption ends happily,” the office of Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, said in a statement. “According to official data only, 19 Russian children died at the hands of U.S. citizens over the last 10 years.”
The O’Briens, according to a criminal complaint filed in May, have four biological children. They adopted six children beginning in 2004. The physical abuse charges involve three of the children: a Russian-born boy who is now 18, a Russian-born boy who is now 13 and an American-born boy who is now 14.
While these three children were, according to the complaint, beaten, stabbed, kicked in the groin, slapped, beaten and doused with pepper spray, it was the treatment that the adopted children experienced as a group that seem most cruel.
While executing a search warrant last summer, investigators found the bedroom used by two of the O’Briens’ biological sons still living at home.
The room was messy, the closet overflowing and the floor cluttered with clothes. The room contained two flat screen televisions and several game systems.
The adopted boys were housed in another bedroom and the adopted girls in another. The rooms did not contain televisions or game systems. The closets and dressers contained few clothes.
The 18-year-old told police that the O’Briens would make the six adopted kids stand naked on an enclosed back porch as the biological family ate dinner, the complaint says.
Forced to stand naked
The O’Briens’ oldest biological daughter told authorities that the adopted children were stripped and forced to stand naked in front of her and her siblings. The children said the parents made fun of them and told them they should go back to Russia.
The 18-year-old told authorities that the adopted kids were often hungry and were punished differently than the biological children.
For example, he said, one of the adopted children was caught stealing food. Kathleen O’Brien threw several loaves of frozen bread on the floor and ordered all six adopted children to eat the bread before they could go to bed, the complaint says.
The 18-year-old told authorities that the children were sometimes punished by being forced to stand barefoot in the snow, by being locked together in a room for days at a time, by being forced to kneel on sharp rocks or by being told to stand in the sun in the dog pen among the dog feces.
Court records filed with the complaint paint a household divided into the biological family and the adopted children.
The 18-year-old told authorities that the adopted children were not allowed to read books or go to school, that during the summer, while the O’Briens’ biological children came and went as they pleased, the adopted children were not allowed into the house during the day, according to an investigative report.
One of the children said that when they were outside, they had to work. They were not allowed to use the family pool.
One of the children told authorities that Kathleen O’Brien would slap them across their faces as many times as their age. The children got to pick out which hand they were slapped with, the report says.
A child told authorities that if one adopted child broke a rule, all six were punished. In the winter, they would be give parts of the family’s large driveway to shovel. If one child tried to help another child shovel an assigned spot, both would be forced to remove their shoes and socks and stand in the snow.
It is clear from the investigative reports that the O’Briens have had several contacts with Walworth County child protective services since 2008.
State law requires child welfare agencies to file a public notice when a child dies, suffers a serious injury or endures an egregious incident. The law also requires that the agency file a report within 90 days detailing what services the family was being provided, what contacts the agency had with the family, what reports the agency received regarding the family and when action was taken in response to those reports.
The Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services did not file an egregious incident report in the O’Brien case until the Journal Sentinel contacted the state Department of Children and Families, which ordered the county to do so.
While it has been almost a year since the children were removed from the O’Brien home, the county has yet to file the follow-up report required by law.
A Russian television network has been covering the early stages of the O’Brien case.
Boris Koltov, a Russian television reporter, told a local reporter that Russians cannot understand “why American families with children of their own adopt Russian children and then mistreat them.”
Russia is a major source of adopted children in the U.S. It was the third-largest source of foreign adoption by Americans in 2011, trailing China and Ethiopia.
But Russian adoptions have slowed since April 2010, when an American adoptive mother sent her 7-year-old son to Russia with a one-way ticket and a letter that said he was violent, disruptive and she didn’t want to be his mother anymore.
Some Russian officials called for a halt to all American adoptions. The adoption of Russian children by Americans became a political flash point.
While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an adoption agreement between the two nations last year, Putin’s approval was pointedly slow in coming.
As for Marquette, who showed up at Walworth County Circuit Court on Tuesday for a minor hearing in the O’Brien case, the international ramifications are distant rumblings.
“These children lived nearby,” she said.
“They were neighbors.”
[Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 8/1/12 by Crocker Stephenson]
Update 5: Martin and Kathleen pleaded not guilty “to severely abusing their six adopted children – three of whom came from Russia.” From Update 4, it appears that 2 of the Russian adoptees and one US adoptee are the children that were abused.
Their next court date is November 21, 2012 for pre-trial requests.
“The couple has four children of their own, plus the six they adopted.
The adopted children told authorities that the O’Briens made them kneel on sharp rocks, stand barefoot in snow, and not read or go to school – while the biological children were treated much better.”
“Also, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had said Walworth County had not filed a required report with the state about the case until the paper asked state officials about it.
Meanwhile, the O’Briens remain free on signature bonds.”
Update 6: “The case against a Lake Geneva couple facing felony charges of abusing their adopted Russian children is on hold.
Walworth County Judge James Carlson on Wednesday granted a defense motion to halt the proceedings pending a decision by the District 2 Court of Appeals, which could take months.
Kathleen O’Brien, 50, and her 50-year-old husband Martin O’Brien, are charged with multiple counts of felony child abuse and misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
The charges relate to abuses to adopted Russian children.
The O’Briens appealed a ruling that the defense could not compel one of the children to testify at the preliminary hearing.
During a hearing Wednesday, Carlson ruled on several motions challenging the 17-count complaint and information. The defense argued that the charges are vague as to when the charged crimes occurred and that the statute of limitations has expired on the misdemeanor charges.
Carlson said he had a problem with some of the timeframes. Prosecutor Diane Donohoo said she would file clarifying charges. Carlson dismissed three counts, but gave Donohoo an opportunity to correct any deficiencies.
Donohoo cited case law that gives prosecutors some leeway in cases involving child victims. “We are dealing with young children, ongoing abuse and some of the children have been home schooled and isolated,” Donohoo said. “They simply can’t give us exact dates.”
[Gazette Extra 11/21/12 by Stan Millam]
Update 7/April 23, 2013
As per request of our commenter, we have searched the Wisconsin public court case files to find an update to this case.
On January 8, 2013, there was an order “Granting Motion to Stay Court Proceedings pending Court of Appeals decision on the Defendant’s Interlocutory Appeal.” on Martin’s record
On February 21, 2013, there was an order “Requiring Amended Information Narrowing Dates for Counts #1 through #14″ on both Martin and Kathleen’s record.
Kathleen had 3 of her 8 counts of disorderly conduct (misdemeanor B) dismissed on Prosecutor’s motion February 21, 2013. These charges remain: Four Felony H counts of Child Abuse-Intentionally Cause Harm and 5 counts of disorderly conduct.
Martin had 3 counts of disorderly conduct (misdemeanor B) dismissed on Prosecutor’s motion February 21, 2013. These charges remain: Six Felony H counts of Child Abuse-Intentionally Cause Harm and 3 counts of disorderly conduct.
Their cases are still classified as OPEN.
Update 8/July 11, 2013
Another search of Wisconsin public court case files to find an update to this case reveals that on May 29, 2013 there was a memorandum from the State regarding letter from the Court added to both of their records. Their cases remain OPEN.
Update 9/September 4, 2014
Another search of Wisconsin public court case files to find an update to this case reveals that Martin and Kathleen are scheduled on 10/1/2014 for an arraignment.