At about 4 p.m. on Monday, September 19, Shanel Nadal, a 28-year-old Manhattan woman, allegedly took her children from the Forestdale children's services agency at 67-35 112th Street in Queens during a supervised visit without permission from an authority to do so.
Nadal allegedly piled her kids into a van, driven by her boyfriend and father of the children, Payne, and fled the state. After attempting to seek shelter with relatives in North Carolina, the couple was caught with all eight children in a black Ford Econoline in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at 10:20 p.m. on Monday, September 26, according to the Queens District Attorney's office.
But Norman Steiner, the couple's defense attorney, argued at their arraignment that the city Administration for Chilren's Services (ACS) and Queens family court ignored the abuse their children suffered while in foster care, leaving them with no choice but to stage a rescue.
“When you have eight children who are not being fed, who are suffering physical abuse and sexual molestation while in the foster care system,” Steiner said in an interview outside the courthouse after the arraignment, “and the pleas fall upon the deaf ears of judges and ACS workers, it becomes necessary for the parents to move in and get their children.”
Steiner said that while the children were in foster care, Nadal gave at least one of them a cell phone with instructions to call her so she could listen in on the treatment they received from foster parents.
“And the parents would hear the foster mother on the other end saying 'no, you're not getting fed tonight,'” Steiner said. “She was disciplining the children with starvation.”
In addition, Steiner alleged that several of the Payne children were sexually and physically abused by their foster parents' biological teenaged children, and that photographic evidence was submitted fruitlessly to Queens family court.
“It's a further indication of how neglectful and how overburdened the system is,” Steiner said.
Inside the courtroom on October 13, prosecutors painted an incriminating picture of Nadal and Payne. Assistant District Attorney Keisha J. Espinal, of the Domestic Violence Bureau, and Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Appelbaum, deputy chief of the Special Victim's Bureau, brought to light Payne's three prior violent felony convictions. Payne's criminal record includes domestic violence and selling narcotics in a school zone, prosecutors said, and he was due in Manhattan court for another indictment on October 14.
Although Nadal has more minor misdemeanor convictions, both parents are a proven flight risk because “they took all eight children and fled the state of New York,” Appelbaum said.
Queens Criminal Court Judge Ira Margulis issued bail at $75,000 each for Payne and Nadal, and set the next court date for October 25, to determine whether the couple will be indicted by the grand jury.
Both parents are charged with second-degree kidnapping, first and second-degree custodial interference and endangering the welfare of a child, according to the Queens District Attorney's office.
However, Steiner made it clear during the proceedings that neither parent would testify before the grand jury if called to do so.
Nadal and Payne entered the courtroom on Thursday afternoon stonefaced. She wore grey yoga pants with a black long-sleeved shirt and he wore gym shorts with a black, long-sleeved thermal shirt.
However, as they left the court room, Nadal shouted “love y'all,” to which her supporters who attended the arraignment yelled “love you too” back in her direction.
When asked if the couple could afford $150,000 in bail money, Steiner said if they could then they wouldn't be in this predicament in the first place.
“The reason why they're in the system is because they're poor,” Steiner said.
He went on to say the initial removal of the children from Payne and Nadal's care in March 2009 may have been unnecessary. He said one of the children received bruises to his face one night, a common occurrence when seven kids live in a home together. However, although Payne took the child to school the next day with a doctor's note, the school called children's services.
The case against Payne was later dismissed, “but that triggered a mechanism in the family court,” Steiner said.
Representatives from Forestdale, including Executive Director Anstiss Agnew and Chairwoman of the board Tannis Fussell, could not be reached for comment on the arraignment. A spokesman from ACS also declined to comment.
There are remaining questions about the amount of time staffers let the children out of their sight; see our related editorial.