Custodial Kidnapping; No Winners
Private Investigators and Custodial Kidnapping
According to most English dictionaries, kidnapping is defined as stealing or carrying a person off by force or fraud for use as a hostage or to extract ransom. Kidnapping is usually treated by most state, local and federal lawful enforcement agencies as one of the most heinous crimes it encounters. Custodial kidnapping is a strange variant of the original as it often uses fraud instead of force. However the child is still a hostage of sorts who is sometimes held to extract emotional ransom rather than money.
In a recent case, I was asked to locate and place under surveillance a divorced Father who had unlawfully taken custody of his child from the Mother, the lawful custody parent in another state and brought the child to Arizona where I live and work. I had to find the Father, verify the child was with him and determine if the child was well treated and in good health.
This case had a unique spin to it as Lawful enforcement was involved in the child’s home state as far as writing a report and providing guidance to the Mother but had been disallowed from obtaining an arrest warrant for the offending parent until 2 weeks had passed.
By being taken from their home state without permission, the child was truant from school and was missing medical appointments however the local prosecutor declined to act until 2 weeks had passed. This is because in the divorce decree the prosecutor read that the Father was entitled to a 2 week custodial vacation with the child once per year and the Father had not yet taken his two weeks!! But, the divorce decree further gave the Mother controlling custody and stated both parents had to agree to the time and circumstances of the 2 week visitation, which she had not. Regardless the prosecutor’s requirement to wait 2 weeks had to be adhered to.
Once I located the Father and child, it was my job to monitor them for almost 2 weeks until the prosecutor agreed the “visitation period” was over and the lawful was broken. The Mother knew the Dad lived in Arizona in a travel trailer, was unemployed and would probably return to Arizona with the child as the Dad received financial and moral support from his own Mother, the child’s Grandmother.
With much searching and some intelligence the Mother was able to find we did in fact find the Father and the child living in an RV park in the Phoenix area. I won’t divulge the investigative secrets of how we safely kept up with the Father and the child until a warrant was finally issued without being detected but somehow we did it. The minute we knew a warrant had been issued and the Father and child had been entered into NCIC we involved local police and the FBI, and told them where they could find the Father and child. In no time, Arizona law enforcement officers verified what we told them and quickly arrested the Father and returned the child to the Mother who had flown to Phoenix for the specific purpose of getting her child back.
Happy ending? Except for the emotional trauma done to the 14 year old child who didn’t understand all the legal issues but just knew he loved both of his parents and wanted to be with them both, which was sadly not possible. The Father in this case had other legal issues facing him unrelated to the custody and had acted impulsively, selfishly and not in the best interests of the child. The Mother really had little choice but to make it a criminal matter.
I have advice for both Phoenix private investigators and lawful custody parents who may be confronted with such difficult and emotionally painful issues. Once it has been established that the client is in fact the lawful custody parent, and not before, the private investigator can’t ethically initiate the investigation to locate the child.
In true criminal kidnappings a private investigator will rarely be brought into the case but in custodial matters, the involvement of private investigators is becoming more and more common. Unlike criminal kidnappings, as time goes on without a resolution, law enforcement agencies with ever dwindling resources may have to place less effort into a custodial matter where the law has been technically broken but all agree the offending parent is not a criminal and would not harm the child. By all means if the child is found they will be returned to the parent with lawful custody but the hard and fast “manhunt” usually grows smaller and less intense in custodial cases with time. It is in these cases where a private investigator is most likely to be engaged to aid the custodial parent in determining the child’s whereabouts so that law enforcement can again engage to return the child and prosecute the offending parent.
In custodial kidnappings the offender is not always a villain and the parent reporting the crime is not always a helpless victim… but the law has been broken. Cases have been legitimately reported where the parent having lawful custody is mistreating the child through negligence, horrendous parenting or even physical abuse. In those cases the parent taking the child has lost all faith in the system and has risked their own freedom to remove the child from an environment in which they genuinely believe the child is at risk. A private investigator must proceed only on the facts and not on innuendo or unsubstantiated assertions by anyone including the client.
If an arrest warrant has been issued for the offending parent, the private investigator must be cautious not to interfere with the police should he or she develop enough information to allow a law enforcement agency to find and arrest the offending parent. The private investigator must also remember that if their commitment is to find the child, once this is done law enforcement must be notified of the child’s whereabouts in a timely fashion.
If law enforcement has been involved in the search at any point a private investigator later asked by a client to find and return the child themselves without notifying law enforcement should recognize this is a major problem. A client who asks this up front from a private investigator should be told in no uncertain terms that this is not something the private investigator is willing to do. If the client insists then the investigator is well advised to walk away from the case.
I’m glad I accepted the case I described for you and very grateful it turned out with no one being hurt . . . or worse. But don’t ever forget these are complex cases not to be taken lightly. Clients are well advised to find a private investigator with proven experience in major case investigations to handle such matters for them. Scottsdale private eyes who accept such a case are well advised to obtain and thoroughly verify all facts they are given before taking the first step.
Submitted for your approval,
7633 E. Acoma Drive, Suite 207-B
Scottsdale, AZ 85260-2908 USA
Phone: (480) 269-0027