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A Father's Fight for his Kids

by David Jaques


After nine and one half years in the U.S. Army Infantry and an honorable discharge, which was followed by 910 days In-Country, spanning fourteen tours between Iraq and Afghanistan as a CIA Security contractor, Paul Eckel has known the horrors of battle.

One of his worst days he recalls was when they were trying to administer first aid to a young child in Afghanistan who had received third degree burns over one hundred percent of his body from an explosion. “The medics tried everything in our makeshift tent-hospital, but in the end the trauma was too severe and we lost him. I’ll never forget that even as the child had been overcome for several minutes with severe seizure like tremors, in the end his body became totally still and his arms reached upward as though he was being embraced.”

Eckel says that all of the trauma of battle he had witnessed from Kosovo to Deh Rawood, his recent battle with the State of Oregon over his right to parent his children has been a level of terror he has never before experienced. “I am used to reacting in a tactical situation with a plan and a calm determination to bring things swiftly to a resolution. Dealing with DHS, where the battlefield shifts and the rules change constantly, has been very trying!”

Eckel, who has been divorced for three years from his wife Annelisha, has been raising his four children in an equal shared custody arrangement, with full custody every other week. Everything was going along fine he said until August 15, 2016 at about 8 pm when his oldest son Cayden called his cell phone and told his dad he needed him to come and get him and his three siblings right away. Eckel asked his son what was going on and his son told him that he had grabbed his younger brother and sister and they were running from their mom.

Eckel left his home in the family van with the trailer in tow, hauling their river raft, from an outing they all had enjoyed earlier in the day, and headed out to the Green District where his ex-wife lives with her parents. There he found the older two hunkered down alongside the road and picked them up.

There was an altercation with his ex-wife in which he claims she pulled in front of his van attempting to impede his progress, which Eckel said created a dangerous situation and the possibility of a collision.

He called the police, and they came to a location near Roseburg City Hall and took statements from all the parties. The result of which, according to Eckel, was the police said for him to take the kids who were with him, home for the evening to create some space to let things de-escalate.

He then took ten year old Cayden, seven year old Ashten, and his five year old daughter Lexie home with him that night. The next day he took them back to their mother as it was her week with the children. The following day he received a call from his oldest son Cayden stating that his grandfather had forced his mom to call Child Protective Services on him, alleging he was bruised from a spanking Paul had administered. Annelisha subsequently sought a protective order from Judge Ambrosini which was based upon an alleged “immediate danger”.

Paul said the spanking in question was administered with a spanking rod and consisted of one stroke each on the buttocks of the two older boys who had been misbehaving. It was not excessive according to Eckel and the family enjoyed the rest of the evening together before bedtime.

The hearing for that Immediate Danger order was not held until September 14, 2016 nearly thirty days after the August 15 incident. During this time Eckel was not allowed any contact with his four children.

After several hours of testimony in the courtroom from both Paul and Annelisha as well as “expert witnesses” called by the mother’s lawyer, Ambrosini found that the Immediate Danger Order was unwarranted and found that “The children were not in immediate danger at the time the order was issued” and entered an order setting that earlier order aside.

Paul Eckel was found by the court to pose no danger to any of his children, and Ambrosini ordered the original shared custody arrangement to be put back into effect.

Eckel said the relief was immense and he felt a giant burden had been lifted. But the celebration wasn’t to last long as within the hour he received notice from DHS that in spite of the judge’s ruling on the case, they were filing a separate case against Paul Eckel alleging the children were in danger and sought to have his shared custody revoked.

When dealing with DHS, unlike any other legal arena, the charges brought against a parent take precedent, and the parent is presumed guilty until they can muster a defense to prove their innocence.

Eckel had already been represented in Ambrosini’s court by Rahn Hostetter, an attorney from Enterprise Oregon, who had left Roseburg that afternoon heading back to Enterprise to work on other cases pending. Hostetter was retained a second time to fight the same charges which had already been dismissed by the court, but this time filed by DHS against Eckel.

The first round in the new proceeding was heard by Judge Stanton, who granted DHS custody of the four children, but granted Paul Eckel supervised visitation.

During the weeks that have followed, his children have had forensic interviews with court appointed psychologists who have tried to determine if the children are in danger.

What is deeply troubling in this proceeding is that the DHS hired Douglas C.A.R.E.S. representative Vicki Steinly, in her effort to prove Eckel could pose a danger to his own children, even though the court found otherwise and absent any such family history, has now invented a medical history for Paul Eckel, alleging that he suffers from PTSD, and that he has been prescribed psychotropic medication to treat the condition. Mr. Eckel in fact has no history of PTSD following his military and CIA employment, and takes no such medication!

The Beacon has obtained a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs which proves that Eckel has been screened in 2013, 2015, and as recently as September 2016 “in which all screen results have been negative for PTSD. There is no indication within the medical chart that this Veteran has or has ever had PTSD.”

Eckel has also been asked to interview with Douglas C.A.R.E.S. and to complete a psychiatric evaluation; a request he declined. He said they were prejudicial towards DHS and their efforts to take his parental rights from him. So instead Eckel has engaged the services of a Doctor in Eugene who will be filing an official finding with the court at the next trial set for November 9, 2016.

Eckel said he has always enjoyed a happy positive relationship with his four children and that his job as a single father is the most important job he has ever held.  “We have a beautiful family dynamic with wild love and adventure. This has been the norm for years now as a single father of these four beautiful children. To have a government entity abruptly invade our lives and mandate a sentence based on "allegations" is tragic and truly abusive to our happy family."

Now Eckel is faced with three new court dates to prove again that he is who he claims to be; a loving father who poses no danger to his children. The trial has been set for November 9, 18, and 30th, because DHS said it would take that many days to present their case against Eckel. Meanwhile Eckel’s lawyer, the former District Attorney for Wallowa County, Rahn Hostetter, has said this move by DHS makes it economically impractical for them to represent Eckel, spreading the trial over three full days, spread out over three weeks. The travel costs have become prohibitive. Eckel says he believes this was the intent of DHS, to get Hostetter off the case and force him to seek new counsel.

Eckel has been able to mount a defense, which resulted in a not-guilty verdict, and return of his parental rights from the first trial in Ambrosini’s courtroom. And now he has to raise tens of thousands of dollars  more to do it all over again, retaining new counsel.