When last we saw Mike Donoghue, Dragoon of the First Amendment, he was hovering, vulture-like, outside a court hearing for Christina Schumacher, the woman who’s been in Fletcher Allen’s psychiatric unit since late December — shortly after her estranged husband murdered their teenage son and then killed himself.
Donoghue was outside the hearing because he’d been kicked out — on the insistence of Schumacher’s attorney, Duncan McNeil. And if anyone still believes that Donoghue is the good guy in this tale, please explain why her attorney wanted no part of Donoghue in that courtroom. McNeil, after all, is from Vermont Legal Aid, an institution known for its dogged defense of the rights of the mentally ill and disabled. If Schumacher’s hospitalization is unnecessary, why wouldn’t McNeil welcome Donoghue’s presence? Why does he refuse to speak to the reporter?
Maybe because he knows it’s not in his client’s best interest.
For that matter, why isn’t anyone associated with her — a caregiver, a friend, a relative — siding with Donoghue and publicly calling for Chrstina’s release from the hospital? She has a pretty large extended family. Are they all part of the conspiracy, too?
But there is a story to be told about the Schumacher case: one that wouldn’t violate her privacy and would actually serve a socially constructive purpose. Donoghue knows what the story is, because he’s reported it in the past. He has chosen to drop it in favor of his current crusade. The story?
Christina Schumacher was a longtime victim of domestic abuse. She’d been beaten down (literally and figuratively) to the point where she was incapable of taking the initiative against him in the legal arena. The authorities knew about it, and they did nothing to help or protect her. And it’s quite possible that personal relationships and connections played a part in their failure.
Please understand, this formulation is not based on any inside information. It’s based on (1) the public record, (2) my (educated layperson’s) knowledge of the dynamics of domestic abuse, and (3) logical inference and deduction. Take it for what it’s worth.
There is abundant evidence that Sonny Schumacher was an abusive husband as well as a murderer:
WCAX News obtained multiple police reports filed by Christina Schumacher outlining a pattern of fear. In July, an Essex police officer served Sonny with a temporary relief from abuse order. That same month, Christina’s brother came to the police department, concerned Sonny had violated the order. In August, Christina called the police to report a suspicious van outside her home, telling police her husband had made threats to her safety if she ever “crossed him.” And in October, police were called to Christina’s home to stand guard as Sonny removed personal items from the home. Officers said Christina seemed “nervous.”
Essex police withheld two additional police reports Christina Schumacher made, saying they directly relate to the ongoing murder-suicide investigation.
…court papers reveal allegations that Schumacher abused her and their kids, physically attacking Gunnar and flipping furniture on multiple occasions.
That’s quite a bit of evidence, unless you’re one of those people who thinks that women make up abuse allegations for the heck of it.
To the contrary, the vast majority of abuse incidents are not reported. And in the case of someone living in fear of her husband, it’s almost certain that this is the tip of the iceberg. My logical inference: Christina had been abused for a long time.
And yet, in spite of an extensive trail of official reports, Essex Police Chief Brad LaRose told WCAX:
“There was no complaint of domestic violence ever made to the police department.”
There might possibly be some technical truth in that, depending on how you parse the precise definition of “domestic violence,” but Chief LaRose had to know that all was not well in the Schumacher household.
And then, the day before the bodies of Sonny and Ludwig Schumacher were discovered, this happened:
Christina Schumacher, 48, called Essex police at 9:33 p.m. Dec. 17 to express concern about her son, Gunnar, 14, the records show.
She said she feared her estranged husband, Ludwig “Sonny” Schumacher, might try to take the teenager out of the country, Essex Detective Lt. George Murtie wrote in a court affidavit…
What did the police do about her report? Apparently nothing, except to write it up. There is no sign that officers were dispatched. The bodies were found the next day, after a “friend” of Sonny’s called police about “a possible homicide/suicide.” From the evidence released so far, the crimes were probably committed on the 17th. If police had followed up on Christina’s call, they might have prevented the tragedy.
It certainly looks like the authorities downplayed, or ignored, Christina’s complaints. This happens distressingly often in abuse cases, and is one big reason why women so seldom report incidents. But in Sonny Schumacher’s case, I suspect that personal and professional connections also played a part. His background, per WCAX:
Sonny Schumacher was a former lieutenant colonel with the Vermont Air National Guard, a career that started in 1989. He was an F-16 pilot who rose through the ranks to become the director of operations for military support. He left the guard in 2011.
A longtime member of the National Guard, a prominent officer. How many friends did he have in official places? There’s a whole lot of cross-traffic between the Guard and law enforcement. Schumacher lived in Essex and the Guard’s headquarters is just outside Essex in Colchester. How many members of the Essex police department serve (or have served) in the Guard? Did LaRose? Did he know Sonny Schumacher? Did Detective Murtie?
And if it wasn’t an actual case of cronyism, was it a case of professional courtesy? Were police less inclined to believe Christina or take any action because her husband was a longtime National Guard officer?
For that matter, what did the Guard know and when did they know it? If, as is reasonable to assume, the abuse had been going on for a long time, did Schumacher’s superiors hear about it? What did they do?
One more sign that Schumacher was a well-connected guy: he managed then-Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie’s re-election campaign in 2004.
And to bring this back to journalism, did Mike Donoghue drop this angle and pursue the hospitalization story because the Burlington Free Press didn’t want to expose a big hairy mess that might bring dishonor to the Guard and to law enforcement?
That’s pure speculation on my part. What I do know is that Donoghue would be performing a real public service by going after the Guard and the police, rather than taking advantage of a vulnerable woman who’s already suffered through years of abuse and the loss of her son.
I don’t expect Donoghue to reverse course; he’s too stubborn and narcissistic and myopic to see the damage he is doing. (Aside from everything else, he’s putting one more brick in the wall that discourages women from reporting abuse.) But there’s plenty of room for another enterprising reporter to pursue this story. A lot of attention has been paid to cases like Wayne Brunette’s and Macadam Mason’s and Woody Woodward’s; it’s time to look closely at law enforcement’s handling of the Christina Schumacher case.
And perhaps it’s time, once again, to see if the law can do anything more to protect victims of domestic abuse.