Supporters of the defense of prominent Falls Church resident Michael Gardner, appealing his conviction while serving a 22-year prison sentence for an alleged June 2011 molestation of three young girls, circulated a press release last week calling attention to a Jan. 10 Fairfax Circuit Court hearing regarding the role of the county’s Child Protective Services division in the case.
The hearing, according to a transcript obtained by the News-Press last week, included testimony from a seasoned social worker in the division, Cynthia Schade, that she was told by Falls Church police not to, and therefore she did not, interview any of the child victims in the case.
“In all her years working child protection cases in different Northern Virginia jurisdictions, the social worker (Schade—ed.) testified she never before had local police or prosecutors refuse to cooperate with her agency to the extent she experienced in the Gardner matter,” the Gardner supporter press release stated.
However, news of the hearing has not altered the conviction of the City and the parents of the victims that justice was done in the case. A spokesman for the Falls Church police, when asked to comment by the News-Press, stated via an email, “the City of Falls Church Police Department strives to protect the integrity of all investigations, as we have in this case.”
Additionally, a parent of one of the young victims issued a statement to the News-Press Tuesday stating, “We live in Falls Church and have to deal with Michael Gardner’s unconscionable betrayal of trust every day, but are thankful for our justice system, the full criminal investigation and trial. The conviction by a jury of his peers after an exhaustive trial, which was grueling for the three brave young girl citizens at the center of this, speaks for itself.”
According to the transcript of the Jan.10 hearing, Schade testified that she had “been instructed by Detective Richardson and her captain (of the Falls Church Police Department—ed.) that I was not to interview the children about the case.”
Schade said that normally, as with her work with Fairfax County Police, the open sharing of information was the norm, but that in the Gardner case, “there was a break between Falls Church City Police and myself and the case.” She called it “unusual” and said “my normal relationship with detectives is we work pretty closely when we’re working cases.”
Her official title is “Social Worker III” for the Sexual Abuse Unit of the Child Protective Services division of the Fairfax County Department of Family Services. The City of Falls Church contracts with the department for services at a considerable cost annually. At the hearing, she provided a description of the professional way in which she conducts interviews with juveniles in such matters.
When asked in the Jan. 10 hearing by Peter Greenspun, the attorney for Gardner, “Did they (Falls Church police – ed.) explain to you why they didn’t want you to interview the kids?,” Schade replied, “What I was told was that they did not feel that that was the best practice for the children,” adding, “My assumption was that because of my experience working with children that it’s not good to continue to re-interview children in a situation like this.”
But she said the City police also told her “that I would not be able to get the recordings or any written documentation that they had obtained prior to my involvement in the case.”
Greenspun asked, “Then as far as any physical evidence, photographs, they never gave you the opportunity to get a dump of evidence to assist you in your determination?”
Schade answered, “No.”
Greenspun asked, “That was a bit frustrating?”
Schade answered, “Yes.”
Greenspun asked, “They didn’t let you do your job fully, right?”
Schade answered, “I feel that I have a good professional relationship with Falls Church in other cases I have worked and this was the first time I had run into something like this.”
Greenspun asked, “Did they give you any explanation as to why they were treating this one special?”
Schade answered, “I was told that the county attorney from Loudoun County, Nicole Whitman, was directing them with what they could give and what they could say.”