Monday, June 30, 2008

Chronicling a county’s decline

Chronicling a county’s decline
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
Newspapers have an inherent bias: reporters can only write about what we see.

When jobs are never created, we can’t interview the specific men and women who would have held them, now unemployed with kids to feed. When housing isn’t built and rents rise, we can’t find the young adults who flee to the cities where they can support themselves.

And so, their faces never grace the front page.

This series on economic development is a brief plunge into that shadow world, a fleeting attempt to tell stories about those ghost people, houses, and jobs.

We spans a half-century of Glenn County development, chronicling the wheelings and dealings in bringing – and blocking – new jobs in the area. We take a tour of the highlights, knowing that many bureaucracy has probably stifled other projects, and opportunities, that are now lost down the memory hole.

Consider the two most prominent developments: Johns-Manville (1959) and Thunderhill (1991).

Each project had a prominent local – then-Willows city councilman Matt Wiest and then-county supervisor Dick Mudd – strongly lobbying for it.

Mr. Wiest cleared eight to 10 a.m. each business day for Johns-Manville. Mr. Mudd suggested to Thunderhill that they come to Glenn County; he then went around reassuring his constituents that the racetrack wouldn’t be disruptive.

When a powerful man didn’t happen to take a liking to a new development project, potential job-providers or housing-providers had little or no shot.

Whether it was a restaurant/motel complex that could have employed 30 people or a power plant that would have employed 300, if the political forces-that-be didn’t like a project, it likely wouldn’t get built.

Reasons could be arbitrary, as in 1982 when a supervisor voted against a 400-unit housing project in Artois because residents would have to use (their own) gas to get to Orland or Willows.

Or they could just be plain-out awful, like when farmers helped to block a power plant coming to Willows. The reason: it would reduce their water allotment.

Except: the lost water was worth about one-hundredth as much as the plant would bring to the county annually in property taxes.

Granted, short-sighted, bull-headed planning decisions aren’t the only thing that have hurt Glenn County in the last half-century. But they’re one of the reasons that the economy is so bad.

Consider that, since 1990, Glenn County’s unemployment rate has been almost double that of California’s as a whole. Or just consider what you see taking a stroll through downtown Willows.

Who’s to blame? Read the series, and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The essential Bhagwat

Here's all the stuff I wrote at the Valley Mirror that matters.

June and July: my mega-development series, which deserves its own page. Will link later.

mid-May: Local high school senior Steven Furtado is murdered along with girlfriend. Sam is assigned to cover it; probably the hardest story he ever wrote, at least emotionally. Not like that holds a candle to what the families were going through. Main story, reflections 1, 2, 3, 4, candlelight vigil, funeral, and my Mormon reflection.

April: Inside sober living/drug recovery houses in Glenn County, parts 1, 2, and 3.

March and April: How to flush $10k a year town the tubes on a nonfunctioning law library, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and a later update.

Mar. 25: Sam the amateur apologist.

Mar. 5: State education regulations do stupid things sometimes.

Feb. 18: Sam goes to watch a local kid race his motorcycle.

Feb. 4: A Gordon B. Hinckley obituary with a local twist.

Jan. 25: Interviewing an illegal immigrant ("Deported four times, but life is here")

Jan. 17: Entry column, also here's my exit column.

Sam's essays, a compendium

Mormon essays:

December 2008, A Year of Dialogue. Thinking seriously about Mormonism got me into a post-conversion crisis. But it also led me out.

December 2008, Thoughts on Blake Ostler (an amateur Mormon theologian)

November-December, 2008, Why I'm going on a mission

Late May, 2008: "Baptism, 300 days later"

Late May, 2008: "Reporting a homicide"

Written October 2007, revised Feb. 2008: "How Sam became a Mormon"

Baptism, 300 days later

Three volumes sit on my office desk: an enigmatic combination that shows a picture of me.

Unloaded haphzardly, leaning off my dark brown folding table sits a thick, light-tan hardcover with curly black lettering:.Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman.

On top, at an angle: a thinner paperback, the cover of dark brown tones with block white lettering. An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins by Grant Palmer.

A few inches away, two thousand thin, silver-gilded pages are crammed between blue leather covers, with ribbon bookmarks protruding at either end.

It’s as if my quad of Mormon scripture is sitting quickly, slightly distant from a quarrel. Waiting for the conclusion.

And it is a quarrel.

The Bushman bio of Joseph is known colloquially as Rough Stone Rolling. Or sometimes just RSR. It’s the result of eight years of research by one of the premier Mormon intellectuals. Bushman – Brother Bushman, I suppose – is an academic historian, a tenured Columbia prof who specializes in early American history. Or was, until he took off on Joseph Smith studies and became a Mormon studies chair.

More relevantly, Rough Stone Rolling is a premier ‘cultural history’ of the founder of my new religion, a figure usually referred to simply as ‘Joseph’ or ‘the Prophet.’ I first heard of the book from Brandon Reed, a senior at Stanford, a Mormon, and my home teacher; he and his companion Jeff Brown visited me in my dorm room once or twice a month to make sure I was all right and to deliver a spiritual message. When I expressed an interest in Joseph Smith, Brandon recommended the book.

Bushman might be a believing, practicing Mormon, but Rough Stone Rolling is neutral on (or, as one hostile reviewer wrote, “plays pitty-pat with”) the question of authenticity. Was Joseph Smith, as Mormons phrase it, a “true prophet of God”? Bushman doesn’t answer the question, or attempt to.

Bushman does a superb job following Joseph the man the religion he founded, through persecutions and plural marriages, the dissenters and the heretical discussions of divinity.

But he does more.

Bushman sketches in great detail the backdrop against which these actions played out. The visionary seeker element of New England culture. The democratic, individualist ethos of the new republic. How did the new religion reflect its surroundings, personally, culturally and theologically? How did Joseph Smith forge a different path?

I found the book fascinating. In many ways, the author is the person I aspire to be. Thoughtful and believing. He’s struggled to interface the values of academia and the values of Mormonism for fifty years, and seems to have turned it out pretty well. The fruits of the gospel, and the fruits of scientific pursuit both taste sweet to me. I refuse to choose between them, and the religion I have found tells me I don’t have to. For “the glory of God is intelligence,” as a revelation (purportedly) given to Joseph Smith goes.

But before I lose myself in vague odes, let’s return to my desk.

Rough Stone Rolling is the compromise I hope to find, that the many mishaps and embarrassing parts of church history are compatible with belief. That an honest narrative is compatible with my testimony.

And if Mormonism is a protected tent, constructed to shelter against the ravages of the world and offer hope, Rough Stone Rolling gives the hope that entering that tent, one can find sweet fruits there; tools for building a better world, keys to enlighten understanding.

An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins is an attempt to tear open the flap of the tent and shine confusing, disorienting lights in. Or an inspection of the structure of that building, with the conclusion that the foundation is worthless.

It was sent to me by my mother, who’s been learning about Mormonism since I was baptized. Well, I think mostly from sources like the Internet group she’s joined, “Mormons have my child.” It was the second of three books she sent me to try to persuade to give up Mormonism, books that ‘tell the truth’ about Mormonism.

Why do I use the scare quotes? Maybe it’s because I’ve lost my rationality; I’ve substituted a visceral instinctive reaction for reasoned logic. I don’t like cognitive dissonance. I want to believe that Joseph Smith is a prophet, that I was once a spirit with my Heavenly Father (and Mother) and that they prepared the world that we could progress and be like them. I do believe that.

The book on my shelf, and a couple others like it, mark my failure to demonstrate to my family that I’ve found sweet fruit in my new religion. That it makes me a better person, cliche as that phrase might be. The unimpeded search for knowledge is probably number one on my parents’ lists of virtues; I must show them Mormonism enlightens and not diminishes my understanding.

I’ve read a couple chapters in An Insider’s View so far. I found a few things I didn’t know, but mostly slanted facts and narrative. Then I read about five intelligent-sounding negative reviews and deconstruction of the book. I feel weird about opening the book, as if it will destroy cherished desires. And then I feel embarrassed for feeling weird, because being afraid of the truth is the ultimate in cowardice.

(On the other hand, reading lots of books with a different starting premise than yours is often not very helpful. From a libertarian political standpoint, I put down John Kenneth Galbraith’s Affluent Society simply because I found it pretty boring, filled with liberal straw men. Or when my friend Sonja send me a link me a video about how we waste too much stuff, and I spent 10 minutes watching part of the video and then an hour and a half writing a response, debunking the arguments with arithmetic and basic economics.)

So when I say ‘maybe’ three paragraphs ago, I’m not setting up a straw man so I can knock it down. I’m deeply concerned. Still, my limited experience is that so-called ‘anti-Mormon’ tracts often mislead, and I’ve become cautious about accepting their claims for reasons entirely unrelated to my desire for them to be false.

To be honest, what I really want is to come up with a scientific test for historical facts. How many embarrassing historical incidents should occur in 200 years – keep in mind Mormonism’s history all takes place in the well-documented modern era – in an enterprise inspired by God?

Even with heavenly guidance, there’s going to be absorbing of contemporary racism. After and with violent persecution from neighbors, good people may do really bad things. The normal seeds of error may result in leaders saying some silly things. (I could add many more links, but you get the idea.)

Ideally, I’d like some number. Expected magnitude of errors: 305.7. Actual magnitude of errors: 322.9. If we run a t-test, is the second figure significantly greater than the first? If so, ‘the church is not true.’ If not, the church could be true.

Of course, there’s no way to come up with such a figure; no way to run that kind of test. My heart yearns for the simple statistical models of textbooks, of easy tests to determine that truth.

Which brings me to the third book sitting on that table: my Mormon scriptures. (Patience, you’ll see why.) Enclosed between the blue leather covers are the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants (revelations supposedly received by LDS leaders, mostly Joseph Smith), and a few other texts, known as the Pearl of Great Price.

Why do I believe? The historical stuff is nice, but because when I pray, when I go to church, when I open my scriptures, I find God. I find light, and I find truth.

Of course, I could be making up all my feelings. Maybe there is no God, or another religion is the most correct one. (For the record, I usually estimate that probability as between 10 and 50 percent, depending on my mood. I’m a fallible human being, and am quite capable of making mistakes, even big mistakes.)

The job of sifting through the historical stuff is to learn more about the fruits of my religion. But it’s also to learn whether belief is plausible. As one bloggernacle participant (figure it out) put it: "the goal of apologists is to knock down obstacles that might prevent others from taking their spiritual quest down avenues the former have found fruitful.”

From the two volumes sitting one atop another, I learn whether these obstacles have validity. Otherwise my reading of the third is likely a waste of time.

And that brings me back to the tests. There is such a test of validity. Two, in fact; both in the Book of Mormon.

The first is at its end.

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you.” (Moroni 10:4)

Pretty simple: you sincerely ask to know if the Book of Mormon is a true book, and God will answer you.

But the second is more complex, and perhaps more useful. This is the core of a deep, insightful, and powerful sermon by Book of Mormon prophet Alma:

“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts. And when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:28)

Note the switching from “true seed” to “good seed.” In the surrounding passage, Alma uses the word “true” twice before he switches to “good,” which he then uses thirteen times in eleven verses.

What does that mean to me?

I sometimes wonder about truth claims, to what degree the seed is true.

I’m most sure the Book of Mormon was inspired by God; it does not inexorably follow that the current LDS church leader, Thomas S. Monson, is a true prophet, or that the church is the most correct of all religions, or that I should follow any particular counsel that’s given over the pulpit on some given Sunday. (Also keep in mind here the talks are all given by ordinary church members.)

But I’m even more certain about the good seed part.

Since August, I’ve started keeping a regular journal, a journal that has helped my life become deeper and richer.

I’ve found the strength to shun certain sins that plagued me. I’ve found the strength to fall to my knees and pour out my heart and my weaknesses.

I’ve found myself in the scriptures and speeches by church leaders; found beautiful and useful ideas that have helped build my life. (This needs a whole ‘nother essay, not least because thinking and writing these things helps me to understand them better. I’ve already written one.)

I’ve found a loving community, of good people trying to be better. Flaws and imperfections here hurt me hard, people holding attitudes I find unkind and unloving.

(C.S. Lewis’s dictum helps somewhat: "If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?")

And yet, I seem to have a wide grin on my face corresponding with my Mormon friends; and campus family home evenings seem to call me upwards.

I’ve begin to come to grips with my divine potential, yearning to do good and striving to improve. With my fallen nature, often lazy and sinful. With the struggle to feed the first me, and starve the second.

My soul has been enlarged; my understanding enlightened.

Ultimately, the test as to whether my new religion will be a success rests on - assumes - truth but strives for goodness, blending mind and heart. It is a standard simple enough to make it into a children’s song.

“Teach me all that I must do, to live with Him some day.”

Reporting a homicide

May 18, 2008

It’s late Sunday morning in the rural West, and I'm realizing that my primary lesson has veered slightly off-course, as I look at one fifth-grader sitting atop another on the church lawn.

We’re doing the lesson on Ammon and King Lamoni (Alma 17-20). A good time to let their play-acting skills loose, I figured.

Playing Lamoni's servant was slightly pudgy but athletic Killian Asbury, the blond-haired tenth child of the police lieutenant's son. He straddles Ammon - that is, Blake Balderston, the brown-haired, more sticklike, glasses-wearing younger son of a dentist.

I should have thought this one out more, I realize as I watch their innocent jubilance distract from the message at hand.

Nine hours later, my editor at the small-town paper where I’m interning gives me a call: there’s been a murder. I’m to cover it. A high school kid went Saturday to visit his girlfriend, two-and-a-half hours away. In the night, someone – it looks like her ex – broke into the house and stabbed both of them to death.

I’m a nineteen-year-old kid. These kids are – were – eighteen.

It’s the first time I’ve ever written something like this; I settle into a dark mood. I begin to feel like I had known the kid who was killed; I realize I must keep up that feeling to properly memorialize him. “I had to sympathize with those who grieved,” I write in my journal on Wednesday.

As I look at the sentence, it comes like a flash into my mind. I knew that already. Well, I knew the words. The King Benjamin lesson I taught a few weeks ago: mourn with those who mourn. Comfort those who stand in need of comfort.

Objectivity sounds great in the newsroom, a former intern – now a professional South Texas reporter – had told me when I started. It’s easy to talk about in the classroom, she said. It’s a lot different for her, when she’s in the field talking to a penniless illegal and the woman asks her for money.

It’s different for me when I’m calling the friends of a kid who died young, the third in his small high school class.

I call Sister X, a teacher at the high school. Did you know Andrew? I talk to her nephew: you and Andrew went out bowling every weekend last summer? Who won?

I talk to the band president. You were there when Andrew met his girlfriend? Really? Your teacher introduced them? That’s pretty cool.

The principal gives me the name of Andrew’s best friend, who I look up in the phone book. Can I talk to Kyle? No, his dad replies, he’s golfing with his friends. They’re remembering Andrew. I’m a reporter with the local paper, I say. I’m trying to remember Andrew, get an idea of what he was like. The dad’s tone chills to ice. I’ll give him your number, he says.

I laugh along with their stories of hard work in woodshop and crazy hair colors. Then I ask the hard questions: what does it feel like when your friend is murdered? (Andrew was the third kid in this high school class to die) Along the way, I settle into someone different than I’d been the previous week: less impartial observer, more mourning community member. I suffocate thoughts of self-congratulations, even after I work 30 hours in two days and write seven pieces, a personal record for productivity.

Having a few hours free late Tuesday morning, I walk over the courthouse, to attend a meeting of the county supervisors. I sit next to the lively chairwoman of the grand jury, in my usual position, but fail to assume my normal bantering self. Probation funding? 6.75 FTE’s or 9.42 FTEs? My brain zones out – much more than normal – as my soul exclaims despairingly: how is this important? Why does this matter?

Gradually, I shed the feeling and concentrate at the story at hand, asking the supervisors questions, joking with the audience members. I write the story, and must then deal with the opposite problem: preparing for the evening candlelight vigil. Settling into the solemnity and despair-tinged tunnel vision of grief.

I see the city clerk at the vigil, sobbing. Should I hug her? Would that be unprofessional? Presumptuous? I turn away, hoping she didn’t see me.

I happen to flip back onto my lesson. The Lamanites have just been stealing King Lamoni’s flock, and a phrase jumps out at me. Alma 17:29.

“Now (the servants) wept because of the fear of being slain. Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words.”

It seems a bit like a non sequitur, a friend opines. But maybe in the grand scheme of things, the message that he was able to bear was a lot bigger than the problems over the sheep.

That’s what I was thinking, I reply. The message was what he could bring to the table, and he was full of joy because the troubles gave him the chance to share it.

For me, the front page of the paper, twice a week was what I could bring to the table. It might be a lot smaller than the trouble that happened. It is, I know. I’m just a small cog in the wheel here. But I should be joyous that I can help, and then go and work in the little part I am granted, in remembrance.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Energy audit going to happen

Another politics story
Energy audit is a go
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Chevron’s coming to town.

The first 3-2 vote supervisors have seen in some time was cast over a proposed energy-saving audit by ESCO, an energy solutions company owned by the oil firm.

The two main projects mentioned in a May 6 meeting were natural gas wells at the Orland airport and wind turbines at the county landfill.

Supervisors had been concerned over ESCO deciding whether projects were feasible and thus whether the county could owe them $40,000 for no benefit. So Planning and Public Works head Dan Obermeyer came back with a new contract in which the county had the right to determine feasibility.

Debate was heated over two issues. The county has no similar offers in hand to compare terms with. And another clause in the contract slapped the county with a big penalty if it used ESCO’s information to have another company make energy improvements.

“I don’t like a government agency predisposing to a source of services and not knowing the price,” supervisor Tracey Quarne said.

“But how can they know the prices?” responded Planning and Public Works head Dan Obermeyer. “They don’t know our situation.”

The legislation permitting such “sole-source” contracts — no putting it out to bid — was adopted, ESCO project manager Ashu Jain said, because competitive bidding didn’t work.

What would happen, he said, is that companies would make wildly optimistic preliminary, non-binding estimates for what the audit would uncover. The government agency would then pay for the audit, and then learn that savings were nowhere near as great as they thought.

Supervisor Tom McGowan, who urged Mr. Jain to call Planning and Public Works head Dan Obermeyer in the first place, said the county should have faith in ESCO’s track record.

“All the background checks we’ve done have been good, glowing.”

Chevron Energy Solutions project manager Ashu Jain said that the longer the project was delayed the less likely it was to find feasible improvements, saying he expected major improvements to be solar energy-related, and the incentives from the state decreased every month.

The two supervisors, McGowan and Quarne, debated at some length whether reputation was good enough to take the contract without contacting possible competitors.

Mr. Jain stepped in, saying that no competitors did as much as ESCO, and besides, “Chevron earned $17 billion last year. We earned $15 million.”

“To be blunt, the reason Chevron is in this business is not profit margin, it’s public relations. Chevron would sell us in a heartbeat if we gave them bad publicity.”

Supervisor candidate Bill Payer pointed out that under clause 13 of the contract, if Glenn County decided no project was feasible but used the information gathered in the report to carry one out anyway, they would owe ESCO the full cost of the audit — $80,000 to $100,000.

Previously, the supervisors were discussing owing $40,000 in that scenario. ESCO’s Mr. Jain didn’t create this misunderstanding, but didn’t correct it either, until Mr. Payer asked him for clarification.

Mr. Quarne was concerned that Glenn County would “replace the windows” or something similarly trivial and end up owing the entire sum.

Mr. Jain said the clause had been added because one company took the entire study, with proposed prices attached, turned it over to another company, “and said, ‘can you beat that?’”

But the supervisors were uncomfortable with the clause, and Mr. Jain said he could probably get the contract approved without it, so Mr. McGowan made a motion approving the contract, minus clause 13. Keith Hansen gave the second.

Supervisor Murray asked clerk Debbie Lambert to do votes by roll call. The first three supervisors polled were all in favor — Mr. McGowan, Mr. Hansen, and the heretofore quiet John Amaro.

Following were Mr. Quarne and Mr. Murray’s no votes, but the proposal had already passed.

“If we could only harness the energy expended in here, we’d have a real project,” joked Mr. McGowan afterward.

Also during the morning session Tuesday, safety officer Jennifer Peters came forward to clarify the status of the safety committee, which had been confusedly discussed the previous meeting.

Safety department funds were current within 30 to 60 days, she said, contradicting remarks made by County Counsel Tom Agin last Tuesday.

“We should be able to accommodate grants” like the one made for protective equipment made by Chief Probation Officer Thompson after that meeting, she said. “The money wasn’t spent sooner because we didn’t get requests.”

More against CPS: 'Taking baby leaves two'

Pt. 2 in my Charles Meador & Erin Dieudonne series. Pt. 3 and 4 to be published on Wed. and Sat.


Taking baby leaves two
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows — What happens to baby when CPS comes knocking?

Before Andrew Dieudonne was taken, “he fed himself, he would wave,” mother Erin remembers. “When they put him in foster care, he stopped doing all of that.”

Andrew was almost 11 months old in January when social workers removed him and put him in foster care. Three months later, workers placed Andrew temporarily with Ms. Dieudonne’s mother, who lives in Chico.

“Now that he’s with my mom he’s started getting better,” Ms. Dieudonne says.

It hasn’t been easy either for her or boyfriend Charles Meador, the man Andrew calls “Dad.”

Immediately afterwards, they were “more stressed out and more depressed,” sleeping 12 hours a day and smoking twice as much. It wasn’t a picnic financially either – losing Andrew, the unemployed Ms. Dieudonne lost her welfare and food stamps.

So while CPS wanted her to rely less on Mr. Meador, she was forced to rely more on him.

“They expected her to have a job in a week,” Mr. Meador commented sarcastically. “In this town?”

It’s a bit better now for them, too, now that Andrew is with his grandmother. Three days a week, Ms. Dieudonne boards GlennRide for the three-and-a-half hour roundtrip to visit her son.

The couple recalls when Charles met Andrew.

“He stuck out his tongue,” Erin says.

Ms. Dieudonne would stick out her tongue when waking Andrew up, so he learned that meant “hi.”

Not too unusual – except that, at the time “there were two men he wasn’t screaming bloody murder at,” the couple says.

That behaviour was because of her ex-husband’s treatment of Andrew, she says.

El Dorado County CPS documents record incidents of Mr. Dieudonne yelling and screaming at Andrew, telling him to “shut up” and shaking him while crying, and in one occasion, spitting on Andrew.

Ms. Dieudonne thinks Glenn County is prejudging Mr. Meador because of her ex-husband’s behaviour.

“They believe because I was in an abusive relationship before, I would be again.”

“They said, ‘if you ever feel endangered (by Mr. Meador), don’t hesitate to call,” Ms. Dieudonne says.

When she says she’s fine, they reply, “‘not from what we heard.’”

Mr. Meador does have a bit of a history. He recalls his reputation around these parts as a “thug, hardened criminal, addict, knife fighter.” He went to state prison for three years on the charge of possessing stolen property.

In his old life, Mr. Meador got involved with crystal meth and other drugs, but said he’s been clean more than five years.

His claims to changing his life are backed by Willows Police Sgt. Carl Walter.

“He was a troublemaker,” Sgt. Walter recalls. “He had a temper, carried a knife; we had to go out on him several times on confrontations downtown.”

“I just remember running into him with an attitude.”

But in the past year, his contacts have been normal.

“He flagged me down at Starbucks, said, ‘Hi, whatcha been doing,’” says Sgt. Walter. He didn’t want to be called Chuck anymore; he wanted to be called Charles.”

“He’s not the same as years ago. As far as I can tell, he’s a changed man.”

And Ms. Dieudonne is full of praise for her partner.

“He’s never raised his hand at me or at Dallas. I’ve seen him angry twice.”

Erin’s CPS worker, Zinnia Petersen, did not return calls seeking comment.