The support group for convicted father Clayton Allison in Alaska has posted a disturbing video that not only reveals the heartless tactics employed by police investigators but also showcases the extraordinary strength of Clayton’s wife Christiane, who seems to have been the only honest person in the room during her interrogation.
From the beginning, Christiane Allison says, she believed her husband’s report that he had accidentally left the baby gate open, allowing their 15-month-old daughter Jocelynn to fall down the stairs. Based on medical opinion, Clayton was convicted of second degree murder this past February, and sentenced last week to 30 years in prison.
The interrogation was conducted in January of 2009, four months after the incident, when the police called the child’s mother to the station to tell her that the medical examiner had declared Jocelynn’s death a homicide. In the video, two state troopers are trying to convince Christiane, 22 years old at the time, to call her husband immediately, on a secretly taped line, and ask him what really happened that day.
“Either you’re on the side of Jocelynn or you’re on the side of Clayton,” one officer explains, insisting that Christiene look at the autopsy photos and mocking her statements that she loves her daughter.
Christiane steadfastly refuses to cooperate with a secret taping. “If I can tell him it’s being taped, I’ll make that call,” she says, but “I will not be deceitful.”
“Clayton has been lying to you every day since September,” the interrogator sneers. “The fact that Clayton makes love to you knowing he did this to your daughter, that’s deception,” and she thrusts in Christiane’s face a color glossy from the autopsy that shows the skin of the girl’s face peeled back and bunched up under her chin.
Early in the interrogation, Christiane had said, “Could you please not show me that one?” and, when the officer persisted, “Or at least don’t show her face all mutilated like that.” Four hours later, her protests are louder and more forceful. “Don’t accuse me of not loving my daughter because I won’t look at that picture,” she seethes, “I’m not looking at that picture because I don’t want to look at that picture every time I go to sleep… Regardless of what happened to her, I don’t want that picture in my head.”
While showing her frustration at the cruel and irrational interrogation, Christiane is not confused by the tactics. Accused of being too calm for a mother who has just learned her child was murdered, she explains she is showing her “cold face” because “words are too important” to let her emotions control the moment. “When I walk out of that door I’ll probably fall apart,” she predicts, “but right now I’m being a politician.” Reiterating that she will make no decisions as long as she’s in the interrogation room with them, she offers—sagely, I thought—”Life is too short for rash decisions.”
Christiane even acknowledges that the troopers are only doing their jobs, looking for the truth, but she declines to cooperate with their deceptive strategy, and she refuses to accept on the spot that her husband murdered their daughter. “I’m taking every word you’re saying with a grain of salt,” she says. “I don’t believe anything until I’ve thought about it, I’ve prayed about it, and I’ve come to my decision.” Unaware that she is free to leave, Christiane interrupts the histrionics at one point, “I don’t know how else to do this with you,” she says, clearly exasperated. “We could go around and around forever.” The interrogator stays in character, though, responding that she is personally disturbed by Christiane’s “reluctance to have an open mind about what happened.”
The video ends with Christiane alone on the moral high ground, when her parents arrive with news that her husband was arrested earlier, and she realizes her interrogators had kept pressuring her to call him at home long after they knew he was no longer there. “You’ve been in my face this entire time that Clayton is deceiving me,” she simmers, “but it’s OK for you to do that, when I’ve been completely honest with you?”
The video is just short of 34 minutes long and well worth watching, available on the Free Clayton Allison web site and on YouTube. What I find chilling is the troopers’ willingness to treat a grieving mother with such callous contempt. Christiane Allison was not home the day of the incident. She was never a suspect. But the police were sure her husband had been lying to her—because that’s what the doctors told them—and because she believed her husband, the troopers were willing to accuse, berate, and taunt her for four hours, while she didn’t change her story by an inch. Do the doctors know how the police conduct these interrogations? Do they care?
The outpouring of support for the Allison family echoes other movements that have been springing up in child head-injury cases—on behalf of Joshua and Brenda Burns in Michigan, for example, and Melissa Calusinski in Illinois. I’m discouraged because the convictions continue, but I’m encouraged because defense groups continue to seek relief for those in prison—as in the cases of Albert Omenged Debelbot and Ashley Deone Debelbot in Georgia, Leo Ackley in Michigan, Jeffrey Havard in Mississippi, and many others, including but not limited to Brian Peixoto and Amanda Brumfield.
I hope the families and communities affected by these misguided accusations will keep speaking up, and that they’ll start connecting with others in the same position. I encourage anyone who has personal experience with the misdiagnoses of physical child abuse to look into the Protecting Innocent Families petition at http://bit.ly/InnocentFamilyPetition and its companion web site.
If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding shaken baby theory, please see the home page of this site.
Copyright 2015, Sue Luttner