Honoring victims' `heroes'

Award: The state's attorney recognizes those who help to break the cycle of violence and abuse.

April 22, 2005|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

When the 4-month-old girl came to Michael and Carol Clemmens, her arms, legs and pelvis were fractured.

For six months, the couple changed the child's bandages every day and cradled her as she descended into fretful sleep. When the girl's father was sentenced for abusing her, the foster parents testified on the infant's behalf.

"They loved her like their own," said Anne Arundel County victim advocate Cindy Haworth. "So different from the abuse she had suffered most of her life."

The little girl is now 2 1/2 and fully healthy, and Michael and Carol Clemmens have another foster child, the latest in a line of 13 abused children who have come into their Sherwood Forest home for months at a time over the past three years. After such stays, foster children are put up for adoption.

This week, the Clemmens family - 11-year-old Rose and 10-year-old Jimmy help with the foster children as well - joined four others in receiving awards from the Anne Arundel state's attorney's office for helping victims of violence and abuse. The office hands out the awards every year in conjunction with national Victims' Rights Week, which was celebrated April 10-16.

"These are people who, in spite of community pressure, come forward," said State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee. "They're often ignored but I think we ... should call them heroes."

Wednesday's ceremony at the county courthouse in Annapolis brought many in the audience to tears. Photos of homicide victims and those who have died in car accidents ringed the room, and speakers stood against a backdrop of commemorative quilts made by the families of such victims.

A procession of speakers praised the award recipients as people who did exceptional things without expecting praise or recognition.

Michael Clemmens, 49, works as the chief of pediatrics at Anne Arundel Medical Center. His wife is a social worker. He said that they more than most are aware of how many children across the county need safe and nurturing homes.

"We had decided we were done having our own natural kids, but we still wanted to have kids around the house," he said. "I see abused and neglected children on a regular basis, so I was aware of the need."

The children often show up shy at best and deeply frightened at worst, Carol Clemmens said. "You just have to meet them where they are," she said. "They come in with nothing, and you just have to let them know that they're going to be safe."

The state's attorney's office also honored two people who helped a battered woman leave her husband. The office withheld the identities of the pair because the man convicted of assaulting the woman could be released soon.

One of the pair was a friend who, against the battered woman's request, reported the pattern of abuse to the state's attorney. In an e-mail to prosecutors, the woman wrote that she made her battered friend call every day "just so I know she's alive."

The other person honored was the battered woman's boss, who allowed prosecutors to stage an intervention at his business. The man then gave his employee extended leave with pay and offered his vacation house as a shelter for her.

"He deserves a lot of credit for what he thought at the time was a small thing," said David H Cordle Sr., an investigator for the state's attorney and an Annapolis alderman. "This is a man you definitely want to have on your side if you're in trouble."

Robin Harting, the superintendent of the county detention center, received an award for her efforts to support correctional officers who have been assaulted by inmates. Harting has worked to get harsher sentences for inmates who attack guards and to pair each assaulted guard with a victim advocate in the state's attorney's office.

Nancy B. Hirshman, who directs the county's mediation program to help solve disputes outside of court, received the Warren B. Duckett Jr. Memorial Commitment to Justice Award.

When Duckett, who died last year, was state's attorney in the 1980s, he asked Hirshman to start the mediation program. "She finds so many solutions that the court couldn't come up with," Weathersbee said. "People need a way to resolve their disputes in an environment less frustrating than a courtroom."

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