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Joe Ullrich 813-944-3024
Crime and Mental Health – Kenny Tong Sentenced To 15 Years
November 4, 2015, St Augustine, Fl.: Kenny Tong appeared before Judge Michael Traynor in the Richard O. Watson Judicial Center in St. Augustine, Florida on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 and was sentenced to fifteen-years. He was convicted of Aggravated Battery (Deadly Weapon), DUI Causing Serious Bodily Injury to Another and Leaving Scene of Crash with Injury. The charges stem from an incident that occurred in the early morning of November 1, 2014.
Kenny was too young to remember his first encounter with the namesake of the court house. He was just two years old when Judge Richard O. Watson signed an order preventing his father, Dean, from visitation with his two children. At the time, Dean Tong was involved in a contentious divorce and custody battle with Kenny’s mother. She falsely accused Dean of sexually abusing his then three-year old daughter, Kenny’s sister.
It was a devastating blow to the young father and the full ramifications of her false allegation are still being felt today. It took Dean ten years and over one-hundred and fifty thousand dollars in attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, psychological testing and court fees to finally clear his name. Dean learned so much from his experiences that he was able to start a boutique consulting/expert witness firm advising other parents and their attorneys – in contentious divorces and child custody battles.
But all of his efforts did not draw him closer to his own children. Because of Judge Watson’s court order, it wasn’t until Kenny reached six years-old that he was able to visit with his father without a court approved supervisor. And even then, it was for only four hours a week; hardly enough time for a concerned and dedicated part-time dad to put his parenting fingerprints on his needing children.
Meanwhile, Kenny and his sister were exposed to a revolving door of men with questionable morals and character courting their mother, Carlotta. Growing up the kids had one biological father and two stepfathers; none of which were in the children’s lives for more than five years. Kenny’s mother married an ex-convict who assaulted a police officer – twice. Carlotta was deemed an unfit mother by Judge Watson when Kenny was five; yet Watson refused to change his ruling on Dean’s visitation privileges. There is no telling what the impact all of this had on Kenny and his sister’s development.
The effect of family instability and parental conflict on the development of young children is well documented. Issues with anxiety, sadness, insecurity and excessive anger in children and young adults from divorced families have been reported in a number of studies (Strohschein, 2005; Kessler, Davis, & Kendler, 1997 & Nomura, Wickramaratne, Warner, Mufson & Weissman, 2002). Moreover, “underlying the research on the effects of union instability is the concept that children and their parents or parent-figures form a functioning family system, and repeated disruptions to that system, caused by either the addition or departure of a parent’s partner or spouse, may lead to behaviors with potentially deleterious long-term consequences. We expect that exposure to repeated conflict in multiple unions may have a compounding negative effect on children’s development” (Fomby and Osborne, Conflict and Instability for Young Children).
Friends and family members of Kenny Tong say he was very much affected by his parents divorce and subsequent lack of family structure; even more so than his sister. His behavior led to average grades in high school and a couple of suspensions. He dropped out of technical school after just one year and began working manual labor jobs. There was also little doubt that Kenny harbored anger; his friends often called him a hot head.
Kenny Tong was devastated when his mother died. He was only twenty-one when she passed. His close bond with his mother began early in life like most kids his age and in his position. She was his rock and provided what little stability he had in life.
Shortly after his mother passed Kenny faced his own near death experience. It was in a pool hall in St. Augustine, Fl, where the then twenty-four year-old Tong found himself in a confrontation that escalated into a full blown brawl. Kenny was cut and stabbed repeatedly in the back. The wounds were near fatal. He spent over a week recuperating in a level one trauma hospital. It wasn’t until after Kenny was incarcerated that he was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of that incident.
People close to Tong wonder just how much of a role PTSD combined with alcohol and closed head injury played in his altercation on the early morning of November 1, 2014. After leaving a bar Kenny got into a verbal confrontation with two women. Within a few seconds several men exiting a bar attacked him – beat him up badly. Tong, suffering from a concussion, was able to get away from his attackers and into his vehicle. Kevin Kelshaw, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman told Jacksonville.com that: “In an attempt to get away from people assaulting him, he (Tong) got into his pickup and started driving back and forth in the parking lot.” Unbeknownst to Kenny and his passenger, they had run over one of the women. She survived her injuries but continues to deal with the physical and psychological ramifications of the same.
On Tuesday, Kenny’s future was squarely in the hands of Judge Traynor, but his fate was cast long ago. Much less was known about the impact of fatherlessness thirty-years ago – when Judge Watson severely limited Kenny’s father’s visitation and custody privileges – compared to what we know today. According from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average. The Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency reports that the more absent the father, the higher the rates of violent crime. The Annals of Psychotherapy and Integrative Health states that children from fatherless homes are 20 times more likely to end up in prison as compared to children living in a healthy two parent household.
This is a growing problem in America today. According to the 2011 Census, twenty-four million American children—one in three—are growing up in homes without their biological fathers. Moreover, despite improvements in children’s standard of living when custodial mothers remarry, children in stepfather families are no better off on most emotional and behavioral indicators than are children in single-mother households (Amato, 2010; Sweeney, 2010).
Statistics clearly reveal that children’s family lives are more unstable than they once were. No one is suggesting that single-moms aren’t good enough; but more importantly, they’re often not enough. Researchers believe the growing trend of fatherlessness could have grave implications for society. Biological fathers are important for the development in a child’s physical, emotional and behavioral health. If this trend continues to grow, it has been suggested that stories such as Kenny’s will become more commonplace.
Unfortunately, America is ill-suited to handle the emotional instability in adults like Kenny that were brought on by a fatherless childhood. Mental health is looked upon as less real or legitimate condition that heart disease or other physical ailments. Yet 50% of adults experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. Allen Frances, Professor Emeritus, Duke University says: “Psychiatry’s dirty secret is that if you had a severe mental illness requiring hospital care in 1900, you’d be better looked after than you are today.”
There are barriers to effective mental health care, not the least of which is the negative stigma it has been given by society. Too often people who need care the most are left to sink or swim on their own. It just seems as though the most widely proscribed treatment for mental health issues in America is incarceration in a correctional facility. In a recent article printed in the Washington Post, “In a survey of individual states, the Treatment Advocacy Center found that in 44 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the largest prison or jail held more people with serious mental illness than the largest state psychiatric hospital.”
There are bigger implications to Kenny Tong’s sentence than just the time he’ll spend behind bars. Certainly Tong has committed a crime. He made a bad choice and physically harmed another person. How much of the combination of his emotional state due to a fatherless childhood, PTSD, alcohol and brain concussion went into Kenny making that bad choice was determined by the judge and not a mental health specialist. With the system being what it is, Tong – who is indigent by Florida State standards and could not afford a dream team defense – will spend the next fifteen years in prison; a place where he will not be receiving adequate care for what led him to make the bad choice that put him in jail in the first place.
We as a society – each and every one of us individually – has to decide if we are going to continue to ignore the cost, pain, suffering and death of innocent people that mental health issues bring – not only to the one’s affected but also people around them – and continue to incarcerate people afflicted by a treatable disease or are we going to effect change that will help these people before the cost, pain, suffering and death occurs. This is what is truly at stake. At what point do we accept that hundreds of thousands of children from fatherless homes have emotional issues, just like Kenny Tong, that can lead to a bad choice potentially hurting innocent Americans. We read about the heinous crimes committed by children of fatherless homes in the headlines everyday. When do we accept that something needs to change?
Tong was sentenced at the Richard O. Watson Judicial Center in St. Augustine, Florida. Judge Watson had a far greater impact on Kenny Tong’s life than he could have possibly understood thirty-years ago when denying his biological father appropriate visitation and child custody rights. We now know how important both a mother’s and father’s roles are in the development of children. Recently Kenny wrote a letter to his father wondering how he might have turned out had Judge Watson allowed his dad more time to parent him. We’ll never know for sure what that outcome would be; but we do know for certain the outcome of the well intended choice Judge Watson made.
Dean Tong is available for interviews. To book an interview or for more information please contact:
Omni Publicity And Public Relations Group/Omni Experts
CREDENTIALS: Dean Tong, MSc. Child Forensic Studies, is a Forensic Trial Consultant and has been retained by parents and attorneys in contentious child abuse and custody cases from all 50 states and Canada. The author of Elusive Innocence: Survival Guide for the Falsely Accused, Tong is a recognized expert in cognitive child developmental psychology in every county in Florida (www.justiceadmin.org). He has appeared on over 2000 radio broadcasts and Dr. Phil, CBS 48 Hours, ABC Primetime Thursday, CNN, Court-TV, MSNBC, Nancy Grace, FOX News Channel and Dateline. Tong’s web site www.abuse-excuse.com has been on the internet since 1997 and is approaching 900K hits. Tong has been retained as a consultant or expert witness in high-conflict child custody cases including child sex abuse-related matters from all 50 states.
Dean Tong is also recognized by Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_Tong.