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New DCYF Committee Puts Focus on Due Process for Parents

With the state riveted by the tragic and gruesome details coming out in the Harmony Montgomery murder trial, a child who was failed by the Division of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF), a new legislative special committee is getting started.

But the House Special Committee on the Division for Children, Youth and Families, announced Wednesday by Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry), isn’t looking at how to better protect children like Harmony who’ve fallen through the cracks. Instead, according to an announcement from the speaker’s office, the bipartisan committee “is charged with considering all matters on due process and practices concerning DCYF.”

The news creates a jarring juxtaposition with the news from the Manchester courtroom where Adam Montgomery is on trial for allegedly murdering his 5-year-old daughter, Harmony, and then hiding her body for months before he threw out her remains. It’s a terrible story that might have played out differently, critics say, if DCYF child protective policies had been more assertive.

Adam Montgomery’s uncle, Kevin Montgomery, called DCYF in July 2019 to report Harmony had been assaulted. According to testimony at the trial, Adam Montgomery gave his child a back eye so severe it changed the profile of her face.

“I beat the dog sh*t out of her,” Adam Montgomery allegedly told his uncle.

Former Child Protection staffer Demetrios Tsaros was assigned to investigate the abuse report, and he testified this week he went out to the Manchester home to make contact on July 29. As he was getting to the home, Tsaros said he saw Adam Montgomery and Harmony get into a car and drive away.

Tsaros guessed he was 30 to 40 feet away from Adam Montgomery and Harmony when he saw them for a matter of seconds.

Tsaros was able to get Adam Montgomery on the phone three days later and set up an appointment to see the girl a week out, Tsaros testified. Adam Montgomery claimed the children in the home were sick and could not be seen on Aug. 1.

By the time Tsaros was finally in the same room as Harmony, it was Aug. 7, and she had no black eye. Tsaros testified the girl had a red mark on her face and some redness in one of her eyes. Adam Montgomery claims the eye injury was from a play-related accident with her step-brothers.

Adam Montgomery is accused of beating Harmony to death months later, on Dec. 7, 2019. Tsaros ended up leaving DCYF in 2021 and is now a postal worker.

The new committee chair, Rep. Leah Cushman (R-Weare), has long championed parents who claim their constitutional rights were violated by DCYF. Last year, she solicited stories to help foster that case for the committee.

“Have you or someone you know had your constitutional rights of due process violated by the Department of Children and Family Services?” Cushman wrote on Facebook. “I have received many such anecdotes from the people and would like to help. In order to help, I need your stories.”

Cushman did not respond to calls and a text seeking comment, nor did other members named to the committee, like Rep. Lucy Weber (D-Walpole), Rep. Pat Long (D-Manchester), or Rep. Alicia Gregg (D-Nashua). 

Cushman did provide a written statement in Packard’s press release, in which she does not make any specific allegations that any parents are having their due process rights, or any other rights, violated by DCYF. 

“As representatives, we are here to listen to the issues our constituents face and, when possible, find solutions to mitigate their concerns. In this case, our committee is tasked with the important, non-partisan job of identifying – if any – deficiencies within the DCYF system as it relates to due process,” Cushman stated. “We will make recommendations to correct any deficiencies found, and if there are none, we will clarify that and see what needs to be done to alleviate the concerns raised.”

Packard’s announcement states the committee will hold hearings, gather testimony, and make recommendations for possible legislation.  

Hiding in Plain Sight: Mass Murderer Illegal Alien Worked as Roofer in NH

The illegal immigrant convicted of murdering 11 people in the infamous 2015 Curio Massacre in Brazil lived as an average Granite Stater when he was arrested at his roofing job in Rye earlier this month.

“He’s somebody who was definitely in hiding. He didn’t want to be found,” said Rye Police Chief Kevin Walsh.

Federal authorities confirmed to NHJournal that Antonio Jose De Abreu Vidal Filho, 29, was in the country illegally at the time of his arrest. The former military police officer entered the country legally when he fled prosecution in his home country but illegally overstayed his visa, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said.

“Antonio Jose De Abreu Vidal Filho entered the U.S. lawfully in 2019 but did not depart according to the terms of his admittance. He will remain in ICE custody pending a hearing before a federal immigration judge,” the spokesman said.

Meaning he lived illegally in the U.S. for some eight years, even as Brazil’s government was prosecuting him in absentia for a high-profile crime.

Filho was arrested last week by federal agents who had tracked him from Brazil to New Hampshire. Known as Tony Vidal or Tony Filho, he lived in Merrimack and worked as a roofer. 

At the job site in Rye, no one suspected “Tony” was a convicted killer sentenced to 276 years in prison for the torture and murders he committed as a member of the Brazilian military state police.

“We had no clue. The guy seemed like a nice guy, made chit chat,” Sammy Johnson, a carpenter working on the same house as Filho, told Boston’s 25 News.

The morning of the arrest, Johnson was shocked when a flashbang device exploded, and a large truck sped up to the house carrying armed agents who quickly started barking orders. Within moments, they had Filho in custody, Johnson said. Johnson never suspected the roofer was a wanted criminal.

“You have no clue, no clue in this day and age, and how he got into New Hampshire,” Johnson said.

Walsh insisted that although Rye police proactively patrol the wealthy seaside community for traffic violations and speeding, they never had any contact with Filho during the months he worked construction. If Filho was never stopped, it may have been because he was trying to avoid police attention.

“This is a guy who followed every motor vehicle law. This is a guy who did not want to be found,” Walsh said.

What Fihlo’s employer knew about the killer’s identity is another unknown. Employers are supposed to check immigration status for hires, but Walsh said there are many ways around that requirement in the contracting world. He said that many builders tend to look the other way with the tight labor market.

“If a guy shows up on time and does a full day’s work, a lot of places don’t ask many questions,” Walsh said.

New Hampshire Department of Labor Deputy Commissioner Rudolph Ogden said if Filho were working as a subcontractor, a common practice in the building trades, he would not be considered an employee. In that case, contractors are under no obligation to check the immigration status of subcontractors. Despite the apprehension of an illegal worker just days ago, the Department of Labor is not currently investigating the businesses involved in the construction site where Filho was arrested.

Michael Garrity, communications director for the New Hampshire Department of Justice, referred all questions to ICE.

Agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, or ERO, approached Walsh about their planned arrest of Filho before Monday’s raid. The agents had been watching Filho at different locations in the state and determined the safest place to get him was in Rye, Walsh said.

“They felt this was the best location,” Walsh said.

The arrest went down without any incident or violence on Filho’s part, Walsh said.

Agent John Mohan declined to comment on the arrest.

It was unclear how long Filho has been in the Granite State. He reportedly fled Brazil in 2019, taking his family to the United States after deserting his post in the military police. 

According to a statement from ICE, Filho was convicted along with three other military state police officers of 11 murders plus charges of attempted murder and physical and mental torture for his role in the 2015 massacre in the Curio neighborhood in Fortaleza.

El Globo, a Brazilian news outlet, reported the murders had been retaliation for the death of a Brazilian police officer in Fortaleza. Four of the 11 people murdered were teens under the age of 18, and three were between 18 and 19, according to El Globo.

Once he was convicted this summer, Filho became the subject of a Red Notice issued by Interpol, the international police organization that combines the efforts of police in 195 countries around the world. Interpol Red Notices serve as international wanted notices on fugitives who have fled prosecution or escaped from prison.

Gov. Chris Sununu acknowledged that “not all illegal immigrants are mass murderers,” of course. But he said the incident was yet another reminder of the need to step up U.S. border enforcement, including at New Hampshire’s northern border, where illegal crossings have soared by more than 800 percent.

Sununu is imploring the Biden administration and the Democrats in the federal delegation to restore funding for state support of border enforcement stripped after Joe Biden was elected president. In 2018, New Hampshire received nearly $4 million from the Trump administration through Operation Stone Garden to secure the northern border, but those funds were slashed to $180,000 by the Biden administration in 2022 and $200,000 in 2023.

Biden’s cuts to border security go deeper, however. Biden has been steadily cutting funding across the board. The proposed 2024 budget includes another cut to the number of ICE detention facilities even as the number of illegal immigrant apprehensions reaches record highs.