Just before the weekend started, a man from Holden, Mass., walked up to the main door of the Keene, N.H. County Courthouse, doused himself with gasoline and lit a match.
He was pronounced dead on the scene. Authorities tried to wash away the fresh scorch marks, and for the next few days, journalist and authorities in New Hampshire have been attempted to piece together the story of how Thomas Ball, 58, went from being the father of three children to being the latest person to engage in self-immolation for a political cause.
Ball’s trouble began with the courts. On his Facebook page, he lists himself as the leader of the Central Massachusetts Chapter of the Fathers’ Rights Movement, and from all available evidence he was “embroiled in legal battles over how much he owed his ex-wife for their three children’s medical bills.” A court date was set for June 24th to settle these issues. According to Free Keene:
Thomas James Ball, born 2/21/53 and his wife at the time, Karen Louise Ball (maiden name Primiano), born 3/2/65 had begun divorce proceedings about a decade ago. It was alleged that Ball had committed domestic violence against his 4 year old daughter at the time, Melissa. Karen had called Monadnock Family Services after the incident and was allegedly told that if she did not report the incident to police, that she would be arrested for child abuse. She called Jaffrey PD out of fear of what the government people would do to her family (steal her kids if they were both arrested) and because of their mandatory arrest policy in domestic violence cases, Thomas was arrested. He was found not guilty of simple assault in Cheshire Superior Court, despite slapping his daughter multiple times and causing bleeding. The Jaffrey PD apparently admitted that pressing forward as a domestic violence case was a mistake. His wife’s testimony shows he did not have a history of violence. Thomas figured he’d get to see his kids again after the not guilty. He figured wrong. The court continued to press for counseling at Monadnock Family Services (MFS) prior to allowing Thomas unsupervised visits with his kids. Of course, this is a huge racket for MFS, who likely is paid for every one of the cases they are sent by the court, either by the people involved or by the state of NH.
Thomas claimed Monadnock Family Services misinformed Karen when she was told that she better call the police or she’d be arrested for child abuse. He outlines the history of the case in question in his lawsuit against MFS from 2006. Here’s the PDF of his claims. The court dismissed the case against MFS primarily on a statute of limitations technicality.
Thomas’ odyssey with Cheshire superior court’s “justice” system stretched for an entire decade of his life, and despite making child support payments and having unsupervised visitation with his young son, he was unable to have unsupervised visitation with his two daughters, not because he was considered a danger, but because he refused to attend counseling as ordered by the court. Why did he refuse? Because the location of the counseling was to be Monadnock Family Services, the very same agency that he believed was responsible for escalating the situation and intimidating Karen Ball into calling the police in the first place. He wanted the decision on unsupervised visits to be made by the court, but the court kept passing the buck to MFS, therefore he did not participate, as he felt the case worker had a vendetta against him, as she allegedly refused to meet with him until he “changed his attitude”.
In 2009 he lost his job and was unable to continue making child support payments. As a result, Karen filed for a hearing on contempt of court, which the court scheduled for 6/24, next Friday.
Apparently, rather than take his fate to the court, Ball decided to end his own life in a dramatic fashion. But before he died, he sent a “manifesto,” if you will, or a last letter to the Keene Sentinel newspaper. The letter finally sheds light on a situation the tiny New Hampshire town has been grappling to understand.
The letter depicts a man pushed to the brink by a system he had little control over, a system which he felt was unjust, a system that was certainly not looking out for his best interests.
It also depicts a man who seems slightly unbalanced, the type of man that would rather set himself on fire and die rather than figure out a way to pay his wife the $3,000 he owed her for child support.
The letter outlines Ball’s struggles with his family, involving a divorce and restraining orders, as well as his dissatisfaction with the way he had been dealt with by courts and police officers following an arrest in April of 2001, which is referenced above when Ball slapped his four-year-old daughter after she wouldn’t stop licking his hand. That arrest seemed to be the tipping point for everything that happened in Ball’s life afterwards.
Here’s an excerpt of that letter.
This country is run by idiots.
The police sergeant Freyer screwed this up from the get go. When I got the Court Complaint form the box was checked that said Domestic Violence Related. I could not believe that slapping your child was domestic violence. So I looked up the law. Minor custodial children are exempted. Apparently, 93% of American parents still spank, slap or pinch their children. To this day I still wonder if Freyer would have made this arrest if it had been the mother that had slapped the child.
Labeling someone’s action as domestic violence in American in the 21st century is akin to labeling someone a Jew in Germany in the 1930′s. The entire legal weight of the state is coming down on him. But I consider myself lucky. My family was destroyed. But that poor bastard in Germany had his family literally annihilated.
Arrests are mandatory for the police in New Hampshire for domestic violence. That is not law. That is police department policy. Laws come from the Legislature and the Governor’s office together. God only knows where these policies come from. The State’s Attorney General also has a mandatory arrest protocol for domestic violence. I call these policies, procedures and protocols The Second Set of Books. You never cover the Second Set of Books your junior year in high school. That because we are not suppose to have a Second Set of Books. This is America-we have the rule of law.
We’d reprint the entire letter, but it is long. Like Tolstoy on a bender long. But it’s worth reading simply because if Thomas Ball was willing to set himself on fire in the name of father’s rights and a confusing court system, then it’s probably a conversation that this society needs to have.
It also raises the importance of mental health check-ups, because if Ball was seeing the right doctors or therapists, it’s possible this tragedy could have been avoided. It’s possible Ball might have felt he had other options to fix his crummy situation aside from the dramatic one he chose.
There is nothing more tragic than a person that is given the slight push they need to do something so drastic, so incredibly full of hate for themselves, their situation, and a government bureaucracy that was probably over-stepping in the name of doing their jobs.
(image courtesy of Free Keene’s Ian Freeman)