October 1, 2011

Couple's legal troubles led to state taking son

Second in a three-part series.

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Russell and Eleanor Handler adopted a boy in 1999 they named David.

Photo courtesy of Russell and Eleanor Handler

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This is the second installment of a three-part story about a Northport couple's battle with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. In October 2007, the department terminated Russell and Eleanor Handlers' parental rights to their son, David.

In 1999, the Maine Adoption Placement Service reported the Handlers had a loving, stable relationship, a wealth of resources and a secure, nurturing environment. Later that year, the Handlers adopted David.

In 2002, though, their life as a family began to unravel publicly.

In August 2005, Russell Handler was accused of choking his wife, Eleanor, and ordering her to climb naked into a Dumpster outside their Northport home.

Russell was reportedly furious that Eleanor had thrown away toiletries without his permission and he demanded that she shower and leave the house before David, their 6-year-old son, awoke.

Eleanor at the time described to police how Russell had throttled her, banged her head on the floor, broke her glasses and ordered her to get into the Dumpster to retrieve the toiletries. A third party reportedly helped Eleanor climb out.

It was Russell's third arrest since he and Eleanor adopted David in 1999.

In July 2002, Russell, then 53, struck a parked car in Belfast and left the scene. A police officer responding to the accident said he saw Russell continue to drive, strike a pedestrian and keep going.

Russell pleaded no contest to failing to make an accident report in 2003 and paid a $250 fine. Russell's attorney at the time said the 2002 incident involved his medical condition -- Russell was fighting tonsil cancer.

In early 2005, Russell faced a felony charge alleging he wrote a bad $8,000 check to a building supply store in Belfast. Eleanor said the check bounced because she had just drained the couple's accounts after a mental breakdown.

After the Dumpster incident in 2005, Eleanor filed for a protection order against Russell on her behalf and David's. According to the filing, Eleanor said she was scared of Russell because he had hit her numerous times in front of their son.

Some 84 firearms -- including handguns, rifles and shotguns -- were removed from the Handler home because of the protective order.

On Oct. 3, 2005, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services filed a child protection order alleging David was in jeopardy because of "the father's abusive behavior and the mother's failure to protect the child from abuse."

Five months later, Russell was arrested in New York for violating terms of the order.

The arrest came after Eleanor drove with David from Maine to Long Island to visit David's paternal grandmother at Russell's family's estate; Russell was also staying there.

During that visit, Russell and Eleanor decided to enroll David in the John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Kings Point, N.Y.

A DHHS caseworker was alerted the Handlers were together and reported the protection order violation to law enforcement.

Bryant White, then a detective with the Waldo County Sheriff's Office, issued a warrant for Russell's arrest. White wrote that on Feb. 28, 2006, Russell picked up David from the school and "photographed all the exits."

A few days later, March 2, 2006, the Kings Point Police Department took custody of David at the school for DHHS.

David would eventually be returned to Eleanor, while Russell was jailed for violating the order; he remained there until his trial for assault.

Today, Eleanor said she and Russell were trying to do what was best for David by enrolling him in an outstanding school.

Russell echoed that. "(Eleanor) comes to me and says, 'Let's put him in school.' They made it out that we were trying to steal the child," he said. "I thought the protection order was only in Maine. I had no idea we were doing anything wrong."

Witness to assault

In August 2006, Russell went on trial for assaulting Eleanor.

During the proceedings, Eleanor's former therapist, Sandra Flewelling, testified that she witnessed Russell strangling his wife in 2004. She said Eleanor, bleeding from the mouth, had arrived late for an appointment and Russell arrived a short time later.

(Continued on page 2)

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