Stabbed by Husband, County Cuts Her Benefits

Adam Klasfeld

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (CN) — After an impoverished woman fled her Pennsylvania home to escape a husband who stabbed her, an upstate New York county punished her and her children again, by barring her from receiving food stamps for 10 years, because she applied for them in two states.

Esther Montes sued New York’s Broome County, its commissioner of Social Services and a  Social Services investigator in Federal Court on Friday.

“Ms. Montes fled Pennsylvania and traveled to New York to start a new life with her children and escape the domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband,” the lawsuit states. “Unfortunately, he managed to find her, enter her residence, and brutally stab her in front of their children. While he sits in a prison serving a 10-year sentence for his crime, Ms. Montes is serving a 10-year sentence of another kind due to the illegal actions of Broome County Department of Social Services (BCDSS).”

More than three years ago, Montes was living in the picturesque city of Bethlehem, Pa., the state’s third-largest metropolis, in the center of Lehigh Valley, ranked by Money magazine as one of the “Top 100 Best Places to Live.”  But Montes put the city in her rear-view mirror after Jan. 27, 2013, when her husband Pedro Garcia sharpened a knife in their home in a “threatening manner.”

“Fearing not only for her life but the lives of her two small children, she fled her home in Bethlehem, Pa. and traveled to her sister’s home in Endicott, N.Y.,” the complaint states.

Montes says applied for temporary assistance, medical assistance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in Broome County. She disclosed on the forms that Spanish was her primary language, and that she had received public benefits in Pennsylvania. Then the horror returned.

“During the early hours of March 27, 2013, screams awakened Ms. Montes. She awoke to find Pedro Garcia armed with a knife and standing over her. Mr. Garcia stabbed her repeatedly with a knife.”

Montes still needs a cane to walk, after being hospitalized for stab wounds in her right leg. Her 13-year-old daughter watched the attack. Forced again, to the nearby city of Binghamton, Montes says Broome County authorities added insult to her injuries in an interrogation at the end of the year.

The complaint takes particular aim at Broome County Social Services investigator Eric Calvasina, claiming he blamed her for trying to cheat the system, though he interviewed her without an interpreter.

“Investigator Calvasina made no effort to investigate whether Ms. Montes’s actions were intentional; instead, he presumed her guilt,” the complaint states.

Montes wants her SNAP benefits reinstated and compensatory damages for violations of civil rights and due process. Her attorney Christopher Smith, with Legal Services of Central New York, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. Neither did the Broome County Law Department.