WASHINGTON, April 9, 2017 — ABC’s “20/20” may have sent a misleading tweet supporting their broadcast about the Rucki case.
In that conversation with investigator, Samantha denies that her father ever hit her. #ABC2020
— 20/20 (@ABC2020) March 26, 2017
“20/20” first ran a story on the Rucki case in April 2016 and re-ran the episode in March 2017. The tweet appears to have been part of a promotional campaign for that follow-up broadcast.
But in fact, in a police interview with Lakeville Police Detective Kelli Coughlin conducted in June 2016, Samantha Rucki said the opposite of what the tweet suggested.
“Did he ever push you, kick you, anything physical?” Detective Coughlin asked.
“Mm, hmm,” Samantha Rucki responded.
The ABC tweet is even more misleading, given that Samantha Rucki also told Detective Coughlin that her father was pressuring her into recanting prior allegations of abuse:
“They (her father and his sister) basically said I have to (go to the interview) and I have to be here and I have to recant everything I said and it’s going and that’s the way it’s gonna be- and they made me feel guilty about it and I started to cry.”
The “20/20” broadcast entitled “Footprints in the Snow” documented how the two Rucki girls, Samantha and Gianna, ran away from home and were hidden from April 2013-November 2015.
Even this show’s title was misleading, as weather tracking reports state that on April 19, 2013 — the day the girls ran — the area experienced less than an inch of snow, not enough to create the footprints the show suggested and far less than the blizzard-like conditions the video b-roll showed when they described the scene.
In this episode, the girls’ mother, who was eventually convicted of helping hide her daughters in violation of a court order granting her ex-husband, David Rucki, sole custody, said she hid her daughters because David Rucki was a violent man who abused his family.
David Rucki was only awarded sole custody after the trial judge, David Knutson, forced Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s attorney to conduct part of the custody trial handcuffed and strapped to a wheelchair, a fact known by 20/20 but not mentioned in their broadcast.
Rucki claimed his ex-wife manipulated their children into believing he was an abuser.
The show’s host, Elizabeth Vargas, suggested the allegations of abuse were uncorroborated.
“I’m asking you for the documentation which you assured us existed [of abuse] and we could find none of it.” Vargas asked in a confrontational manner.
But this question was misleading because, as this writer has documented, evidence that David Rucki was abusive is overwhelming and most of it was provided to “20/20” by Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and her attorney, Michelle MacDonald.
David Rucki was still serving his probation following his conviction for the 2014 road rage incident when his daughters were returned to him, another fact not mentioned in the “20/20” story.
Sean Dooley, the producer of the piece, acknowledged to this writer that they were aware of these police reports, but his criminal history was excluded entirely from the broadcast.
One police report provided to the program concerning Samantha’s thirteenth birthday party described how David Rucki chased after his daughter and then banged on the door of their home uncontrollably until police arrived:
“Sami said she was walking with her friends to that address (the Rucki home) for a birthday party when her dad drove up,” the police report from that day stated. “She said the group ran inside the house and locked the door behind them. She said her dad walked up to the house, opened the screen door, and started banging on the screen door. Sami said she is fearful of her dad because he has hurt her and her mom in the past and she does not want to have contact with him.”
According to the police report, this scene was witnessed by the couple’s oldest child, Nico. Nico then told 20/20 he’d never seen his father be violent with anyone in the family.
“20/20” did not mention this incident in their report.
Another police report also provided to “20/20” described how David Rucki threatened to kill his ex-wife on May 22, 2011. According to that police incident report
“David didn’t know Sandra’s friend was there and then said he was going to kill her, punch her and come after her for custody of the children. She didn’t feel he actually wanted to kill her, but thinks he said these things to frighten her.
“Sandra also mentioned David has been physical in the past. He has pushed and shoved her but she has declined to call the police because of fear of what he would do when he came back from jail.”
The incident report also stated. “Recently, David pulled the leg off the organ and, placed it on her neck, and tried to choke her.”
The friend mentioned, Kari Schmidt, was never contacted by “20/20” to verify this story, and “20/20” did not mention this incident in their report.
In another incident, a third party, who asked this reporter to remain anonymous, described how David Rucki told them he was going to hire the Hell’s Angels to rough his wife. This witness said “20/20” did not reach out to them to confirm the story and “20/20” failed to mention this incident in their report.
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki also provided evidence that nine different people — her five children, herself, their neighbors, and his in-laws — successfully took out a restraining order against David Rucki; David Rucki also repeatedly violated restraining orders.
The protective order was taken out by Sandra Grazzini-Rucki shortly after David Rucki threatened to kill her. His in-law also took out a restraining order after David Rucki threatened to kill him; the neighbors took out a restraining order after roughly a decade of confrontations (in one incident, David Rucki swore uncontrollably in front of two and three-year-olds); and a restraining order was taken out on behalf of his five children after David Rucki was caught staring into their home one evening after his ex-wife took out a restraining order.
None of this was mentioned in the episode.
In November 2012, Rucki was sentenced to two days in jail for repeated violations of Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s order for protection against her, and this too was not mentioned in the broadcast.
“20/20” only acknowledged that Sandra Grazzini-Rucki took out a restraining order and failed to mention that David Rucki violated these restraining orders in a serial manner.
Initially after the original broadcast, “20/20” this reporter with a near 700-word statement attempting to explain why none of these incidents were included in the show. But the producers, Sean Dooley and Beth Mullen, and the show’s host, Elizabeth Vargas, have declined all further follow up emails.
Emails to those three individuals regarding the latest tweet were left unreturned. An email to ABC president Channing Dungey about this tweet was also left unreturned.
“In that conversation with investigator, Samantha denies that her father ever hit her,” the tweet from March 21 stated.