A Bellingham man known for a contentious custody battle has been charged with threatening a Whatcom County judge, in a post he made on Facebook where he demanded his children back, “or else,” alongside a photo of himself holding what appeared to be a gun.
More than 2 ½ years into a bizarre and public child custody saga, Cleve Allen Goheen-Rengo, 26, aka Cleave Rengo, lost parental rights to his three young children in February, when Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis ruled he could no longer have contact with them, out of concern for their safety and welfare.
Goheen-Rengo made comments during the proceedings about how everyone involved in the case should “be in a box in the desert,” according to charging papers filed this week. He told the courtroom: “You should all be afraid of me;” “This all makes me pretty scary, doesn’t it?” He made repeated references to marksmanship, although he had been convicted of a felony and banned from owning guns a few weeks earlier, according to the charges. Montoya-Lewis took his odd behavior so seriously she acquired a gun for protection, and took lessons on how to use it.
Since then Goheen-Rengo has been living in southern Washington, according to court records that cite recent police reports. He posted an album of three photos on Facebook around 1 a.m. Tuesday, with the caption: “Return the Rengo Children NOW! Or Else.” One selfie shows Rengo in a black dirty zip-up hoodie holding a blurry object that appears to be a silver handgun. Another shows a photo negative of Rengo’s upper body, staring at the camera.
“Not much Else going to be able to do unless you are understood,” the post says. “Thank God for the Day which is a coming you can see God if you are pure in heart!”
In context, Montoya-Lewis took it as a death threat against her and her family. Sheriff’s deputies booked Goheen-Rengo into the Whatcom County Jail around 10 a.m. Thursday to face charges of felony harassment and intimidating a judge.
The back story of Goheen-Rengo’s fight with the courts began in 2014, when the Rengo family claimed – on advocacy websites like MedicalKidnap.com – their children were “kidnapped” by Child Protective Services because of their holistic beliefs and a choice to have a home birth. Outrage on social media made the story go viral across the country. However, state authorities said the case had nothing to do with home birth. Rather, the children were underweight, underfed and at risk of abuse because of alleged domestic violence in their Bellingham home.
Snopes.com, a popular site dedicated to confirming or dispelling urban legends, gave the kidnapping story a rating of “false.”
A Whatcom County court returned the children to their parents, with conditions, in December 2014. A dispute between Goheen-Rengo and the state dragged on, and in February this year he was convicted of felonies for trapping two caseworkers in an elevator, while berating them, at the end of a supervised visit at the courthouse. He’s appealing the convictions for two counts of unlawful imprisonment.
Weeks after the trial Montoya-Lewis ruled Goheen-Rengo had lost his parental rights. A case involving a fourth child is pending.
Formal charges of intimidating a judge were filed Wednesday. Detectives don’t know when the photo of Goheen-Rengo holding the object was taken, or whether it is a real pistol, a pellet gun, or something else. So far, prosecutors have not formally charged Goheen-Rengo with unlawful possession of a firearm.
Skagit County Superior Judge David Svaren set bail at $500,000 on Thursday in a Bellingham courtroom. Svaren ruled Goheen-Rengo, if able to post bond, can’t return to the courthouse unless he’s going to a scheduled hearing.
The Bellingham Herald reporter Kyle Mittan contributed to this article.