Suing Nanny: When Parents Try To Use the Law 032812
A Fringe Analysis and Discussion
Not one family in a thousand is able to sue the government for actions taken in violation of their civil rights.
Four such cases are representative of the difficulties families have. The first is the Laudermilk case, in which a family stood in their door way and resisted entry to the house by a social worker and cops for forty minutes. The second is the Wendrow case, in which the parents of a severally autistic daughter were jailed on evidence produced by a “facilitated communicator” typing for the child. The third case was reported in the Prospect last week and involves Bram and Walsh, parents who had their children seized by Butte County Drug Interdiction officers and social workers. A legal medical grow provided the reason for the bust, and the presence of the grow was assumed to put the children at risk. The last are claims against Sierra County by a local family in which it is alleged representatives of Sierra County falsified information in order to keep a family under court supervision for longer than allowed by law, and so illegally intruding into the family.
A very brief review of these cases will show that, even when the family is wealthy, or has the support of legal organizations, it is very difficult, I will suggest far too difficult, to prevail against a system which is loaded heavily in favor of the government itself.
The Laudermilks live in Mariposa County Arizona, home of the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio. According to court documents, the local child protective agency received an anonymous tip that the house was recently owner-built and electrical outlets were uncovered, potentially endangering the children. The family received a card in the door from an investigator a few days later, and assumed that was the end of the issue. However, six weeks later two social workers arrived at the door and insisted they be allowed to see the children. The mother produced the children and allowed them to be inspected by the social workers, but steadfastly refused to allow the social workers to inspect the home. The social workers called cops; eventually 6 cops showed up, ready to help take the children, including, reportedly, an administrative level cop who said at the site that the allegation didn’t warrant removing the kids. Still, the social workers and cops threatened the family with removing the five kids. Eventually, the mother allowed the social workers in. They inspected the home, which county records show had a certificate of completion, and found nothing dangerous. The family contacted the Home School Legal Defense Association, and a law suit was filed alleging that the social workers and cops had exceeded their authority in forcing their way into the home. That suit was upheld by a US District Court but on appeal the Appellate Court determined that the cops were within their right to expect the Laudermilks to allow a search without a search warrant.
Defendant Rhodes allegedly stated that Defendants Cash and Cramer did not need a search warrant or a court order to search Plaintiffs' home and that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to CPS when investigating reported child neglect.
The appeal did not affect the judge’s ruling on the social workers, and it was not published. The Laudermilks had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court but SCOTUS declined to hear the case in favor of much richer political meat in the Healthcare case. The Laudermilks and all American families have so far been denied assurance of their 4th Amendment right to be safe and unmolested in their homes. More on Laudermilk HERE
The Wendrow case involves parents of a profoundly mentally handicapped teenaged daughter living in Oakland County, Wisconsin. The child is mute and has never communicated, but a “communication facilitator”, who guides the child’s hands over a keyboard, produced “evidence” that the child was being sexually molested by her parents. The male parent was jailed for 80 days; the female parent was electronically tethered and both teenaged children were placed in foster care. A gynecological exam of the girl at the time showed no evidence of sexual abuse. Eventually it was determined that the allegations were unfounded and the family was allowed to reunite. The family attempted to sue the school, who first reported the abuse even though the “facilitated” communication was unreliable. They also sued various government agents but most of those claims were denied because of the very special immunity which paid public screwups are granted in such cases. The case continues on behalf of the daughter but most likely it will end with no consequences for government actors.
Bram and Walsh are parents of two children, at the time of the arrest, they were newborn and not quite 16 months. In September, 2011 the couple were raided by county drug cops, even though just weeks before deputies had visited on a “compliance check” (not legal in Arizona or California for medical marijuana patients) and been told everything was fine. The couple was charged with illegal growing, manufacture of drugs (honey oil) and a felon in possession of ammunition, a single, old shotgun shell. The couple was charged with neglect, jailed and the children put in foster care for four months. Among the complaints of cops are that the children were home birthed and the parents were not accepting of traditional medicine.
The couple eventually came to the attention of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Women’s Alliance which took up the case and organized representation and public awareness.
Charges were dropped and the children were finally returned home, though neglect charges have been refilled as of March 2012. Read more here.http://www.patientsforfulllegalization.org/press-releases/tag/butte-county
The Sierra County case involves a family who was brought into the system on an allegation of neglect. Under the meaning of the law, “neglect” doesn’t mean dirty kids, or a messy house, nor is drug or alcohol use itself sufficient for “neglect”. The law initially intended that the child should suffer real danger as a consequence of neglect. So, knives lying about the house would be dangerous for a toddler, but not for a teenager. Likewise, parents who don’t make dinner for young children might meet the requirement of the law, but not the parent of older kids as long as there is food and a microwave. The children in the local case were older children during the original intervention.
The court documents indicate that the family was the subject of accidental or intentional fraud which violated the law and so their civil right to be left alone by the government, to the detriment of the family.
1. Plaintiffs allege that the continuing dependency status of C1. And C2 was accompanied and caused by said defendants malicious intent, gross recklessness, and deliberate indifference to the familial rights or plaintiffs, and manifested in, but not limited to, the complete failure or refusal of defendants to reasonably investigate the circumstances of the family and the statements made by Social Worker JEAN NEWFARMER FLETCHER (hereinafter SW FLETCHER), Plaintiff minors, (C1) and (C2). and their mother (P) of failing or refusing to report and/or follow upon any of the information provided by SW FLETCHER, intentionally withholding exculpatory or contradictory information obtained from the parent and other sources, including SW FLETCHER related to the allegations in the status review reports submitted to the court, and in fabricating, stating out of context or in an otherwise intentionally misleading partial and/or incomplete manner relating the statements of Plaintiffs and circumstances surrounding the obtaining of the statements of Plaintiffs and others in an effort to mislead the court and with deliberate indifference to the familial rights and bonds of the plaintiffs, maintain (C1) and (C2) in the care, custody, and control of COUNTY/CPS. (From the claim.)
The case began to take on the look of retribution when local media reported on the situation and an experienced social worker at the agency prepared to release the family to be over-ruled by her supervisor. A claim was filed and the social worker filed a separate but related claim for hostile workplace. Both alleged fraud on the part of CWS staff including then Director Dr. Carol Roberts, fraud which continued to entangle the family long past legal time.
Eventually the suit was not pursued; sources close to the issue have said that as it was not possible to get punitive damages from the county there was no monetary reason to pursue the case; it was not possible to verify this, but it seems right. The system protects even legally poor workers and cops except in the most egregious situations.
The conclusion is a “victory” for Sierra County but a defeat for the families of Sierra County, in that now we have no way of knowing whether CWS is conducting itself legally or not, and a pretty clear indication that if they are not, very little can be done about it; we are at the mercy of a secretive “civil” legal fiction.
However, the Board of Supervisors, the one body which might have influence over a county CWS agency, has accepted the resignation of Roberts, and hired a more professional Director. The awareness, willingness to follow the law, and control over staff of the director is the best way to prevent cases such as those, above.
There are threads running in common through the four cases, threads which I think are indicative of a real and meaningful deterioration of the value of the family. The first is a complete and intentional ignorance of larger social context on the part of social workers, cops and other bureaucrats involved in the intervention and disposition of families. The second is an ignorance on the part of the general public, nurtured and maintained by an “ain’t it awfull” approach to child wellbeing by the media. The third is the culture of “child protection” which has arisen owing to the natural tendency of bureaucrats to protect the agency and their jobs and increase their purview, and the fertile soil which public ignorance and well-meaning represents for such growth.
The government, when dealing with individuals, is incapable of seeing social context; the law is intended, and brags itself to be, above individuals in its view, seeing all people as “equal”. Even social work, a well-organized and legally represented “discipline” once recognized as the bastard child of, and still confused with, sociology, doesn’t do an adequate job of taking in society as context or interpreting it in the lives of clients. Lacking a larger picture, since that level of analysis is beyond the scope of their purview, participants are left with little else to do but identify the cause as the individual parent or family. The agency generally attempts to re-socialize the family to seem more middle class, in the fervent but unfounded hope and belief that they can return one family to the mainstream without dislodging another.
The “public” is a collective entity, and in truth, a relatively few people, particularly on Facebook or Twitter, are able to make it seem like a groundswell of support for nanny government programs particularly for children. Those who recall the heartbreaking story of JonBenet Ramsey are likely to remember the relentless images constantly appearing in the press, and media threw iconic photos of the murdered girl into the insatiable maw of the “public”. Such stories stir our desire to protect children, a desire that all children have not just a safe life, but a happy, productive life.
This sentiment, the desire to do “good”, to provide the best, to somehow “middle class” everyone by making them look right, hold proper attitudes, value the right things and so on, is culturally based, and it ignores the structural nature of society. There aren’t enough good jobs for everyone to be middle class; not everyone needs to value reading or education; it won’t change life much for many people. The realities of life mean that middle class values won’t work for everyone. The essence of individual liberty is that one can be different, can be satisfied to seem inferior to social betters. In short, part of the guarantee of liberty is that each finds her or his own life, and the reality of life is that sometimes they aren’t pleasant.
The desire to do good is also a small motivation for the nanny bureaucrat, whether cop or social worker or teacher or judge. These professionals often share culture, and the manifest purpose of the entire system is for the good of the child. The government uses its police powers under “Parens Patriae”, the 16th Century notion that the king, or at least the government, is the parent of everyone in the nation. The state moves against the parent for the good of the child, because the child can’t protect itself and the government takes final responsibility, is finally the parent of children, of the mad, and of the decrepit. It’s an idea directly at odds with the idea of the person as an individual agent, endowed by his Creator with genius or madness, with great parents or crappy ones.
In the hands of the nanny bureaucrat, the desire to protect children becomes the help of a bureaucrat. The more the federal government has tied funding to results, the more it requires service providers to document and quantify the qualities of clients, the more bureaucratic it becomes. Couple this bureaucratic tendency to “cover your ass” and “error on the side of caution” and the thresholds for intervention get lower and the time in dependency gets longer. In two instances the cops took kids because of allegations made by school personnel. Such personnel are not cautioned to use their own good judgment before starting the wheels which will tear the family apart, indeed, they are cautioned that they are not experts, and the matter needs to be investigated, and that the best thing to do is to report.
A key feature of the Laudermilk case is that the cops present couldn’t understand why, if nothing was wrong, the family refused entry to the social workers. It is a variant of the mythology that “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” Data from the field disproves this theory of “criminal justice”, but it represents part of the culture of cops and social workers.
Taking the case of the medical marijuana patients, what was the circumstance that put the children at risk? As far as we’ve been able to determine, the children were never likely to be harmed by their parent’s grow. The original intention of the law says the children must be at substantial risk of harm. The definition of “harm” widens, leaving the zone of safety and heading for the zone of the ideal childhood. In Butte County, a renegade DA chooses to ignore California law and punish parents for not only growing cannabis legally, but for going public when they were abused by the county. He’s able to do this because of a legal culture which allows the government to be the parent, a truly overbearing and punitive parent.
None of the lawsuits on behalf of the one in thousands of parents have turned out well. The system is adept at protecting itself from public accountability. The public, in turn, is poorly equipped to demand better from their legislators, and indeed they are groomed by a sensationalist media to expect the government to be right, to expect parents to be criminals, and to encourage state intervention in the family.
Still, everyone with children in the home should know what to do when cops or social workers come to the door. Have an attorney, a number you can call in an emergency: it is important to involve an attorney as soon as possible. Join the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, HERE . If you home school, join the Home School Legal Defense Association, website HERE.
Good Luck, families.