By J.D. Heyes
Officials with Riverside County, Calif., removed a newborn baby from her mother without a valid reason or a court-ordered warrant, a practice that the county does very often, according to claims made by the mother in a federal class action lawsuit.
The lead plaintiff in the suit, known as “A.A.,” which is the baby, filed suit against the county, Juvenile Dependency Investigator Karla Torres, Torres’ supervisor Felicia M. Butler, and “all similarly situated county social workers and investigators” Dec. 12, Courthouse News Service reported.The plaintiff’s attorney, Shawn McMillan, told the news service that his firm, which focuses on civil rights cases against government child protective agencies, “uncovered an alarming trend” about one year ago while undergoing discovery for other cases.
“County child welfare agencies regularly subvert the constitutional rights of parents and children by seizing children from their parents when there is no danger to the child, and in fact no need to seize the child at all,” McMillan told Courthouse News Service.
“The class action is designed to address a procedural problem. They [Riverside County social workers] as a matter of course don’t get warrants before seizing kids,” he continued. “Deficient policies, deficient training and deficient supervision all lead to civil rights violations on a regular basis. This lawsuit is designed to address the problem.”
Child was healthy and in no danger
The 27-page suit claims that A.A. is just one of thousands of children who were wrongfully taken away from their parents by the county’s social workers.
“In February 2013, when she was three days old, plaintiff A.A. was snatched by an employee of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services literally from the breast of her mother as they lay in the hospital recuperating from a successful, safe delivery,” the complaint said.
The child “was healthy and in no danger whatever; her mother has no history of drug, alcohol, or tobacco use nor any history of psychiatric treatment,” the suit says.
Further, the county “had unlawfully seized (A.A.’s) four siblings months before and sent them into foster care,” the suit continues. It also claims that “thousands of other children” have been taken by Riverside County’s child agencies “without any sort of warrant and without any risk of serious injury.”
The suit notes that Tonita Rogers gave birth to A.A. via Caesarean section and then spent a few days recovering and bonding with her newborn. Rogers, in the suit, claims she was in good health and “fully capable of taking care” of the child.
In fact, three days later, Torres came to her hospital room and was able to see that she was recovering very well and that her newborn was healthy, the complaint states.
“Despite these facts, and solely because there had been an earlier dependency petition filed regarding plaintiffs’ siblings, Torres seized the newborn baby plaintiff from her mother’s care and custody,” says the complaint.
They ought to know better
Rogers says that Torres “did not bother to seek a warrant,” which the complaint states would have likely taken about two hours. Torres also did not seek an ex parte petition for non-custodial removal before taking A.A., it says.
McMillan told the news service that A.A. was returned to Rogers five to ten days later. He added that a number of seized children are taken out of their mothers’ care for a year or more. He noted that half of his firm’s cases involve African American children like A.A., and “a large portion” are from poorer families.
But he noted that white and upper-class parents were still not “immune” from the problem, and that some of his firm’s cases involved “medical doctors and investment bankers.”
Plaintiffs maintain that county social workers ought to know better than taking children without a warrant, as such behavior is illegal and in violation of basic civil rights protections. Further, the complaint says the county “turned a blind eye” to what its social workers were doing.