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Judge lets family sue social worker who strip-searched kids
A federal judge is allowing a Kentucky family to sue a social worker who allegedly forced her way into their home and strip-searched several of their children on an unfounded suspicion of child abuse.
U.S. District Judge Justin Walker said the worker "lacked even a shadow of probable cause," removing the immunity normally accorded government employees.
The Lexington Herald Leader reported the case began March 2017 when Holly Curry left her six young children in her van while she ran into a shop for muffins.
There was no apparent danger to the children, but Elizabethtown police officers warned her not to do it again. They reported her to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
The next day, social service worker Jeanetta Childress and Hardin County sheriff’s deputy Michael Furnish threatened Curry and forced their way into her home.
The social worker, with the deputy present, strip-searched the children.
With no evidence of a problem, the report said, Childress joked, "We're just going to consider this an oopsy daisy."
The family, however, filed a civil rights lawsuit against Childress and Furnish. Judge Walker's fiery opinion denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the case and avoid a trial.
The judge stripped the defendants of "qualified immunity," arguing their actions were "so clearly unconstitutional."
"To hold otherwise would permit social workers to strip search children as a matter of course in every investigation," he said. "... Incredibly, Childress repeatedly testified that she believed she should 'automatically' strip search any child who was four or under."
That violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which provides protection for Americans from unreasonably searches and seizures, particularly in their own homes, he said.
"Act One: An ‘attentive and loving’ mother gets muffins for her children. Act Two: There’s a knock on her door and a threat by the government to take away her children. Act Three: Her children are strip searched without cause."
The judge said the nation's Founders may never have imagined a "Cabinet for Health and Family Services. But they knew their fair share of unwelcome constables. And they added a Fourth Amendment to our Constitution to protect against this three-act tragedy."
The Home School Legal Defense Association, which is representing the Curry family, described the ruling as significant since "here we have a federal judge saying this sort of behavior is clearly unconstitutional."
It's not the first such problem for the state agency. The Lexington newspaper reported U.S. District Court Judge William O. Bertelsman also took away immunity from social workers and supervisors in two lawsuits in recent months.
The Herald Leader said that in one case, a social worker "extensively investigated a family and threatened to take away their newborn baby after the mother ate bagel chips with poppy seeds and falsely tested positive for opiate use."
"In the other, a social worker spent three months investigating a single mother for abuse, denying her care and control of her daughter, because of a bruise on the girl’s backside caused by the bite of a 3-year-old daycare playmate."
An appeals court later returned the poppy seed case to Bertelsman for additional work.
According to testimony in the Curry case, Childress confronted Curry at her front door and tried to gain immediate entry. Told she needed a warrant, she said, "I'll have to go get the police then."
With Furniss beside her, Childress threatened to get an "emergency court order" to take her children if she refused to cooperate.
Curry said: "There was — I would not call it conversation — at the point after Officer Furnish said, ‘We’ll come back and take all six of your children,’ in unison, Ms. Childress and Officer Furnish began yelling louder and louder, 'What’s it gonna be? What’s it gonna be? What’s it gonna be?'"
She eventually let them into the home, and the judge found a jury could see the actions of Childress and Furnish as coercion.
The social worker and officer then strip-searched the children.
The judge concluded they had no right to violate the children's "fundamental dignity."
"Here, Childress lacked even a shadow of probable cause that the Currys physically abused their children," the judge wrote. "No one had ever reported physical abuse. There was no evidence of it. Nothing about their house indicated they lived in dangerous conditions. The children didn’t tell Childress anything that pointed to ‘a substantial chance’ of physical abuse."
Forty-three days later, Childress notified the family the case was being closed.
But she threatened them again with, "If we ever get a call against your family again, bad things will happen to you and we’ll take your children."
LIBERTY HAS NO EXPIRATION DATEDemocrats wouldn't buy a clue if it was government subsidized.
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