Lawsuit defendant Sheriff Joe Arpaio
A federal court has ruled that social workers have to respect the U.S. Constitution regarding privacy and parental rights, and if they don’t they may be held liable.
The ruling comes in an Arizona case in which social workers, accompanied by Maricopa County deputy sheriffs, made unsupported threats to place a family’s children in custody and arrest the parents if they were not allowed to make what ended up being an allegedly illegal search of the family’s home.
U.S. District Judge Earl H. Carroll ordered that a lawsuit by the family against the social workers and sheriff will be allowed to continue, because the social workers’ concerns were based on “an anonymous tip that the … Loudermilk children were being neglected and that plaintiffs’ home was uninhabitable.”
However, the judge said that under federal law, an anonymous tip, “without more, does not constitute probable cause.”
The case is being publicized by the Home School Legal Defense Association because of the involvement of the organization’s members, the family of John and Tiffany Loudermilk.
“Social workers and sheriff’s deputies had come to the home … demanding entry based on a six-week-old anonymous tip that the newly constructed home was unsafe for children,” the organization said.
“The Loudermilks declined consent, as was their right under the Fourth Amendment. After an escalating confrontation at the front door that lasted 40 minutes, the social workers, backed by no fewer than four deputies, threatened to take the Loudermilks’ children into custody and place them in foster care if the Loudermilks continued to deny them entry… An assistant attorney general repeated this threat to HSLDA attorney Thomas Schmidt, who was assisting the Loudermilks during the confrontation,” the HSLDA report said.
Under duress, the family allowed the social workers and deputies inside, who found nothing wrong, the report said.
But as a result of the search, the family sued the social workers and others citing the violation of their Fourth Amendment rights in the search, and violations of their 14th Amendment rights to privacy and family integrity because of the threats.
The judge, acting on motions submitted by the defendants to escape liability, agreed with the family.
“Defendants persisted in their threats to remove the children if Plaintiff Parents did not consent to the search, stating that [they] could arrest or handcuff the Parents in front of the children,” the judge said.
“Based on the allegations set forth in the Amended Complaint, viewed in Plaintiff’s favor, no reasonable official would have believed that his or her conduct was authorized by state or constitutional law.”
Even the assistant attorney general was cited for exerting “coercive pressure” through threats.
“The ruling in this case makes it clear that threatening to remove children to gain a parent’s cooperation is unconstitutional,” said James Mason, senior counsel for the HSLDA. “We hope that this ruling will change this common tactic used by investigative caseworkers all over the country.”
“There you have it, [social agencies and workers] cannot threaten parents with court orders or the removal of children because parents assert their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights and refuse to cooperate,” added Thomas Dutkiewicz, of the Connecticut DCF Watch organization.
“Parents do not have to cooperate with DCF whatsoever and DCF employees have to go away when parents deny them access to their home and children,” he said. “DCF workers here in Connecticut are trained and instructed in this unconstitutional practice in order to conduct an unreasonable search and seizure of the home and child. They are to lie and threaten any way they can. All parents who were threatened should file a federal lawsuit against DCF, their workers, their supervisors and the police.”
Now proceeding will be the lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, deputies Joshua Ray, Joseph Sousa, Richard Gagnon and Michael Danner, social workers Rhonda Cash and Jenna Cramer, and Assistant Attorney General Julie Rhodes.
The judge noted that the social workers misrepresented that they had a court order for an inspection of the home, but refused to provide it. He also noted the deputies were uncooperative, refusing to provide the family their cell telephone number so the HSLDA attorney could talk to them.
The claim against Rhodes stemmed from her advice to the family that the social workers were not bound by the Fourth Amendment in their intent to search the home.
The judge said verbal threats generally are not actionable in a federal civil rights proceeding, but in this case, “courts have held that a threat constitutes an actionable constitutional violation in certain circumstances, including ‘when the threat is so brutal or wantonly cruel as to shock the conscience…’”