The Colorado sheriff who dispatched a SWAT team to break into a family’s home, hold them at gunpoint and take custody of an 11-year-old boy for a medical exam sought by Social Services is defending the actions, saying the boy’s father told officers to “bring an army” if they returned.
The 11-year-old, Jonathan Shiflett, had suffered bruises while horsing around in a mobile home park near New Castle where the family lives. But his father, Tom Shiflett, refused to allow paramedics who arrived after a neighbor apparently called 911 to treat his son, and refused to allow the ambulance crew to take Jonathan to a hospital.
Multiple visits by police officers and sheriff’s deputies brought the same response, as did a visit from Social Services employees, who reported to court authorities: “Thomas Shiflett shouted at this worker and advised this worker that if he obtained a court order, he better ‘bring an army,’” according to an affidavit filed by Matthew McGaugh, a caseworker for the Garfield County Department of Social Services.
Sheriff Lou Vallario used that alleged threat in an e-mail response to a WND reader who questioned his actions. Vallario also criticized WND reporting on the events to a local newspaper, without contacting WND with any concerns.
“Thank you for your concerns. I have had personal confrontations with Mr. Shiflett and he has been threatening, agitated and violent. In 2005 we arrested him for chasing a man down the street with an ax and his statement in the report was, ‘if he didn’t run faster than me I would have planted the ax in the back of his head.’ He was not convicted because of our ‘Make my day’ law (self defense of your home), but none the less he clearly demonstrated violence in this case as well as others. Further, when we requested his cooperation he said, ‘if you want my son, bring an army,’” the sheriff responded via e-mail.
However, what the sheriff left out of his response was what McGaugh reported happened just before the alleged threat. McGaugh confirmed he had delivered a not-so-veiled threat to Shiflett.
“This worker explained that the Department had an obligation to investigate the report, that it appeared the child needed medical attention, and that if he didn’t consent, the Department would have to obtain a court order to get a medical evaluation for the child,” McGaugh stated in a sworn affidavit.
The “report” he was referring to was left undefined in his document. He wrote, “Caseworker Maria Hernandez-Lee and I went to the residence of the minor child, Jonathan Shiflett, … to investigate allegations of medical neglect that had been reported to the Department.”
Cindy Fuqua, who is on the ambulance crew summoned by the neighbor, also submitted an affidavit in which she explained how she and others with the ambulance crew went into the home where Tom Shiflett said they could look at Jonathan but not treat him.
Fuqua confirmed, “I was asked to go get the jump kit from the ambulance and take it inside. When I arrived inside I took out the stethoscope and blood pressure cuff to get vital signs and the father stated, ‘I said you can check him out but that is all you will do.’”
She continued, “The pt’s [patient's] father became very agitated and verbally abusive to all the ambulance crew. We were told by the pt’s father that we were trespassing and that we needed to leave. I explained … that per our medical/legal protocols that we would have to contact medical control to get a refusal cleared and that if the ER DR cleared it we would have to have a family member sign the refusal.”
“The father stated, ‘I will not or anyone else here will not sign anything,’ that we could have the person that called 911 sign the refusal form because he didn’t call us.”
Tom Shiflett has told WND he didn’t give the crew permission to enter his home – they just entered when the door was open, and that with his medical experience in Vietnam, he already had evaluated his son and was treating him with an ice pack on his bruised head.
He also told WND he made the comment about the “army” because social workers had upset him by threatening a court order. And he explained the charges from years ago, which were dropped by the prosecutor, stemmed from a confrontation in which a man came into Shiflett’s home and started making demands, and refused to leave.
Fuqua reported that the ambulance crew left “because we were worried about our safety,” and when they left, they waited nearby for an officer from the Garfield County sheriff’s office to “talk to him about this call.”
The sheriff’s e-mail response also continued:
“Finally, a very important part of this that NOBODY wants to report is that we sent 2 deputies to his door to explain the seizure warrant (a warrant generated by social svcs but ordering ME to do this unfortunate deed) and ask for his cooperation. He refused, became vulgar and broke off contact. Based on the previous history I felt I had no choice but to elavate (sic) our response to comply with this court order. The good news is that nobody was hurt and the boy was not seriously injured, as believed to be by the ambulance crew and social svcs,” the sheriff wrote.
“I hope this helps give you an accurate acount (sic) of the events, not the media-biased reports or even the Shiflett’s accounts who clearly have a biased perception,” he wrote.
But Vallario also told WND he simply told his officers to do exactly what the magistrate demanded.
“I was given a court order by the magistrate to seize the child, and arrange for medical evaluation, and that’s what we did,” he said.
However, the “Search warrant and order for medical treatment” that was issued by the court ignored the parental treatment of Jonathan’s injury, instead finding he was injured, and “Thomas Shiflett, refused to allow the minor child to have medical attention. …”
“The court finds that there is probable cause to believe … Thomas Shiflett, the biological father of the minor child, Jonathan Shiflett, has mistreated the minor child due to his failure to provide the minor child with proper or necessary medical care …” the document said.
Eventually, the court-ordered doctor’s exam resulted in instructions to the family to treat Jonathan’s injuries with ice and painkillers, the exact treatment they already had been doing before the ambulance even arrived, they have told WND.
But the order included no recommendation for a SWAT team campaign, only directing the sheriff’s office to “search the home … and to take the minor child, Jonathan Shiflett, into immediate custody.”
Tina Shiflett, Jonathan’s mother, wrote in a letter sent to WND that she considered the actions “Nazi” tactics and reported that the SWAT officers told her her “rights” were “only in the movies.”
During the attack, his mother wrote, “One (officer) grabbed my daughter Beth (18 years), who also had a gun to her face, slammed her down and kneed her in the back and held her in that position… My sons Adam (14) and Noah (only 7) lay down willingly, yet they were still forced to put their hands behind their backs and were yelled at to keep their heads down.
“My daughter Jeanette was coming out from the back bedroom when she was grabbed, drug down the hallway, across a couch and slammed to the ground,” she said. “The officers then began throwing scissors and screwdrivers across the room (out of our reach, I suppose) and going through our cupboards.
“I asked if I could make a phone call and was told, ‘no.’ My daughter asked if that wasn’t one of our rights. The reply was made, ‘That’s only in the movies,’” she said.
“To the SWAT Team members … how far will you go in ‘just doing your job?’ If you feel no guilt busting into an innocent family’s home, traumatizing young children and stomping the security found therein, will you follow more horrific orders?” she wrote.
“May I remind you that in Nazi Germany, outrageous, monstrous crimes were committed by soldiers ‘just doing their job?’ What will be next? Where will this stop?” she wrote.
A WND message left for Deborah Quinn, the assistant Garfield County attorney who requested the court order, was not returned. Westcare Ambulance officials have declined to allow WND to ask question about the case, and court officials declined to allow WND to leave a message for Magistrate Lain Leoniak, who signed the order.
The family also added details to the sheriff’s explanation of having two officers knock on the family’s door and ask for cooperation.
“Between 10 and 11 … a sheriff came to the door. My husband met him at the window and he began to question my husband. My husband spoke with him and answered all his questions. The sheriff then said if Tom would just let him speak with Jonathan (our 11-year-old son) this whole matter (story following) would be closed,” Tina Shiflett wrote.
“Tom said, ‘You are saying if I let you speak to Jonathan this whole matter will be closed?’ Then Tom called for Jonathan to come to the window,” she said.
“As soon as Jonathan was visible to the sheriff, a SWAT team appeared shining lights on Jon’s face and others were bashing at the door with a ramming device. My daughter resisted and pushed against the door to stop them as she didn’t know who they were. I told her to back up and not try to fight them. They then entered our home, held a gun to my daughter’s face and others of them, five or more, rushed into the living room and physically forced my other children to the ground.”
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