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Two state caseworkers routinely took children away from their parents and violated families' civil rights for years, a federal lawsuit says.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services employees, Chelsea Smith and Stacy Houck, are accused of "seizing" children and placing them in state custody without ensuring that parents get hearings in those cases quickly enough.

The caseworkers delayed paperwork needed to start the entire custody process in court, the suit claims.

The suit also questions whether the state's laws involving child-abuse custody cases are constitutional.

In one case last summer, it took a mother weeks to get her children back, even after the court didn't find any evidence of abuse, court records show.

The suit says that the department has subjected hundreds of families to this practice for years and that it isn't only these individual caseworkers at fault. It seeks class-action status to represent all families similarly affected by Human Services Department actions.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," one of the families' attorneys, Lucian Gillham of Benton, said. "The good news is that these parents have their kids back. There are so many cases like this where parents lost their kids."

Amy Webb, a spokesman for the Human Services Department, said that law enforcement officers, juvenile court judges and certain agency staff members are allowed to take a child into custody for up to three business days. Webb said state law prohibits her from speaking about specific child maltreatment investigations and cases.

In Arkansas, children can be taken from home for up to 72 hours in order to protect their well-being; no court order is needed then.

Within those three days, officials are supposed to file a petition asking a judge to put the child in protective custody status. If the petition is granted, officials are then required to schedule a probable cause hearing within five business days.

That hearing is the first opportunity for parents to formally try to get their children back.

Gillham said these Arkansas laws deny separated families due process.

He also questions whether the state agency is trying hard enough to place kids with extended family members rather than putting them in foster care. State law requires that such efforts be made.

"These kids are being ripped away from everything they have ever known," he added. "The amount of damage that's done to a kid is really significant."

According to the complaint, filed Dec. 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, one Grant County mother had to wait five weeks to get her children back. The suit shows that Smith was late in filing paperwork for both the protective custody petition and the probable cause hearing, delaying reunification.

In addition to caseworkers Smith and Houck, the suit names Division of Children and Family Services Director Mischa Martin and Human Services Director Cindy Gillespie as defendants.

The named plaintiffs are Katelyn Webb and Jeremy and Tabitha Lay on behalf of their children.

During a separate truancy case cited in the suit, Seventh Circuit Judge Chris Williams had sent the mother to jail for five days because her 10-year-old daughter didn't go to class on the last day of school. Because the mother was locked up, her two children were placed in state custody. Later, the trial court found that there was no proof of abuse, and they returned home.

In another 2017 case, three Pine Bluff children were released from state custody after the mother agreed to a safety plan set by the court. It took her 11 days to get her children back because the hearing had been delayed, according to the suit.

On Jan. 18, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked U.S. District Judge J. Leon Holmes to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the state employees were entitled to qualified immunity, which safeguards officials from civil liability damages as long as they don't violate clearly established constitutional rights.

The families' attorneys responded that immunity didn't apply. They cited a similar child welfare case, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that a caseworker was not protected because a reasonable employee "could not have believed that a post-deprivation hearing conducted seven weeks after the removal of a child from a parent's home complied with due process."

Metro on 03/06/2018

Print Headline: Suit alleges rights violations in DHS custody cases

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Archived Comments

  • BunnyW
    March 6, 2018 at 10:01 a.m.

    OMG! We need to turn this into a class action suit!

  • Skeptic1
    March 6, 2018 at 10:55 a.m.

    Here is the kicker folks, this suit like the one before it will likely get dismissed because the Arkansas State Constitution says the state and its agencies cannot be sued. This Biblical scandal has been going on for years, dozens of Arkansas citizens have begged the media to investigate, this reporter has not even scratched the service. Most parents that have their kids snatched wait years, not months, to get their kids back if they do at all. DCFS gets federal Title IV-E money for every child in foster care. $4,000 for a healthy young child and $6,000 for teenagers and special needs kids. All a kid needs to be special needs is to be on medication for ADD.ADHD, guess how many all of a sudden get that diagnosis? All it takes to have your child seized is an anonymous hotline call to DCFS, they can take your kids without any evidence and you will be thrust into the worst nightmare of your life fighting an agency and court with unlimited resources. Because of the tens of millions of dollars DCFS brings into the state they have enormous political power They are using religious groups like "The Call" to recruit foster parents with the enticement of a monthly check. If a child is adopted out of foster care that check continues and DCFS gets a fat bonus from the Federal government, that Title IV-E money is coming from Social Security by the way. As of now in a state with barely 3 million people there are north of 5,000 kids in foister care at any given time. This reporter also needs to look into the outrageous number of parental rights terminations this agency does just per week. This agency is inflicting far more abuse than what what parents are accused of. Oh, and Asa Hutchinson just gave DCFS millions more to open up more foster homes so they can steal more kids for cash.

  • BunnyW
    March 6, 2018 at 12:50 p.m.

    my family's civil rights were violated by DHS CPS starting on Nov 8, 2016 in a CPS case that was eventually overturned by the CPS admin judge then dismissed by circuit judge based on admin decision.

    Every attorney we talk to (3) has said we have a great case, but will cost money to move forward.
    Main points are (as i see)
    1. Caseworker violated my 15 yr old son's rights when he declined to talk to her without a parent or attorney present and she threatened him with jail if he did mot answer her questions,
    2. Caseworker fabricated charges without any evidence,
    3.teacher lied in court about history of bruises when there were none and she did not take a picture of the claimed bruise when she did take a pic of the injured pinky nail (the only actual injury), (the nurse, occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist all declined to show up at the voluntary admin hearing)
    4. Judge issued blanket search warrant without probable cause,
    5. Denial of due process when we are found guilty by a case worker (her report reads at a high school level) without a chance to appear before a judge for over 7 months, while CPS does whatever they want to be our family,
    6. Judge in circuit court found us guilty based solely on case worker report without ever hearing our defense,
    7. DHS did not vet the original 'anonymous' complaint, which was false and clearly malicious (from a teacher who I was preparing to file a complaint against with rogers school distr spec svcs dept, i believe).
    8. Continually threatened to take the kids if we did not obey everything DHS CPS wanted. (post traumatic stress syndrome, anyone?)

    we want to join your class action lawsuit against DHS CPS.
    This a FEDERAL rights issue, the state of Arkansas can say they are immune all they want, but this is Federal. Since Arkansas DHS CPS terrorized my family, i have been subscribed to law case review updates. You would be AMAZED at how often district court judges and even state court judges get OVERTURNED. When i read the details, I come to the conclusion that a competent lower court judge is a rare animal. Most are lazy, assume the defendant is guilty, or just plain ignorant. There is even a cheat sheet for judges. God help us. There is no justice for the poor but Him.

  • PatriciaTatom
    March 11, 2018 at 1:12 a.m.

    I have 20 years of evidence to help you shut them down. If you do not use it to stop this mess, I will be right behind you with another one. CPS should be shut down for human trafficking, fraud, kidnapping, perjury, abuse, neglect, conspiracy, etc. The list goes on. I use to think it was just one bad worker, or one bad office, I know now that the whole program is corrupt. They are lying to the courts to steal children from entire families for money. The damage to the hearts and minds of the children and the families they are destroying leaves lasting scars on the entire country. It is unimaginable that our government is paying for this with our hard earned money. The DCFS may be huge, but so are the number of families they are destroying. THIS PROGRAM SHOULD BE SHUT DOWN IMMEDIATELY.

  • BunnyW
    March 11, 2018 at 12:35 p.m.

    Please go to ThePetitionSite and search for 'cps should be shut down'.
    Please sign this petition as one expression of our demand for DHS CPS reform.
    We need to get the word out to legislators to reform CPS. CPS hides their activities in the dark, claiming 'privacy'. They do not report to our legislators. WE must report to our reps what this corrupt agency is doing.

  • PatriciaTatom
    March 11, 2018 at 7:01 p.m.

    Thank you Kofcguy. I cannot post the link here. It is a shame. People do need to know what is really happening to stop it. Hopefully, these lawyers on this case can stop it. I wish I knew how to get in touch with them. This really is the tip of the iceburge. There is so much information available if only everyone could find a way to get together and stop them. Cps is hurting the children and the families.

  • RobertBolt
    March 11, 2018 at 8:17 p.m.

    I know from years of professional personal experience working at multiple levels of authority in child protective services in Arkansas that much of what has been stated above is pure BS. Educate yourself elsewhere instead of listening to this ignorant chatter.

  • Kristie71968
    January 6, 2019 at 5:48 p.m.

    This IS IN GRANT COUNTY isnt it? I can prove that Dockery FALSIFIED documents and RESUBMITTED an accusation made by my daughter because she was made at me for taking her to Pinn Pt when I discovered she had been involved in some serious misbehavior online...then she admitted to Pinn Pt she was lying and told State Police she had lied..I never knew any of THAT had happened, pinn pt released her to me b/c they had no reason to suspect abuse and she had admitted she had without me knowing she had said anything of the sort.Regardless I did end up speaking to 1 Officer who I invited to our home and she had no issues.
    1. State Police determined there was NOT any need to open an investigation.Yet Grant co dcfs DID. 2.They requested I be placed on the maltreatment registry.I APPEALED it and THE ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGE AGREED THAT I HAD NOT DONE ANYTHING UNREASONABLE, ABUSIVE, NEGLECTFUL OR ABUSIVE...IN FACT THAT I HAD GONE ABOVE & BEYOND WHAT I HAD TO to address the issues with my daughter and keep my children safe,secure and healthy. 3. As soon as Grant county DCFS received their copy of the Appellate courts judgment DOCKERY FALSIFIED REPORTS CLAIMING SHE HAD VISTED MY HOME...SHE HAD NEVER BEEN TO MY HOME. HAD SPOKE WITH MY KIDS..NO SHE DIDNT...COULDNT HAVE...DAUGHTER was in Grapevine, i had met my sons father damn near in Memphis the day before and my son was in ST.LOUIS! SHE SAID SHE SPOKE WITH MY MOTHER WHO WAS ABOUT TO BABYSIT MY KIDS SO I COULD GO TO WORK. NO SHE DIDNT...MY MOTHER HAD CLOCKED IN AT HER WORK BY 8AM THAT DAY...AND I WAS AT HOME, SICK AS A DAMN DOG WITH STOMACH FLU THAT DAY AND SEVERAL DAYS AFTER...BONE THEN TOOK THAT FALSIFIED FILE, ADDED A REQUEST TO PLACE ME ON THE REGISTRY AGAIN...SAME CASE AND INVESTIGATION AS BEFORE THAT I HAD APPEALED AND WON..BUT THEY PUT A DIFFERENT REFERRAL NUMBER ON IT, FILED A 3RD ONE USING SAME CASE AND ALL WITH YET ANOTHER DIFFERENT REFERRAL NUMBER...I HAD NO KNOWLEDGE OF THOSE 2 OTHERS UNTIL I WAS NOTIFIED BY THE REGISTRY THAT I HAD SO MANY DAYS TO FILE AN APPEAL. 4. WHEN I PERSONALLY CONFRONTED DOCKERY AND BONE AT THE OFFICE...THEY BOTH TRIED PLAYING CAT AND MOUSE WITH ME FOR A COUPLE OF WEEKS. DOCKERY LAUGHED AND FLAT OUT TOLD ME SHE COULD SEE HOW I COULD BE A BIT CONFUSED...BEING I HAD APPEALED AND WON.. ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS GIVE THE NEW REQUESTS DIFFERENT REFERRAL NUMBERS. I TOLD HER THAT WAS AGAINST DCFS POLICY...WHEN THEY RECEIVE THE SAME ACCUSATION MORE THAN ONCE WITHIN A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME ALL OF THEM ARE SUPPOSED TO BE FILED AND INVESTIGATED UNDER THE 1ST INITIAL CASE REFERRAL NUMBER...THEY HAD PURPOSELY WENT BACK AND USED THOSE WHICH ACCORDING TO STRICT POLICY ARE REQUIRED TO BE OBSOLETE. They SERIOUSLY VIOLATED ME AND MY KIDS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS..
    AND ARE NOT PROTECTED BY IMMUNITY IN THIS CASE. I HAVE THE EVIDENCE. I TRIED TO GET THE CENTRAL OFFICES TO DO SOMETHING BACK IN 2013...WHICH IS HOW I KNOW WHAT ALL SHE PUT IN THAT FALSE REPORT.

  • Kristie71968
    January 6, 2019 at 5:48 p.m.

    LADY IN THE LITTLE ROCK OFFICE QUESTIONED ME ABOUT WHETHER DOCKERY CAME TO MY HOME, SAW MY KIDS, SPOKE TO MY MOTHER...THINKING THAT I WAS LYING OR MISTAKEN...NOPE IT WASNT ME LYING THROUGH MY TEETH. BUT TO NO AVAIL. I EVEN PAID FOR AND REQUESTED A COPY OF THAT INVESTIGATION SO I COULD GET MY HANDS ON A HARDCOPY OF IT...I SPOKE TO THE LADY PREPARING IT MID DECEMBER 2013..SHE SAID I WOULD RECIEVE IN ROUGHLY 4 DAYS...IM STILL WAITING...CONTACTED THEM MANY TIMES...NO RETURNED CALLS, NO REPORT, NO NOTHING

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