Kennedy v. Aluzri, et al.
This family was the subject of a recent Court Report cover story in which we described the coerced entry by a social worker and two police officers over the clear objection of Robert Kennedy. Though the allegations pertained primarily to lack of supervision of the children in their own yard, the bathrooms were inspected, the cupboards searched, and the children interviewed and partially strip searched.
HSLDA filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the Kennedys against the police officers, and both sides have asked the court to grant them summary judgment. The Kennedys are asking the court to find that the police entry into their home without ever inquiring as to the specific allegations against them was a violation of clearly established law for which the officers are not entitled to immunity. The officers, on the other hand, are asking the court to impute to them the information in the possession of the social worker at the time of their entry. In this way, they hope to persuade the court that their entry was made pursuant to the "exigent circumstances" exception to the Fourth Amendment and entitle them to a dismissal of the lawsuit. We do not expect a decision before April of 1997.
In the Interest of Amanda M.
The parents of 15-year-old Amanda M. are teaching her at home through Christian Liberty Academy. The county attorney alleged in the petition initiating this case that the parents had not registered with the state as a non-accredited private school. The county attorney is now concerned, however, that Amanda is not being supervised by her parents in her home education program. It appears that some of Amanda's supervision comes from her 26-year-old sister. There is no legal requirement that competent instruction be done by a parent or under the supervision of a parent. In this case, the parents are the primary supervisors, but have delegated some of that responsibility to their adult daughter. The case is scheduled for trial on December 20, 1996.
In the Interest of Mary S.
Mary S., a high-school sophomore, is being educated at home by her parents. Mary's parents have provided the county attorney with a copy of their non-accredited private school registration, but the county attorney appears dissatisfied with the parental involvement in the home school program. Like Amanda M., Mary S. is being educated through Christian Liberty Academy. This case is also scheduled for trial on December 20, 1996.
Russell and Wendy Billiot v. Department of Social Services
This litigation stems from an investigation for child neglect beginning in November of 1995. Despite interviews with Mr. and Mrs. Billiot, a police officer acquainted with the family, and a letter from a licensed social worker employed by the family, the Louisiana Department of Social Services (DSS) has insisted on personal interviews with each of the Billiot children. The allegations of neglect focus entirely on the lack of supervision of the children by the parents. (The eldest child is a 13-year-old daughter.)
The Billiots have been riding a litigation roller coaster since January 2, 1996. DSS initially obtained an ex parte court order (an order obtained without notice to or appearance by the Billiots) to enter their home and interview the children. After several court appearances by HSLDA and a number of delays in ruling by the judge, the court ruled in October of 1996 that the home could not be entered by DSS, but the children should be interviewed. HSLDA appealed this issue to the Louisiana Court of Appeals. It is our contention that there is not "reasonable suspicion" to justify an interview of the children and even if the court could find that there is "reasonable suspicion," reasonable suspicion is a legal standard that violates the protection given to all American citizens by the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment permits the intrusion by government for the purpose of searching or seizing a home or person only upon a showing of "probable cause." We are asking the court of appeals to rule that the Louisiana statute permitting entry and interview upon a showing of "reasonable suspicion" is unconstitutional.
Timothy and Tina Saltsman v. Campbell, et al.
Two police officers and a social worker threatened to take the children from a mother in St. Johns, Michigan, if she refused to let them into her home. "We are going to get in, one way or another," they warned. In the face of those threats, Mrs. Saltsman let them in. Her 7 and 5-year-old children hid under a table while an inspection of the premises was made by social services. The allegations were that were that "her home is a mess, her children cannot remember the last day they home schooled, and there is no kitchen table." (The oldest Saltsman child is 7 and Mrs. Saltsman delivered a baby 4 weeks before the coerced entry.) Her home was almost immediately pronounced "not that bad," and Mrs. Saltsman was scolded by the officials for making a big deal out of nothing and bringing all the anxiety and tension upon herself and her children. HSLDA has filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the Saltsmans for this violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be safe and secure in their home from unreasonable government intrusion.
Several important facts recently surfaced at the depositions of the parties. The police officers acknowledged that none of the allegations of neglect against Mrs. Saltsman constitute an emergency justifying a warrantless entry. It will be the officers' contention that they never threatened Mrs. Saltsman, but received valid consent before entering the premises. (The officers admit stating "we are going to get in one way or another.")
The social worker, on the other hand, demonstrated her complete misunderstanding of the law. She testified that if a parent permits entry after a threat to take her children, valid consent has been obtained. It is this kind of perversion of the law by government officials that threatens so many homes subjected to a social services investigation. It is our hope that a federal judge will have the courage to lift up the Fourth Amendment and censure the reprehensible conduct of those officials who ignore the civil rights of families in their zeal to perform a checklist of departmental duties.