The Washington Times
September 2, 1999

"Spanking police," From The Washington Times

The Washington Times
September 2, 1999

There was no sign of trouble, Much less an emergency. But with the help of a Policeman, a California social worker forced her way into a private residence without a warrant, strip-searched a 3-year-old child and, finding no evidence of abuse, proceeded to lecture the child’s mother about her inappropriate, and perhaps criminal, use of spanking.

Last week, a clearly unappreciative three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held unanimously that constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure apply to social workers too. Pending a trial on the extent to which they violated these protections, both the social worker and the policeman could be liable for damages.

The case dates to October 1994 when the Yolo County, Calif., Department of Social Services received two calls expressing concern about some alarming cries at the residence of Robert and Shirley Calabretta. County social worker Jill Floyd subsequently went to the Calabretta residence to investigate. Mrs. Calabretta came to the door with her two children—ages 12 and 3—and Ms. Floyd noted they “were easily seen and they did not appear to be abused/neglected.”

More than a week later, she went back to the Calabrettas to see if she couldn’t find something wrong, this time with a police officer. As her husband wasn’t home, Mrs. Calabretta initially refused entry but said that was because the officer threatened to force his way in; the officer denies doing so—and she eventually let them in.

Ms. Floyd then took the 12-year-old daughter into a separate room for questioning in a situation becoming more Orwellian by the minute. The girl told Ms. Floyd she couldn’t remember hearing any alarming cries at the house other than her younger sister’s saying, “No, no, no” after hurting herself. That didn’t sound like abuse, but Ms. Floyd was undeterred. What kind of discipline did the parents use, she asked? The girl explained her parents used a thin wooden dowel, about twice as big as a pen, to punish “irreverence” or “disrespect.”

If that weren’t sinister enough, the younger sister wandered into the room and announced that “I get hit with the stick too.” With Mrs. Calabretta still in another room, Ms. Floyd told the 12-year-old to pull down the 3-year-old’s pants; she wanted to check for marks. The older girl did not do so, and the younger one started crying. Hearing her, Mrs. Calabretta ran into the room. “I found out that you hit your children with objects,” Ms. Floyd told her. “And I need to see Natalie’s bottom to see if there are bruises there.“ The little girl was screaming and fighting to break loose, but Mrs. Calabretta managed to pull down the girl’s pants. Nothing. No marks. No bruises. The social worker nonetheless advised her to try alternate forms of discipline.

With the help of Mike Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Fund, the Calabrettas subsequently sued both Ms. Floyd, the policeman and their respective agencies for violating their constitutional rights, seeking damages. The defendants said that because they were protecting the welfare of children, they didn’t need a warrant. But first a U.S. district judge and now a court of appeals panel has sided with the Calabrettas. A “social worker is not entitled to sacrifice a family’s privacy and dignity to her own personal views on how parents ought to discipline their children,” the court said.

One can only hope the ruling will help discipline social workers, the spanking police, and anyone else inclined to disregard the constitutional privacy of American families.

Copyright 2000 News World Communications, Inc.
Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times.
Visit our web site at http://www.washtimes.com.