No Punitive Damages for Children Taken Without a Search Warrant

There are some basic truths in the world of law and legal issues. First, the wheels of justice turn slow, but they do turn. Second, is that DHR and similar agencies around the country have a hard job. I for one am not a fan for DHR. This case is a perfect example of an overzealous agency taking children.

Recently in San Franciso, a family won a verdict for more than $3 million. The police had seized a couple’s children without a warrant. The City of San Jose asked the court for a new trial because the city believed the jury did not receive correct jury instructions in the decision process. The court agreed and at the conclusion of the second trial, the jury awarded the family $210,000.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that the court was correct in granting a second trial and the lower verdict.The case initiated and centered on a school teacher calling the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children’s Services in May, 2005, about an 8-year-old student in her class. The teacher believing that the student, described in the court record only as O, may have been sexually abused at home.

The city social workers did not make contact with the student’s parents, Tracy Watson and Renee Stalker, or visit the family’s home. In defense of the teacher, I understand that educators have mandatory reporting requirements and they have a duty to report any allegation. What is the most disturbing is that it took a month for anyone to contact the parents.

One June 29, 2005, seven police officers with the San Jose Police Department arrived at the family’s home without a warrant. The child or her parents were home. A grandparent watched the other two minor children. A police officer spoke with one of the parents on the phone about where police could interview the student, but Watson did not bring the student to the house.

The officers removed the other two minor children without a warrant. The police interviewed the student the next day. She denied any allegations that she was being abused by her father or anyone else, but the officers took her into custody as well.

Later a judge ruled that the children should not be returned to their home. The children were not returned to their parents until November 2006.

The family sued the city, police, county, school district and several officials in 2007. By the time the case went to trial in 2011, only the city, Blank and Detective William Hoyt remained as defendants.

A federal jury found that Hoyt and Blank were unjustified in entering the home and taking the kids, and had violated the family’s right against unreasonable search and seizure and the right to due process. The jury awarded the family a total of $1.25 million in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages of $2 million.

As a lawyer, I receive calls monthly where someone has made an allegation against a parent. The frustrating issue in this case is that the parents had not committed any crimes and the family unit was disrupted for a year and a half. The mental and emotional scars that the children endured living in a foster home can never be repaired in this case.

If you are a parent and DHR or the police want to question you about allegations of your children. You have a right to ask for counsel before you make any statements. Please feel free to contact me if you are find yourself in this situation.

Categories: