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Is Riverside County Child Protective Services taking newborn babies away from their mothers without so much as a warrant?
That's what a federal class action suit, filed last week, claims. The lead plaintiff, a baby known only as A.A., claimed that Riverside County systematically takes "thousands" of newborns away from their mothers -- and that a "large portion" of these takings are from African Americans and poor families.
It's More Likely Than You Think
Believe it or not, this claim isn't new, either in general or in Riverside County. An article published this month in Cosmopolitan tells the story of Tiffany Langwell, whose baby was taken by a Riverside County CPS worker the day after she was born. Langwell successfully delivered the baby at 2:30 in the morning. The baby was doing fine, so she checked out of the hospital later that afternoon.
That checkout was against medical advice, so hospital staff called CPS, claiming Langwell's behavior was "hostile" and "consistent with someone with substance abuse issues." Subsequent drug tests confirmed that Langwell hadn't used drugs in the past month, and the baby was returned to her a week after being taken.
Warrant? Not Really
According to Courthouse News Service, the federal complaint claims that A.A. was taken from her mother Tonita Rogers simply because there had been a juvenile dependency petition for Rogers' four other children, who had been seized by CPS months earlier and placed in foster care. (Those earlier child seizures were also unlawful, the lawsuit asserts.) A.A. was returned to her mother 5 to 10 days later.
Though the lawsuit reportedly claims that CPS workers need a warrant in order to remove a child from a home, that's not entirely true. Welfare & Institutions Code Section 300 allows a CPS worker to remove a child because of exigent circumstances, just as police can conduct a search without a warrant so long as exigent circumstances merit it. Once the child is out of the alleged danger, CPS can apply for a protective custody warrant.
But plaintiffs' lawyer Shawn McMillan told Courthouse News Service the county has failed to adequately train and supervise its CPS workers. He also said the county has "failed ... to implement any policies or procedures to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of children and the 14th Amendment rights of parents in circumstances similar to those presented in the present lawsuit."
The suit seeks an injunction that would prohibit Riverside County CPS workers from taking more children; it also asks for compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages for civil rights violations. Lawyers for Riverside County did not return Courthouse News Service's requests for comment.