Is justice truly being served at this court house in Shelby County, Alabama?
by Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News
Last week Health Impact News published the story out of Alabama where DHR (Department of Human Resources) removed a newborn breast-feeding child that was only 2 days old from his 14-year-old mother who is alleged to be a rape victim, and was still in the hospital. The story quickly went viral with over 1 million views in the first 24 hours, and gained national attention.
See our previous coverage of this story:
Alabama Child Protective Services Steals New-born Breast-feeding Baby from Rape Victim While Still at the Hospital
Alleged Rapist Arrested in Alabama Rape Mother Story – Allowed to Enter Hospital Room to See Baby Before His Arrest
Health Impact News had a reporter at the scene, along with other advocates who had shown up to encourage the 14-year-old mother who had chosen to give birth to her baby. They were present at the birth by invitation of the family, which included the 14-year-old mother, and her grandparents. Her grandparents had already been approved by Alabama DHR to take care of the 14-year-old mother, along with her siblings.
However, as we originally reported, DHR social workers, with the help of local law enforcement, forced the young mother to give up her baby, taking the newborn away from her while she was still breastfeeding the child in the hospital. Advocates present in the hospital recorded Officer Edmunson state that the social worker did not need a warrant to remove the child:
Constitutional Rights and Due Process of Law Concerns with Alabama DHR
Ironically, another law enforcement officer from Shelby County, Alabama, sheriff deputy Lee Stockman, wrote an article in December of 2015 that seems to contradict Officer Edmunson’s claim that social workers can take babies away from their parents with no warrant:
Sheriff deputy Lee Stockman starts out his article by commenting on the problem of the high turn-over of child welfare workers in Alabama:
DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner said one factor she hopes the task force will look at is the 20 to 25 percent turnover ratio for child welfare workers. Starting pay for those workers is comparable to that of a prison guard with a GED, she said, while social workers need a college degree to be hired. That kind of turnover results in a lack of institutional memory with a largely young staff. ‘We’re not the job of choice,’ she said.
Officer Stockman goes on to state that DHR social workers face the same type of scenarios law enforcement does when investigating claims of child abuse, and due process of law and Constitutional rights can easily be violated:
The main issue is that the investigative portions of DHR’s duties mirror directly the same types of scenarios encountered by law enforcement. One of the main scenarios involves exigent circumstance exceptions to warrant/court order requirements where the DHR is called to act in conjunction with law enforcement agencies. This is one of the many scenarios where additional due process concerns can arise when DHR and other agencies pursue their state sanctioned duties.
Stockman then states that the leading case in Alabama regarding the initial investigation and issues that arise when the parent, guardian, or resident does not cooperate with DHR investigator is H.R. v. State Department of Human Resources. This case sets precedent that not only does a social worker need a warrant to remove a child from the parents, but if there is a warrant issued by the court, there must also be valid reasons that meet Constitutional standards to remove that child.
The case and the decision of the Alabama Court, which “reversed and set aside” the order of the Juvenile Court of Houston County to remove children from an Alabama family, can be read here.
This court is well acquainted with the difficult task of DHR in investigating charges and complaints of child abuse and neglect. However, the case worker cannot be empowered to enter private homes, poor or rich, without reasonable cause to believe that the charged acts are occurring. Such an entry is in pursuit of an investigation *480 which may or probably will result in a criminal charge or in removal of custody of children. We consider that the legislature did not intend to authorize an unconstitutional act in enacting § 26-14-7.
The order of the Juvenile Court of Houston County is reversed and set aside.
Lawsuit Filed Challenging 1st Amendment Rights
Shortly after the 14-year-old mother had her baby taken away from her, DHR came to her grandparents home where she was living and also removed her and her twin 14-year-old brother from their grandparents home. They are now allegedly separated in foster care. (Story here.)
Members of the media are named in a lawsuit in Alabama for publishing photos like this one. Picture of 2-day-old baby who was removed from his 14-year-old mother. Story here.
The grandparents of the 14-year-old mother who lost her newborn child last week appeared in court today in Shelby County, Alabama for the DHR juvenile court proceeding regarding their grandchildren. Also appearing were members of the media and witnesses of the event at the hospital.
However, not only did they not get their grandchildren and infant great-grandson returned home, another surprise awaited those who showed up at the court house.
A lawsuit that was filed in the Circuit Court of Shelby County naming various family members and media personnel, including Health Impact News, was presented to many of those who had come to the courthouse. The lawsuit was filed by Erin B. Welborn, listed as the Guardian ad litem of the newborn child. They are demanding that we take down our story and stop publishing anything regarding this case.
The Job of the Press is to Publish the Truth and Hold Governments Accountable When the Law is not Upheld
One of the most important legal documents in our nation’s history is the first ten amendments to our nation’s Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. These “rights” were adopted during the meeting of the first U.S. Congress in 1789, and ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures on December 15, 1791. They can be read here.
Here is part of the text of the Preamble, stating the purpose of these “rights”:
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
Clearly, the Bill of Rights, and other amendments to the U.S. Constitution that followed, were intended to protect citizens of the United States from abuses in government.
The very first of those amendments was the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Hence, Health Impact News will defend the 1st Amendment and our right to publish the truth, exposing government over-reach and abuse.
This will be an on-going story and we will need the public’s support.
How You Can Help
The priority at this point is to reunite this family that has been torn apart.
Senator Cam Ward is the Senator for their district. He may be reached at 334-242-7873, or contacted here.
Representative April Weaver represents their district. She may be reached at 334-242-7731, or contacted here.
According to the Alabama Family Rights Association, ALFRA:
Alabama has a nine-member task force created to examine the work of the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR). If you have issues or concerns about DHR services, your best plan of action is to contact the following legislators/lawmakers and committee members:
Mac McCutcheon, State Representative, Task Force chair / 334-242-7705 / 256-655-3764 / email here
Chris England, State Representative / 334-242-7703 / 205-535-4859 / email here
Greg Reed, State Senator / 334-242-7894 / email
The complete list of committee Members can be found here: Executive Order Number 11
Shelby County DHS Director Kim Mashego http://dhr.alabama.gov/counties/county_results.aspx?id=Shelby
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