HARDIN COUNTY, Kentucky, September 1, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― A court has decided that a police officer and a social worker who entered a homeschooling couple’s house without a warrant and strip-searched their children do not have qualified immunity and therefore can be held responsible for their violations of the Fourth Amendment.
Josiah and Holly Curry are suing Jeanetta Childress, the social worker, and Michael Furnish, the police officer, for their illegal actions in March 2017. They have been represented in court so far by the Home School Legal Defense Association.
The heartbreaking story would be unbelievable were it not a matter of court record.
One morning that March, Holly Curry was driving to her children’s karate class when she stopped at Elizabethtown’s Cobblers Café to get coffee and muffins. Leaving her six small children, who include two sets of twins, in the air-conditioned and well secured car, she quickly went into the shop and returned within ten minutes. By then, someone had reported her to the police.
A police officer, Officer Matt McMillen, approached Curry and told her that she must never leave her children unattended. He also informed her that he had to file a report with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and that a social worker would be sent to her house.
According to news site Kentucky.com, McMillen now regrets citing Holly Curry for child neglect.
Social worker Jeanetta Childress received his report the next day and went to the Currys’ home that afternoon. When Holly Curry told Childress twice that she could not come inside without a warrant, the social worker said she would return with a police officer and did. Childress was fully aware that the family had a “clean” background and no history with Child Protective Services.
Deputy Michael Furnish, the police officer who escorted Childress, was armed and in uniform. However, when Holly Curry ascertained that he too didn’t have a warrant, she refused to let either of them in. According to the court document, both Childress and Furnish shouted at the young mother and ultimately threatened to get a custody order and take all of her children away. Cowed, Holly Curry let them in.
When the social worker and the police officer entered the Curry home, Childress made “inappropriate” remarks about the size of their family and their religious beliefs. Then Childress proceeded to interview the two oldest children, who were under seven, separately, alone in a bedroom, while the police officer waited outside. At one point, Holly Curry tried to call her husband, but Childress stopped her by sitting on her phone.
After the interviews, while Holly Curry and some of her children were crying, Childress announced that she was going to inspect the children for physical injuries. While the mother and the police officer watched, she examined the children’s bodies, including their genitals.
Although her initial report was marked “unsubstantiated,” Childress telephoned both adult Currys separately to threaten them with the removal of their children. According to the court document, the social worker told Josiah Curry, “If we ever get a call against your family again, bad things will happen to you, and we’ll take your children.”
District judge Justin R. Walker of the Western District of Kentucky ruled that there was “no legal basis” for Childress’s and Furnish’s threat to Holly Curry that they would take her children away if she didn’t let them in.
“Not a single statutory prerequisite for an emergency order existed, much less the required combination,” Walker wrote.
The judge observed that Furnish and Childress knew only two things about the Curry family: that they had no history with social services and that the children had been “utterly unharmed” during their short wait in the car outside the coffee shop. In that situation, they should have known they could not get a custody order. Therefore, a jury could find that Holly Curry was coerced into letting them in her house.
Walker also observed that the law prohibits Furnish’s and Childress’s conduct. Therefore, the “qualified immunity” of police and social workers when violating American constitutional rights does not apply here. It does not “shield either Childress or Furnish for entering the Curry’s home without a warrant,” he said.
“Qualified immunity” does shield Childress from charges of “illegal seizure” in interviewing the Curry children, but it does not excuse her from charges that she behaved illegally when she strip-searched them.
“Here Childress lacked even a shadow of a probable cause that the Currys physically abused their children,” Walker wrote.
“If Childress did what the Currys allege, strip searching the children was clearly unconstitutional.”
Bizarrely, Childress testified on several occasions that she thought she should “automatically” strip-search any child aged four or younger. Meanwhile, Furnish, who was present at the stripping, encouraged the children to undress, which disqualified him from immunity.
The judge ended his decision with an overview of the case:
“Act One: An ‘attentive and loving’ mother gets muffins for her children. Act Two: There’s a knock at her door and a threat by the government to take away her children. Act Three: Her children are strip searched without cause.”
“America’s founding generation may never have imagined a Cabinet for Health and Family Services, but they knew their fair share of unwelcome constables,” Walker remarked.
“And they added a Fourth Amendment to our Constitution to protect against this three-act tragedy.”
The Fourth Amendment protects residents of the United States from searches and seizures, especially at home, without probable cause.
The case may now proceed to trial.
The Home School Legal Defense Association says that although this case does not directly concern homeschooling, homeschooling depends on the Fourth Amendment. Meanwhile, the HSLDA is proud to stand with the Currys.
“For almost forty years, HSLDA has come alongside thousands of families to protect children’s interest in the privacy and dignity of their homes,” said HSLDA president Mike Smith.
“Child welfare investigations can play an important role in protecting children from abuse or neglect. But that is not what happened to the Currys. The individuals who are entrusted with the protection of children should not be allowed to inflict the very harm they are meant to prevent.”