“WE’RE LOSING RIGHTS THAT ARE VITAL TO WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN AMERICAN”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Dec. 7, 2012) — Since late September, The Post & Email has been reporting on a case in Los Angeles County, CA, wherein seven children were taken from their parents and retained in the foster care system by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for more than 18 months without any signs of child abuse. The parents, Jeffrey and Erica Henderson, have filed a federal lawsuit under 42 USC 1983 at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Los Angeles Division.
On May 25, 2010, a dispute between the Hendersons and a former landlord culminated in someone anonymously calling child protective services with a claim of abuse against the eldest Henderson child which the parents have soundly denied. The Pasadena Police Department visited the home without a warrant and was not satisfied when the parents invoked their Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches and seizures. The police then used a battering ram to break down the Hendersons’ door to inspect the children and found no signs of abuse.
The father, Jeffrey Henderson, was reportedly beaten by police and arrested, his collarbone broken in front of his pregnant wife, and hospitalized. The couple filed a claim against the Pasadena police for $10,000 to cover the resulting medical bills which the department refused to pay. A year later, both parents were arrested and jailed after Jeffrey refused a plea deal on the charge of resisting arrest, after which the children were placed into foster care in four different homes.
All criminal charges were dismissed against the parents in June 2011, but the children have not been returned.
The Hendersons are Orthodox Jews and object to their children having been placed with Catholic families who they perceive as imposing their faith on their young children, who range in age from five months to ten years. Mrs. Henderson has reported that religious garments have been confiscated from the children as a disciplinary measure and that one of the children has been both physically injured and molested. Another incurred a serious injury above his eye which the foster mother could not adequately describe to Mrs. Henderson because her primary language is Spanish.
Mr. and Mrs. Henderson have been struggling to reunite with their children and have attended parenting classes, counseling and all scheduled visitation in an effort to adhere to the case plan, but the juvenile court judge has refused to take steps toward reunification. Rather, Judge Marguerite Downing stated that she intended to place the six older children into adoptive homes, although at the last scheduled hearing on November 19, she did not proceed with that order because Jeffrey’s attorney demonstrated that the parents had not been served proper notice of the hearing. Downing allowed the court to take jurisdiction over the youngest Henderson child even after it was proved that necessary signatures had never been obtained on the documents which ordered the child to be taken from his mother on August 31.
Downing has ejected the parents from the courtroom for having requested to represent themselves, and several hearings have taken place without the parents’ having been notified.
The public affairs officer for DCFS has stated that reunification is the top priority of the agency after children enter the foster care system. In 2003, the Long Beach Press Telegram reported that “money” was a motive in placing children in foster care, and a director of the local ACLU was quoted as having said, “The county’s foster care system makes Charles Dickens’ descriptions look flattering.” Dickens wrote his now-famous novel Oliver Twist about the plight of orphaned children who were forced to work and often were recruited into lives of crime in an evil underworld.
Jeffrey Henderson has been required to travel several hours each way to visit with his children every Wednesday. Because of a change in case assignment, Mrs. Henderson has not seen her children in more than two weeks.
Mr. Henderson told The Post & Email that during his visit on December 5, he noticed a rash on his infant son and described him as appearing “puffy,” which he attributed to the child’s allergy to infant formula. Erica has not been able to deliver breast milk to the baby as a result of the case having been transferred to a different office and a social worker not immediately identified.
In keeping with a letter received from supervising Judge Michael Nash, The Post & Email has requested to inspect the Henderson file. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for December 20, 2012.
The Post & Email asked Mr. Henderson about his purpose in filing the federal lawsuit, which names 26 defendants in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles County Supervisor, several DCFS social workers, the clerk of the court, two judges, lawyers and others. His response is here: DM420486_A
Mr. Henderson described the defendants and procedure going forward as follows: DM420486_B_B_A
Mr. Henderson told us that he is hoping that the named defendants will “stop breaking the law” as a result of publicity of the lawsuit.
The Post & Email asked Mr. Henderson if he expects that justice will be done at the federal level, to which he replied: DM420486_B_B_B_B_A
Mr. Henderson described his visit with the children on Wednesday: DM420486_B_B_B_B_B_A
When asked what he hopes the lawsuit will accomplish, Mr. Henderson responded: DM420486_B_B_B_B_B_B_B_A
The 118-page lawsuit can be read here. There are four addenda: