by Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News
In 2015, we covered the story of the Stanley family in Arkansas, reporting how the local sheriff department arrived at the home one night with local social workers and issued a warrant to search their property for a “dangerous” mineral supplement that was supposedly being forced upon the children and endangering their health. See:
The Stanley family homeschool their children, and that night, despite the fact that no dangerous materials were found in the house, and that a local doctor who came in an ambulance and examined each of the 7 children cleared them as being healthy, the local sheriff deputy ordered all 7 children to be forcibly removed from their home. Prior to this time, they had never spent a night away from their parents.
Even when the children were being removed, the DHS workers reportedly remarked that there was no reason to take the children out of the home. When Mr. Stanley asked who actually made the decision to take their kids, Garland County Deputy Mike Wright allegedly replied, “I did, and I am proud of it.”
Concerned parties present at the time captured a photo of some of the children being taken away by night, and that photo has become a symbol of government abuse of power in unlawfully removing children from loving parents.
It turned out that the mineral supplement was perfectly legal, and posed no health threat to the children. So in order to justify the removal of the children, the charges were changed to something that was not on the original warrant, including “educational neglect” due to the family’s homeschooling practice.
The children were forced to live with foster parents and start attending public school.
None of the charges were ever substantiated, and it was determined later that one the older teenage children made up all the accusations because he did not like being homeschooled and the family’s strict Christian values.
5 months later, all the children were returned home, but not before suffering tremendous emotional trauma from being separated from their parents.
After 21 months, all charges were dropped against the Stanleys. See:
Arkansas Father and Pastor Speaks Out on CPS Kidnapping His Children as All Charges are Dropped 21 Months Later
But this was not the end of their ordeal, only the beginning. Working with local attorney Joe Churchwell, the Stanleys sued the Garland County Sheriff’s Department for a violation of their civil rights – a case that has reached all the way up to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which last year upheld a U.S. District Court ruling depriving the lead investigator from “qualified immunity.”
So the civil rights case continues.
The investigator, Kathy Finnegan, was recently deposed by Attorney Joe Churchwell, and the Sentinel-Record has published an account of the deposition. See:
Finnegan allegedly revealed that there was no evidence for the Garland County Sheriff to take the children in the first place.
Kathy Finnegan said in the deposition she gave last week that Maj. Ron Stayton, the former commander of the Arkansas State Police’s Crimes Against Children Division, told her to make true findings of abuse and neglect against Hal and Michelle Stanley without supporting evidence. Finnegan is the CACD civilian investigator who ordered the removal of the couple’s seven children from their home in January 2015. (Source.)
The abuse of justice in the Stanley story enraged the American public, and with strong local media support as well as national publications like Health Impact News covering their story, people from all over the country came to Arkansas to protest.
It quickly became a problem for the State of Arkansas.
“Because I was made to find true on this investigation, because the case was too political,” said Finnegan, responding to Churchwell asking how a competent investigator following the state’s child abuse assessment protocol could have certified unsupported findings. “I told (Stayton) we did not have enough to find true on this case, and he said we have to.
“I thought I had enough to find true on poisonous and noxious substances, but I did not think it would hold up under appeal. I told Maj. Stayton we did not have enough to find true on this case. I did as I was instructed. I was instructed by people that I thought knew what they were doing.”
Finnegan testified that Debbie Roark, CACD’s head of investigations, coached her on how to use DHS’ Division of Children and Family Service’s assessment protocol to support the true findings.
“They wanted this case closed as quickly as possible, because it was a political issue, and because Maj. Stayton was upset because the case was not closed yet,” she said. “Debbie Roark sat down with me and showed me how to find true on this case. … She wrote down what I could say to defend our position when it came to appeal hearings.”
Finnegan said the DHS attorney representing CACD recommended findings of physical abuse, which included exposure to poisonous/noxious substances and inflicting cuts, bruises and welts, not be defended, but that Stayton insisted otherwise.
“Maj. Stayton would not let us do that,” she said. “He said we have to defend.” (Source.)
A judge had ruled in 2015 that the charges for physical abuse lacked sufficient evidence.
That left the charges of “educational neglect” related to the children not being registered as home-schooled.
But these charges were based on the two older teenagers living in the home, and Attorney Churchwell counseled them to plead the 5th, removing investigator Finnegan’s only witnesses:
Finnegan said she was deprived of her corroborating witnesses when Churchwell advised the two children whose allegations prompted the investigation not to testify.
“My two witnesses, who made these claims that night, that their lives were so horrible at home, they were told by you to take the Fifth Amendment,” she told Churchwell. “I had lost my two children that said life was horrible. And (the judge) allowed you to represent the two witnesses and their parents. There was no way I was going to win this appeal.”
Churchwell was concerned that the children were at risk of committing perjury, and that they had been subpoenaed to testify without advice of counsel.
“If they were pushed to repeat what was said earlier, it would be a crime and (they) would be prosecuted,” he said. “So I advised them that they had committed criminal acts regarding false reports, and that everyone is entitled not to incriminate themselves any further.”
Health Impact News will be following the development of this case and report back with further developments as the case proceeds.
This civil rights abuse case has consequences for not only the Stanley family, but all families across the U.S. who have their children taken out their home without due process of law.