These very basic rights were just vindicated the hard way: by a Kentucky mom in federal court. Holly Curry sued the cop and the caseworker, insisting that, the day she was investigated for child abuse, the two authorities so wildly overstepped their bounds that they should not be afforded qualified immunity. In other words, their behavior was so egregious they had to take responsibility for it. The judge agreed.
You may recall the case. Back in March of 2017, Curry was driving her kids to karate when she stopped to get them some muffins. She was in the cafe for just a few minutes. When she came out, two cops rebuked her for leaving the kids.
In Kentucky, it's a crime to leave children under the age of 8 in a car under circumstances that "manifest an extreme indifference" to human life and create a grave risk of death. But the cops didn't say she'd done that. The kids all looked fine, and the officers didn't charge Curry with a crime. Nevertheless, they felt obligated to call the state's child protection hotline, thus opening a neglect investigation, which automatically required a visit to the Curry home to check on the kids.
When the caseworker arrived at the home, Curry refused to let her in without a warrant. The worker returned with a sheriff's deputy but still no warrant. When Curry insisted that they still couldn't enter, they threatened to " come back and take all of your children." Terrified, Curry let them in.
Labeling that decision "voluntary consent," the authorities entered the home. Unsurprisingly, the house and kids all looked fine. Even so, the caseworker insisted on strip searching each kid, removing their underwear and examining their genitals for signs of abuse.
A few months later, the caseworker closed the investigation as "unsubstantiated," saying that what Curry had done was a "one-time 'oopsy-daisy.'" But she telephoned Curry later and said, "If we ever get a call against your family again, bad things will happen to you, and we'll take your children."
At that point, Curry had had enough. She turned around and filed suit against the caseworker and cop, claiming violation of her constitutional rights.
They, in turn, pressed hard for immunity. But in in a powerful ruling on Aug. 18 in Curry v. Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Judge Justin Walker said that it was clear the government used an improper threat to enter the home, lacked any evidence that might have justified a strip-search and violated the children's rights to bodily integrity.
Assuming his decision stands, "It's very good news for child welfare and police reformers," says Diane Redleaf, co-chair of United Family Advocates and Let Grow's legal consultant.
"It's also welcome news for all the parents who want to give their kids some unsupervised time — to walk to school, to come home with a latchkey, to wait briefly in the car — but fear what could happen to them if an onlooker decided to call 911," says Redleaf.
The Currys are home-schoolers who enlisted James R. Mason, vice president of litigation and development of the Home School Legal Defense Association, to file the federal suit on their family's behalf. Mason hopes that now the authorities will think twice before barging into homes and strip-searching kids without evidence of wrongdoing by the parent. The investigator in the case testified that they "automatically strip-search every child when they go into a home," Mason notes. "No more."