Vanessa Peoples was at family picnic in Aurora, Colorado, when her toddler wandered off. She noticed him missing and ran after him, but not before a lady had scooped him up and dialed 911 to report a missing child – and bad mom.
By the time the fallout from this total non-event was over, Vanessa would be hog-tied by the cops in her own home and carried out, she says, “like a pig on a stick.”
You can read the whole story over at the blog Reason, where it was written by my colleague, Diane Redleaf, a lawyer who has worked for about 35 years to put an end to incidents like these. But it is a story that deserves re-telling. Here’s what happened – and why we need to rethink what kind of parenting “incidents” can precipitate a visit from child protective services or the cops.
About a month after the picnic, a caseworker showed up at Vanessa’s home to make sure the kids were fine. At the time – three years ago – Vanessa was 25, a nursing student, and mother to boys aged 2 and 4. She’d just given the kids their baths so they weren’t dressed yet when the caseworker started knocking. And in fact, Vanessa didn’t hear the knocks because she’s deaf in one ear and was down in the basement, tackling some laundry.
When the caseworker saw one of the kids, naked and leaning out of the first floor window, she worried that maybe no one was home. She asked her supervisor for advice and was told to call the cops.
Pretty soon three cops were knocking. When Vanessa didn’t hear them either, they opened the unlocked door. Vanessa was heading upstairs when she saw them coming down to her – guns drawn.
If that were me, I’d have fainted from fear. Vanessa held it together and when the crew came to the living room, she answered the caseworker’s questions, while insisting that the caseworker take a look at the kids: Did they look maltreated? Were there any bruises on them? Vanessa prided herself on her parenting.
The visit was almost over when Vanessa’s mom arrived, angry that the cops were in her home. She wanted to fix the kids’ clothes but the police blocked her from taking them into their bedroom unchaperoned. Hearing the scuffle, Vanessa tried to get to her mom, and that’s when the cops pushed her to the ground. They bound her hands. They bound her feet. And then they bound her hands and feet together. The cops call this “hobbling.” Most of us civilians call it hog-tying.
When Vanessa cried, “I can’t breathe” – three years before the horrible George Floyd story — the cops called an ambulance. The paramedics untied her ankles from her wrists and took her to the hospital. When she was examined there, she was handcuffed to the bed.
Turns out the cops has dislocated her shoulder, which is why we know this story at all. After being bailed out that night by her mom, Vanessa was allowed to go back home. She pleaded guilty to child endangerment to avoid possible prison time, but still had to pay a fine and take parenting classes. But in the meantime, she also found a lawyer willing to sue the cops for the shoulder injury.
The case was settled even before it was filed. Bodycam footage showed what had happened and presumably the police knew they couldn’t win. So – happy ending, right? Hardly.
This entire ordeal began with the most ordinary of parenting problems – a kid who wandered off. I’ve had that. If you’re a parent, you probably have, too. Home visits for everyday issues like that do not make families any safer or more stable.
The government should not be allowed to open a case on parents – much less enter their homes — simply for not being perfect.