After allegedly experiencing a parent’s nightmare in January, Doug and Danielle Lother of Mountain View filed a government tort claim against the city and Santa Clara County for what the family deems inappropriate actions by officers and a social worker, respectively.
Now the parties involved are in the early stages of working toward a possible settlement before the claim turns into a formal complaint, the Lothers’ attorney Robert Powell said Wednesday (June 12).
The Lothers' 5-year-old daughter was climbing a braided rope over a foam pit at an indoor trampoline park Jan. 25 when she got scared, let go and fell on a knot at the bottom of the rope. This led to a “minor injury,” according to the Lothers, that caused her to bleed from her pubic region. The Lothers told Powell the child was cleaned, cared for and no longer bleeding by the next morning.
At school the following Monday (Jan. 28), the child made a comment to a staff member at Landels Elementary School about how she was no longer bleeding in her pants, Powell said. That set off a red flag in the mind of the adult present, who reported the incident to Child Protective Services.
That day, Danielle opened her front door and was allegedly pushed aside by Mountain View police and a CPS representative who had come to investigate her daughter’s remark. Powell said the authorities did not explain the reason for their visit, splitting up the child and each parent for individual interviews. Police interviewed the Lothers’ other daughter alone, too.
It was from this point things escalated, the Lothers allege in their claim; Danielle guessed the reason for their visit and offered the contact information for the parent who was at the trampoline park when the girl fell during a play date. Still, officers said they were going to call a female paramedic to come and examine her.
Powell described both parents as “very cooperative” to the request; Danielle held her daughter down as Doug directed a flashlight toward the area being inspected. No scrapes, bruising or bleeding were found as everything had already healed, the claim reads.
The youngest Lother resisted as the female paramedic checked her in the Lothers’ living room. The Lothers allege that in the near six months since the visit, their daughter’s demeanor has changed and her grades have dropped dramatically.
“Science now makes it clear that this is not ethereal… its a neurological effect on the brain,” Powell said. “For life, (the girl) will be scarred by this stupid-(expletive) move.”
The Lothers filed the claim Feb. 11 on the basis of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Powell said. The Fourth Amendment grants the guardians the right to protect their children in the privacy and security of their home without the threat of “unreasonable search or seizure.” The Fourteenth Amendment protects the rights of parents to make decisions about the educational and medical management of their children.
Powell argues that both were violated when officers allegedly came in without claiming a legitimate reason for a search and held the child down for several minutes against her will.
“You’d have to be seized in order to have anyone get a look up in there,” Powell said.
The child is surely not the only one left with lingering effects from the incident, Powell said. Danielle had prior losses in her family that prompted police to coming to the door, he elaborated.
“She was kind of stunned,” Powell said. “For her, it was probably (a stronger reaction) than for you or I.”
While several local outlets have published that the claim tops off at $1 million, it’s simply not true, Powell said. Under California law, lawyers are not supposed to discuss how much money their clients are seeking.
When reached for comment, MVPD spokeswoman Katie Nelson said her agency could not comment on specifics due to the active status of the claim. She did say that the interview the Lothers did with San Francisco TV station’s ABC7 News “does not give a full picture of the investigation.”
“Child abuse allegations are very serious and the investigation of them is complex; they are difficult, both on the families and on our officers,” Nelson added.
Powell said he is in contact with a representative from the ambulance company that employees the female paramedic involved, but has not made significant contact with her. He did not name the company.
More than a claim
For now, Powell’s focus lies with the Lother case. In his career, however, he has handled a number of cases that make it clear there is a larger, underlying issue in the treatment of accusations surrounding children. Powell only had one word that he felt justifiably described the CPS system: broken.
“This case is terrible, but it isn’t completely out of the ordinary,” Powell said. “This happens and (CPS) strip-searches children, and it’s like, use your (expletive) brain.”
Powell went on to compare the alleged mistreatment of children by CPS to the Nazi invasion in World War II.
“Hypervigilance and separation anxiety are the terms psychologists would use to describe (the effect) on children after these events,” Powell said. “I’ve seen toddlers taken (by CPS) and returned to their parents and their parents can’t even go to the bathroom. They don’t trust it when (the parents) leave their sight because of what happened the last time they did.”