Monday, August 8, 2011

Foster care in Michigan: DHS and Maryanne Godboldo: The more we learn, the worse it gets

            Two trials now are underway in the case of Maryanne Godboldo, the Detroit mother whose child was taken away after she exercised her right to take her off a potentially dangerous psychiatric medication. The trials have revealed new details about the behavior of the Michigan Department of Human Services.  They reveal DHS to be a lawless agency that refuses to abide by even the bare minimum due process protections to which families are entitled.

            First a little background:

When Godboldo refused to let the police in to execute what now appears to have been an illegal order to remove the child, it set off a chain of events including, allegedly, Godboldo firing a shot and police responding with a SWAT team, a helicopter and tanks.  (There’s an overview of the case in NCCPR’s monthly Blog for the trade journal Youth Today).

            After seizing the child and institutionalizing her, authorities decided she didn’t need the medication after all – but they continued to institutionalize her for seven weeks before releasing her to an aunt.  If not for the alleged shot, and the response, this case would be exactly like thousands of others in Michigan.  No mainstream media would have paid the slightest attention, and Godboldo’s daughter probably still would be institutionalized.

            In the course of investigating the case, WXYZ-TV learned that in the Godboldo case and many others, orders to remove children are, literally, rubber-stamped. But it wasn’t clear who does the rubber-stamping. 

            Now, we’re learning more about the process. A regular reader of NCCPR’s Facebook page, James Rinkevich, pointed me to this story on the Voice of Detroit website. VOD reports that the Interim Supervisor of Juvenile Intake for Wayne County, Vikki Kapanowski, testified at Godboldo’s juvenile court trial that the orders actually are approved by a probation officer with no law license, who then stamps the judge’s name on the order.  The judge never even sees the order.


            So the most charitable explanation for DHS Director (and former Michigan Supreme Court Justice) Maura Corrigan’s claim that “Only judges can issue orders removing children from their homes; such orders are issued only in the most extreme circumstances” is that she was totally unaware of what’s been going on in Detroit.  But what is the explanation for her silence about this practice now that it’s been revealed?

            One possibility: Corrigan may claim that the probation officer was acting as a “referee.”  The judge in Godboldo’s juvenile court case bought this argument.  But, Voice of Detroit points out, there are a few problems with it:

            ●Referees hear testimony in some juvenile court cases and make recommendations to judges.  But they are not authorized to issue orders to remove children.

            ● Referees have to be formally sworn in.  The probation officers wielding rubber-stamps in Detroit have not been sworn – and are not authorized to perform any of the functions of referees.

            ● A referee has to have a law license.  The probation officers rubber-stamping orders to remove Detroit children don’t have law licenses.


            Voice of Detroit and the Detroit News also reported on testimony in Godboldo’s criminal trial revealing that the whole process of serving the illegal order was, in itself, illegal.

            From the Detroit News story:

Although the juvenile order allowed 30 days for compliance, [DHS caseworker Mia] Wenk said she went straight to the Godboldo home with two other CPS workers. Wenk also said some of what she did in the hours after getting the order didn't follow normal procedure. Civil orders are normally enforced by county deputies and court process servers.

Wenk and the other CPS workers stopped a block short of serving the order themselves. Wenk instead dialed 911 on her cellphone to tell Detroit Police she needed help with a "warrant" to remove a child. Godboldo's lawyers claim Wenk elevated the tension by implying a criminal warrant was involved, not a less urgent civil order with a monthlong compliance window. …

Detroit Police Officer Kevin Simpson testified today that his department's official policy is to let other agencies enforce civil orders such as the one issued to seize Godboldo's child. But, he had been dispatched to help Wenk execute a "warrant," which Detroit police routinely enforce.

[Godboldo’s lawyer Byron] Pitts asked, "So it's not the responsibility or an official duty of the Detroit Police Department?"
"Correct," Simpson answered.
"The order was not directed to the Detroit Police Department?"
"No," Simpson said.
Noting there is no enforcement agency named on the document, Pitts asked, "In fact, it's not directed to anyone, is it?"
"No," Simpson answered.
Simpson said his supervisor decided to forcibly enter the house after Godboldo said she was calling her lawyer and shut the front door in his face.
Pitts asked, "Nobody said, 'Hey, there's no rush. Let's come back another day and talk to this woman?'"
"No," Simpson said.


The caseworker was asked how all this could possibly comply with the requirement in federal law to make “reasonable efforts” to keep families together before resorting to taking away the child.  Her answer: She invited Goldboldo to a meeting to discuss the case.  Period.  End of efforts.  She admitted she did not tell Godboldo that if she didn’t attend, cops and caseworkers would descend on her home to remove her child by force.

And families have reason to be suspicious about such meetings.  A study of Michigan child welfare revealed that in at least one case, such a meeting was a subterfuge, used in an attempt to lure a parent and child to a DHS office to the child could be taken on the spot.

Voice of Detroit has some additional details about DHS caseworker Mia Wenk’s testimony:

“I told ‘911’ I needed assistance to execute a warrant,” Wenk said. “I told them when they get the child out they will need to transport her in their back seat since they have a cage in the car. I never met [the child]. I didn’t even know what she looked like. I asked them to bring her leg, and told them she has ‘psychosis NOS’ [not otherwise specified].”

Many in the courtroom, which was packed with Godboldo’s supporters, gasped at the reference to caging a Black child, and the derogatory terminology used to describe her disability. The child has been disabled since infancy, but according to family and church members has led a normal life including dancing, swimming and horseback riding lessons, using a prosthetic leg.

Thirty-Sixth District Court Judge Ronald Giles told audience members to leave if they could not restrain themselves, upon which Godboldo herself left the courtroom, returning shortly after she was able to compose herself.

If you’re wondering what the other Detroit daily, the Free Press had on all this, the answer is – absolutely nothing.  As usual, since this case began, reporter Gina Damron’s coverage was minimal, and focused largely on helping the prosecution and/or DHS make its case.

It is a remarkable contrast with how the Free Press covered two cases of wrongful removal involving affluent white families.  In the “Mike’s Hard Lemonade” case, in which the parents are white professors at the University of Michigan, the Free Press ran a front page column excoriating DHS.  And just two months ago, the Free Press published an excellent six-part series about another white, suburban family’s bizarre false-allegation nightmare – a case that ended three years ago, and which was covered thoroughly at the time.

Damron’s one-sided coverage is even more surprising considering the connection between that case involving the white suburban family and the Godboldo case.  That story in a future post, probably Wednesday.

UPDATE, 2:05PM: Voice of Detroit has another excellent story about the Godboldo juvenile court trial today.