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Courthouseforum news: Franklin County OCYF gets sued in Federal Court by Pennsylvania Couple

with 2 comments

I browse Courthouse news (since I found out about the site) and believe this article should be posted.  Franklin County, PA also keeps hitting my radar.

It was a Medical Condition, not Child Abuse — but the Dad was Jailed over a year, and the daughter put in Foster Care.

Pennsylvania Couple sue Franklin County and its OCYF, and the PA Medical Center that jumped to conclusions,  in Federal Court

Monday October 3, 2011

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) – Parents say they lost custody of their children, were identified as child abusers and the father was jailed for more than a year because doctors and state officials falsely attributed their 4-month-old daughter’s childhood stroke and congenital rickets to child abuse.
Jamel Billups and Jacqueline Rosario, who are black, sued the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Franklin County and its Office of Children, Youth and Families and a long list of individuals, in Federal Court.
The parents say that when their daughter, L.B., suffered a stroke and showed signs of rickets on Oct. 19, 2009, the Child Safety team at Penn State Hershey Medical Center falsely blamed her condition on child abuse, and the state then seized her and her 2-year-old brother, T.R., and sent them to foster homes.
The parents say L.B.’s abdominal CT scan and skeletal surveys revealed 16 rib fractures, but medical evidence that showed no related internal injuries proved these fractures were the result of “weak bones rather than abusive trauma.”
They say that despite medical knowledge that Vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets and weak bones in African Americans, Penn State’s Child Safety Team failed to require that L.B.’s blood be tested for abnormal clotting factors or that the child’s or mother’s blood be tested for vitamin D deficiency.

. . .

They claim that agents of the Office of Children, Youth and Families, defendants Tammie Lay and Dawn M. Watson, “failed to conduct their own independent non-presumption tainted investigation” and “relied exclusively upon the conclusion of defendant Penn State’s Child Safety Team and defendants [Drs. Mark S.] Dias, [Kathryn R.] Crowell and [Arabinda K.] Choudhary that L.B.’s intracranial hemorrhages were caused by abuse on the afternoon of October 19, 2009 and rib fractures were caused by abuse 4 to 8 weeks prior to her hospitalization without conducting any independent medical review or confirmation of their own.”
The complaint continues: “On October 21, 2009, eight days before Jamel was arrested, defendant [Lauren] Sulcove emailed defendant Dias to introduce herself as the prosecutor that would be handling the case against Jamel.”

. . .

After the report was issued, Jamel Billups was charged with felony aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child.
The parents say: “As soon as Jamel learned of the issuance of the arrest warrant on the day it was issued, October 29, 2009, he immediately and voluntarily reported to the Chambersburg police station and was taken into custody. The court set a $200,000.00 straight bail for Jamel, a bail that the Billups’ family could not post. Jamel’s remained in jail from October 29, 2009 until December 17, 2010, when a jury acquitted Jamel of all criminal charges.”

. . .

And here comes the Grant connection:

According to the complaint, “Penn State created a Child Safety Team on September 1, 2009 for the express purpose, inter alia, of investigating whether injuries reported as suspicious for child abuse were, in fact, caused by child abuse. Penn State has a discriminatory policy that lends the full faith and credit of Penn State to employees who testify for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in criminal prosecutions, for the Commonwealth’s county child protection agencies in dependency proceedings and Childline expunction hearings but denies the same full faith and credit of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center to those employees who testify for the accused parents.”
Penn State, according to the complaint, received “a 2.8 million dollar grant from the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) for educating parents about shaken baby syndrome.”
Defendant Dr. Mark Dias, co-director of the Penn State Child Safety Team, is a neurosurgeon, a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and “holds himself out as an expert in child abuse who can determine whether an injury was caused by abuse and frequently testifies with the full faith and credit of Penn State for the prosecution in criminal cases,” according to the complaint.
“In 2010, defendant Dias wrote a chapter of a book about child abuse entitled ‘The Case for Shaking’.” It was Defendant Dias’ published efforts that enabled Penn State to receive the CDC 2.8 million dollar grant to ‘educate’ parents about shaken baby syndrome.”

That information, from their site, is here:

Welcome to the Pennsylvania Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention and Awareness Program

“Saving babies’ lives one family at a time.”

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is one of the most severe forms of child abuse caused by the violent shaking of an infant with or without impact against an object. Approximately 1/3 of the victims die as a result of direct brain injuries. Thousands of victims who survive suffer permanent neurological damage such as blindness, developmental delays, mental retardation, seizures, physical disabilities, paralysis, and/or brain damage.

Shaken Baby Syndrome usually results from a parent or caregiver shaking a baby because the baby would not stop crying. Since crying is the primary reason that infants are shaken, it is important to inform parents, when their baby is born, how to deal with the frustrations of a crying baby as well as to equip them with effective parenting and coping strategies. Educated parents are then advocates for their child’s safety.  They are encouraged to share this information with others who may care for their child such as relatives, friends, and childcare providers.

Admittedly, this is important information.  However ,not all parents shake their babies in frustration and anger.  And a father just spent a year in jail, being innocent.  The parents have a lot of courage to sue, and let’s hope a good attorney, too.  We already know there’s a tendency to get black children into foster care, and incentives for getting children into foster care as well.

The Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention & Awareness Program was developed in 1998 in Upstate New York by Dr. Mark Dias, MD, Pediatric Neurosurgeon.  Since the inception of the SBS program, Upstate New York has reduced the incidence of infant abusive head injuries by nearly 50%.  The results of this research project was published in the Journal of Pediatrics in April 2005.  In 2005, the upstate New York Program expanded into Pediatric offices and has shown an additional 10% decrease in infant abusive head injuries.  

In 2002, the identical program was started as a pilot study, under Dr. Dias, in central Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Law 2002-176: The Shaken Baby Syndrome Education Act was passed.  The program partnered with, and is now funded by, the Pennsylvania Department of Health to expand into 100% of all birthing and children’s hospitals in Pennsylvania and in 2004 the name of the program was changed from the Central Pennsylvania SBS Education Program to the Pennsylvania Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention & Awareness Program.

In October 2007, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) awarded the Pennsylvania Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention & Awareness Program a $2.8 million dollar grant to continue the prevention efforts by expanding the education into pediatric and family practice offices in 16 counties in Central Pennsylvania.  This “booster” of education is being presented at the 2 month, 4 month and 6 month immunization visits and complements, but does not duplicate, the education provided at the time of the baby’s birth.  The focus is on infant crying & techniques to assist parents in coping with a crying infant.  The study will assess the cost and feasibility of providing this form of education in an outpatient setting.  Phase II of the program is funded by the CDC for five years.

The Pennsylvania Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention & Awareness Program provides PNA approved nursing in-services, supplies, educational videos and guidance free of charge.  Our goal is to ensure that every parent of every child born in Pennsylvania receives education on shaken baby syndrome!

More information on that law:  Again, the law is to educate about SBS:

  • A baby’s head is large and heavy in proportion to the baby’s body.
  • There is space between the brain and skull to allow for growth and development.
  • The baby’s neck muscles are not yet developed.        
Violently shaking a baby or young child forces the head to whip back and forth, causing blood vessels in the brain and eyes to rip and bleed.  In addition, this motion causes the brain to move and bounce against the skull which can cause brain damage. Shaking a baby can cause:
  • blindness 
  • broken bones
  • cerebral palsy 
  • death
  • hearing loss 
  • mental retardation
  • paralysis
  • seizures
  • speech or learning difficulties 
Shaken Baby Syndrome PA Legislation  
  • Act No. 2002 – 176, Shaken Baby Syndrome Education and Prevention Program signed in December 2002.
  • Requires hospitals to: 
  • Provide parents educational materials on SBS free of charge.
  • Present parents with a voluntarily commitment statement indicating that they have received the educational materials.
  • Charged the Department of Health to develop a program to focus on awareness, education and prevention of Shaken Baby Syndrome and prescribe a format for a Commitment Statement. 

About the Child Safety Team member’s expert testimony:

The parents add that Dr. Crowell, a member of the Penn State Child Safety Team, “qualified as an expert in child abuse for the first time in her life at the dependency hearing for L.B. and T.R on December 18, 2009. Defendant Crowell was qualified as an expert in child abuse for the second time in her life at Jamel’s preliminary criminal hearing on December 28, 2009. Dr. Crowell acknowledged under oath at Jamel’s criminal trial that she misrepresented medical evidence critical to L.B.’s case when she testified at Jamel’s preliminary hearing.”
Thirty paragraphs later, the parents say that Dr. Crowell “testified falsely that L.B. had ‘an extensive screening’ for ‘coagulation problems’ and ‘an extensive screening for bleeding disorders’ that were ‘normal’ and that L.B.’s ‘metabolic workup was normal.'”

Reminder:  The Child Safety Team had only been started a few months earlier.  Within one month of them being assembled, they had a black father in jail and two kids in foster care, erroneously.   The bail was set too high for this man to get out of jail.  How many times do we hear of people being quickly sprung from jail after domestic violence?    (or sent to diversionary programs instead of jail).  See my Toms River article for an example of this, when the woman victim was an employee of the DYFS herself….

This next part, if true, is disgraceful.  A medical doctor testifying FOR the family suffered restrictions that ones from the prosecution did not.  First, they point out that some doctors (for the prosecution) had liability insurance; while one wishing to testify FOR the family, did not:

The parents say that Crowell was also “paid by, and enjoyed the liability insurance, of Penn State” and was never their daughter’s treating physician.
Defendant Dr. Arabinda Choudhary, another member of the Penn State Child Safety Team, “was not board certified by the American Board of Radiology nor does he possess any certificates of additional qualifications in pediatric radiology or neuro-radiology,” according to the complaint. The parents say that Dr. Choudhary, “with reckless indifference to the truth, changed his initial diagnosis of L.B.’s venous stroke from possible thrombosis to the anatomically impossible diagnosis of a congenital/developmental anomaly.”

     Choudhary also was “paid by, and enjoyed the liability insurance, of Penn State” and was never their daughter’s treating physician, the parents say.
The chairwoman of Penn State’s Radiology Department, defendant Dr. Kathleen D. Eggli, “just before the scheduled criminal trial of Jamel … implemented a new policy in the radiology department in which defendant Eggli selectively imposed restrictions on a Penn State radiologist who was sought out for a second opinion by the Billups family and rendered an opinion different than that of the Penn State Child Safety Team,” the complaint states. “The restrictions imposed on this doctor who was willing to testify for the Billups family were not imposed on the Penn State radiologist who testified for the prosecution, defendant Choudhary, or on any other doctor at Penn State who testified for the prosecution. The restrictions included a prohibition on communicating the doctor’s faculty appointment as an assistant professor of radiology at Penn State, denial of liability insurance from Penn State and a prohibition on the use of Penn State logo and letterhead, all prohibitions that were not applied to Defendants Dias, Crowell or Choudhary during their investigation and testimony on behalf of the prosecution and county children and youth agency.”

The doctor was faculty — assistant professor of radiology — and forbidden to use the Penn State logo or letterhead?   Interesting! . . . . ..

This sounds like typical agency behavior — AFTER the father was criminally acquitted, the two workers tried to get a restriction on his parenting — he could not be alone with the children.  This part is saddening:

The parents say that even after Jamel was acquitted of criminal charges, “FCCYS agents Kari Coccagna and Minnie Tuner threatened to immediately send the police to forcibly remove T.R. and L.B. from Jamel and Jackie if Jamel and Jackie did not agree to a ‘voluntary’ safety plan. The ‘voluntary’ safety plan required that Jamel ‘agree’ that he would not be alone with his children and required Jackie and Jamel to ‘agree’ to unannounced visits from employees of defendant FCCYS or suffer the immediate removal of their children from their care by the police.

They had their foot in the door.  The accusations of abuse had been proved false, and the father and family had paid heavily for the Child Safety Team and prosecutors mistakes.  Now this (black) couple is to endure yet further violations of their civil liberties and right to privacy, for what reason?  And under threat of removal of their children if they said no?  SOunds like, having seen how the law works by this time, they signed the voluntary safety plan.  To have the Dad never be alone with the children places a burden on the family, and the mother, after obviously the father had been taken out of the work force (assuming he’d been working) for over a year, sitting in jail wrongly!

At all times relevant to this complaint, defendant Franklin County and defendant FCCYS had a policy of using safety plans as voluntary placement agreements and extending those agreements beyond 30 days in violation of 55 Pa. Code §3130.65. Defendants Franklin County, FCCYS, Coccagna and Tuner extended the voluntary placement agreement beyond 30 days without obtaining a court order in violation of Pennsylvania law and Jamel’s and Jackie’s right to due process pursuant to Franklin County and FCCYS policy or, in the alternative, defendants Coccagna and Watson violated the due process protection provided in 55 Pa. Code §3130.65 and failed to obtain a court order to extend the ‘voluntary’ safety plan beyond 30 days on their own.”

There’s nothing “voluntary” about anything when the alternative is to have your children forcibly removed and put into foster care, after they already had been!  That’s flat-out extortion when there has been no abuse!

The parents add: “On June 18, 2011, FCCYS closed its case with the Billups family and terminated the ‘voluntary’ safety plan.”

Look at the timeline.  He was criminally cleared in December 2009, and it took over a year and a half to get this agency to drop its attack on the family.  Suppose this had been a family of a different color (or able to afford that $200K bail?) — would it have played out differently?

The parents and their children seek punitive damages for reckless indifference to civil rights, due process violations, negligence, failure to train, extending voluntary placement agreements beyond 30 days, unconstitutionally favoring expert witnesses for the prosecution and disadvantaging expert witnesses for the defendants, and for the 414 days that Jamel was jailed for a crime he did not commit.
They are represented by Mark Freeman of Media, Pa. 

(that is also the entire article).

I’m glad this family finally was reunited, and commend them for courage in suing.

The topic and similar ones are handled by a Dr. Charles Pragnell.  I”m including this link FYI; he writes also about false allegations of child abuse through lack of proper medical diagnosis, and other topics.  This links happens to be about how come Mucnchausen’s By Proxy got such wide acceptance.

Because he deals more in other countries (including European and in Australia) the perspective is different.  He also relates it sometimes to the historical World War I & II information, as I recall.     He writes about many topics with injections of common sense and different perspectives than the witch-hunt one.


Addendum — Last Post complained in part about “healthy Marriage” funding, and in the same post I also pointed out that major corporations (Through ALEC, at least) are pushing certain types of very conservative legislation — including marriage promotion.

This Huffington Post Article (found right alongside the one I”m blogging, above) validates the claim that marriage is good for corporate products:

Marriage And Economic Growth: National Marriage Project Report Finds Major Links

The Huffington Post, Stephanie Hallet, 10/3/2011

Marriage, quite literally, is the lifeblood of the economy, according to a new report released Monday by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. The report, “The Sustainable Demographic Dividend,” examined demographic data, such as census records and consumer expenditure surveys, and concluded that economic growth is dependent on healthy marriages.

The University of Virginia researchers found that when people get married and have children, seven sectors of the economy experience tenable growth. The specific sectors are: child care, life and personal insurance, household products and services, health care, food, home maintenance/home services, and pets and toys. By contrast, those industries suffer when marriage and fertility rates are low.

Since the recession hit, marriage and fertility rates have been waning. In 2009, the number of babies born in the U.S. dropped by 2.3 percent.

. . .

What are the major findings in this report?

[In the report] we’re arguing that the economy depends on strong families because families, of course, provide a future customer base, they supply future workers with important human social capital and they also give men an incentive to work harder in the labor force.

Marriage as an inducement for men to work.  Sounds “gg..rr..eat” for women.  Support multinational corporations — have babies and marry, so your man will be a better employee.  (FYI — this is the theme behind fatherhood programs, too.  Use access to the children as bait to persuade Dads to try harder to get jobs, above the table jobs…..)

So when either marriage or fertility are waning, that can have a negative long-term impact on the economy and also, of course, on particular industries. We also point out that people who get married and have kids are more likely to spend money in certain sectors of the economy. In particular, the seven areas we highlight in this report are: child care, life and personal insurance, household products and services, health care, food, home maintenance/home services, and pets and toys. What that means concretely is that companies like Procter & Gamble, Northwestern Mutual life insurance, Target, Home Depot, these kinds of companies are more likely to flourish when Americans get married and have kids.


About Charles Pragnell
 Articles written by Charles include:
Charles has nearly forty years’ experience working with children and young people as a social worker and senior manager of social services. He has undertaken research for the National Children’s Bureau as well as conducting presentations at national and international conferences on children’s issues related to child protection and social policy. He has lectured at English and Australian universities. Charles is regularly published in journals in the U.K., South Africa and online.

Written by Let's Get Honest|She Looks It Up

October 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Good analysis, Mr. Pragnell. It sounds like we share some interests and conclusions. For another tragic tale, please see the prologue case on my blog, at http://onsbs.wordpress.com/prologue/

    I don’t know of any suits like this one, although I’ve collected a number of similarly improbable prosecutions. This is a case to follow.


    October 3, 2011 at 7:30 pm

  2. […] Grants and Programs Incentivize Action & Attract Traffic.  It’s a symbiotic relationship.  Their original purposes can be great — but once set up, the infrastructure is going to want customers.  Consider the father that apparenty spent a year in jail apart from his family, innocently, and the WHY wouldn’t have been unearthed unless they’d filed a lawsuit — as I blogged last October, in Courthouse Forum News:  Franklin County (PA) OCYF gets sued in Federal Court by Pennsylvania Couple… […]

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