Three Cherokee County Department of Social Services social workers, including the DSS director, were indicted with more than three dozen felony and misdemeanor charges in North Carolina on Monday. Among the arrested are Cindy Palmer, DSS director and wife of County Sheriff Derrick Palmer, David Hughes, a supervisor at DSS, and Scott Lindsay, former DSS attorney. The three were booked and released on bond.
The charges included multiple felonies and misdemeanors related to a yearslong Cherokee County DSS practice that removed children from parents without judicial input. The Carolina Public Press has the story.
The indictments come after more than two years of investigations by state and potentially federal authorities. They also do not cover all of the allegations of misconduct, meaning more charges could surface in the future.
But they stand to shake up Cherokee County because of who was indicted and why, as well as who had backed them despite ongoing criminal investigations.
The indictments may also have important implications for the accountability of social services agencies across North Carolina, as well as the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which intervened in Cherokee County while the investigation was underway.
A judge had ruled in 2018 that the agreements were a violation of law but the indictment says Palmer and others continued to use them anyway. And parents who have had experience with child services all over the country knows what kind of power they wield. There is no one to go to when social workers violate your rights. One of the parents involved in the case, Tienda Rose Phillips told CPP, “But when you have someone who you think is over you and is threatening foster care, who you know can take your kid, you kind of do what they say. You kind of feel you have no choice.”
Social workers from Cherokee County DSS told parents and other caregivers that unless they signed the document, their children would be placed in a foster home far away, according to a federal lawsuit.
In fact, the documents were an illegal violation of parents’ constitutional rights, and “the product of both actual and constructive fraud on behalf of the Cherokee County Department of Social Services, its agents and employees and Attorney Scott Lindsay and Director Cindy Palmer,” District Court Judge Sellers ruled in 2018.
Social workers told malicious lies and defrauded parents
Palmer’s offenses include using child-custody agreements that circumvented judicial oversight.
The use of these agreements effectively avoided judicial oversight into the activities of Cherokee County DSS and subverted the statutory process for determining abuse and neglect of children, and determining custody and parental rights,” the indictment says.
“This offense was done in secrecy and with malice; with deceit and intent to defraud; was infamous; and was done in violation of the common law, and against the peace and dignity of the state.”
The government agencies charged with caring for neglected and abused children have historically been at the center of much controversy for removing children wrongly, abusing their authority, violating Constitutional rights, and ignoring abuse that led to the deaths of children nationwide. They have been caught conspiring to take newborns away from parents for disagreeing with medical decisions and have lost huge lawsuits against them for seizing children unlawfully without warrants or due process.
Social workers lied to a judge to take children away from parents
The indictment accuses Palmer of lying to a judge about when and how the agreements came to be used. Palmer claimed the first time she heard about the agreements was in December of 2017 which the indictment says is a lie and that she claimed it “knowing the statement, which is material, to be false.”
…the indictment holds Palmer responsible for CVAs as far back as the beginning of 2016. Palmer became interim director for Cherokee DSS in August 2015, a position that became permanent the following year.
In her defense, her attorney at Cheshire Parker Schneider in Raleigh said the agreements happened years before she became the director.
“Cindy relied on the department’s longtime lawyer, whom she believed was following the law with regard to these agreements,” wrote attorney Hart Miles, with the firm.
“She adamantly denies ever acting with any sort of criminal intent. And she is confident that those in the community that know her understand that she is a dedicated public servant who has been wrongfully targeted in this investigation.”
But the attorney representing the families, David Moore says that Palmer and others had no excuse not to know proper procedure because they were all trained in 2016.
David Moore told the board during that closed session “that training in 2016 had covered the appropriate department procedures that should have been followed regarding custody removals,” according to closed-session minutes. “The 2016 training was clear and direct and taught procedures and rules regarding maintaining parental rights.”
Asked by CPP last year whether this meant Palmer should have known better, David Moore said, “Everybody should have known better.”
Did social workers shred evidence?
In a very disturbing twist, it is reported that after the investigation into the wrongdoing was made public in 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services took over the child welfare offices and knew that Palmer was under investigation for crimes. Despite this, they allowed her to stay on in a position of authority. The Carolina Public Press investigated in 2019 and found evidence that a “massive number of documents at DSS were shredded at precisely the time she [Palmer] took on the new position. If material relevant to the State Bureau of Investigation probe of Palmer and others were destroyed, it could constitute a separate case of obstruction of justice.”