By Pete Fowler
January 8, 2008
Father says his family's rights were violated
NEW CASTLE - The Garfield County All Hazards Response Team broke down Tom Shiflett's door Friday night and, following a court order, took his son for medical treatment.
The doctor's recommendation: Take Tylenol and apply ice to the bruises. The boy was back home a few hours later.
Authorities said they had reason to believe Shiflett mistreated his 11-year-old son, Jon, by failing to provide him proper medical care for a head injury. But Shiflett says his privacy and his rights were invaded, and that he has the right and the skill to treat his son himself. Shiflett, 62, said he served as a medic in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.
"Who in the world puts a stipulation on how adequate a person is to care for an injury?" Shiflett asked.
Speaking about the incident from his home in the Apple Tree Park on Monday, Shiflett was very upset. Perhaps most offensive, Shiflett said, was that law enforcement didn't announce there was a warrant before breaking into his home south of New Castle.
"I would have let them in," he said. "It was traumatic to my children, and it's unnecessary."
His spouse, Tina, and his six of 10 kids who are still at home were shocked at the manner of entry. Tina said law enforcement, wearing masks, broke down their door with a battering ram and pointed guns in her children's faces.
"They didn't need to bash into my home and slam my kids to the floor," Tina said, adding later, "I think they get a kick out of this."
She said law enforcement threatened criminal charges should the family even try to follow Jon or find out where he was taken. Jon was returned hours later, around 2:30 a.m. Saturday.
"In all there was not one shred of evidence found that we had done anything wrong or that Jon had not been properly cared for at home," Tina said.
According to a copy of Jon's patient aftercare instructions, a physician recommended Jon drink fluids, take Tylenol, use ice and keep his cuts from his injury clean. Jon still had a nasty-looking black eye and visible bruising on his face Monday after having been hurt in a fall on Thursday.
Jon injured himself by grabbing onto the handle of a moving car his sister was driving and falling. Shiflett and his family said Shiflett ran down the street, checked Jon for injuries and brought him back into their home, where they prayed, applied ice to his head and monitored his condition.
Someone - possibly a neighbor - called paramedics. Shiflett said paramedics looked at Jon after coming through an open front door uninvited. Shiflett told them he didn't want them to treat Jon and asked them to leave.
Friday morning, caseworkers from the Garfield County Department of Social Services arrived. Shiflett allowed them to look at Jon briefly but refused to allow them to take his son for treatment or medical evaluation.
Ross Talbott, who owns the Apple Tree Mobile Home Park and rents to Shiflett, said, "I thought it was an incredibly stupid power move by people who went in there misinformed and ill-informed. I think they violated their personal rights, their constitutional rights and their rights to family."
Talbott also writes a freelance column for the Post Independent.
"I've been (Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario's) longtime supporter, but I tell you what, to send a SWAT team down there was just absolutely over the hill," he said. "Inappropriate is not nearly strong enough a word. It was gross irresponsibility and stupidity. ... Is this Russia? I don't know what we're coming to when they think your kid needs medical help and they send a SWAT team."
Community relations sheriff's deputy Tanny McGinnis said two deputies were first sent to notify Shiflett of a court order for his son's medical treatment and that Shiflett did not comply.
Phone messages to Vallario were not returned Monday afternoon.
A search warrant and order for medical treatment says there was good reason to believe Jon needed treatment. It states that two social services caseworkers tried to explain to Tom Shiflett they believed the boy needed medical treatment after observing injuries including a "huge hematoma" and a sluggish pupil. They offered to pay for treatment, and said they would have to obtain a court order for treatment if they couldn't get Shiflett's consent, the warrant says.
"Shiflett shouted at this worker and advised this worker that if he obtained a court order, he better 'bring an army,'" the warrant states.
A first responder with West Care Ambulance wrote in an affidavit that she and others in an ambulance crew also believed the boy needed medical treatment.
The responder wrote that paramedics left the residence for fear of their safety after Tom Shiflett refused to let them treat his son and became "verbally abusive" to the ambulance crew.
But Talbott said he was there when paramedics responded, and that Shiflett was not yelling or acting abusive. He only asked them to leave, Talbott said, and paramedics were in fact acting belligerent. Shiflett says authorities had no right to enter his home uninvited and without announcing they had a warrant.
"When American law allows federal and state agencies to come in a home and confiscate family, there is something wrong with our system," Shiflett said. "If I can find a law firm or lawyer that can take this pro bono, because I have no money, I'm going to sue everyone on that warrant."
Garfield County Director of Social Services Lynn Rennick said social services is legally required to intervene when it receives a report about possible mistreatment of children, and that sometimes court orders are necessary. She wouldn't discuss any specific case.
Asked what he thought of being taken for medical treatment after the break-in, Jon said, "I think it's ridiculous. There's no reason for it."
Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121