Lawsuit takes on county over exams of children – The San Diego Union-Tribune
A class-action lawsuit was filed Monday against San Diego County over the decades-long practice of giving invasive medical exams at the Polinsky Childrenâ€™s Center to children who had been taken away from their parents.
The exams â€“ which the county has argued are medical assessments to guard against contagious diseases â€“ are given to all children taken to the facility. Critics say the exams amounted to an unconstitutional search for evidence against parents, who were deceived in the process, and the county has changed its practices amid years of litigation.
The latest complaint was filed Monday in federal court on behalf of a 2-year-old boy, identified only by initials D.C., who was given the exam in 2014. The suit is seeking class action status to represent all children taken to Polinsky since 1995, which could include tens of thousands of children, lawyers who filed the case said.
The practice of giving the exams violated the constitutional rights against illegal searches and the due process rights of parents, the suit says.
Last year the county settled one lawsuit brought by Steven and Joanna Swartwood, whose children were given the exams, for $1.1 million, so the countyâ€™s potential liability in a class action could be substantial.
Donnie Cox, the lawyer who won that settlement and filed the class action suit, said it was too early to say how much the county might have to pay. He said that the county has been notified that the exams were not legal since a federal appeals court ruling in 1999.
â€œTheyâ€™ve been on notice they canâ€™t do these exams for years,â€ he said.
The center is where children who are removed from their home because of suspected abuse or neglect are taken.
The new class action suit repeats the arguments from the Swartwood lawsuit that contended the exams violated the constitutional rights of parents and children.
As part of the settlement last year, the county did not formally admit liability but agreed to a court order requiring changes to the procedures and to the layout of the Polinsky center to allow parents to be present during the exams.
Cox said itâ€™s unclear if those changes have been fully put in place. Mike Workman, a spokesman for the government, said the county has made â€œall the changes to the exams we agreed to as part of the settlement.â€
Cox contended the exams, which included checking the genitals and anuses of children, were nothing other than attempts to gather evidence of abuse against parents. The county did not allow parents to be present during the exams and also did not fully inform them of what the exams were for.
In 2014 a federal judge ruled in that suit that the exams were â€œinvestigatoryâ€ and the countyâ€™s consent form for parents was intentionally misleading.
The county estimates the Polinsky Center takes in 300 children a month, meaning that the total number of children included in the class could exceed 50,000.
The lawsuit filed Monday also seeks an injunction stopping the county from administering the exams without consent of the parents, and without a court order or warrant.
The suit was filed on behalf of a child who was removed from his motherâ€™s custody in 2014 on suspicions he had been injured. A doctor at Childrenâ€™s Hospital had examined the child and seen a mark less than a quarter inch in size, which triggered the childâ€™s removal and transport to Polinsky Center, it says.
The next day the child was given the exam, which included the genital and anal checks, without the motherâ€™s knowledge or consent, the lawsuit says. The mother, Katy Evans, is suing the county and social workers in a separate case, claiming they unlawfully removed the child from her care, then lying about the reasons behind the removal.