Weekend before last I received a call from a mother fighting to regain custody of her four children who'd been ordered adopted out by Judge Cindee Mayfield. The case is currently in the Court of Appeal of the State of California. The mother asked me if I would contact her appeals attorney and explain my involvement in her case and how her case actually came to be as it is now. I informed the mother that I would, but I wasn’t sure that my information would help unless she could amend her current appeal brief to include “Prosecutorial Misconduct.” She also asked me if I would write something in this newspaper so that others would know her plight.
On August 15, 2011, while working in the Willits office of County Social Services, I was summoned to [Mendocino Assistant Health and Human Services Director and Social Services Department Manager] Bryan Lowery’s office (my supervisor) regarding what appeared to be an urgent case. Lowery was on speaker phone while a newly appointed Social Worker 1 and I sat in the office for the phone conference.
The new social worker was reporting that two children on her voluntary caseload had been seriously injured over the weekend, and that their mother, Kimberly Ortwein, had not sought proper medical care for either child’s injuries. The social worker said she had contacted the mother and directed her to take the children to the Howard Memorial Emergency Room immediately.
Bryan Lowery instructed the social worker and I to call the hospital and place a medical hold on the children. He then directed me to accompany the social worker to the hospital and detain all four of the mother’s children. I told Lowery that we needed to get a warrant first. The hospital hold would be in effect for four hours and we had plenty of time to get a warrant, especially since there was no exigency. He overruled my opinion and demanded that the children be detained immediately, even without an assessment of their welfare being conducted first.
In my 10 years of experience in CPS Emergency Response I had never been told to go pick up anyone’s child “sight unseen” without obtaining a court order first. Concerned that I could be sued, I refused to accompany the social worker in detaining those children. (County Counsel Jeanine Nadel, just a few short months earlier, had given a mandatory warrant policy training and told every social worker that they could be sued and that the County would not defend any social worker who violated the policy.)
On August 16, 2011, I was then directed by Bryan Lowery to write the Petition and Detention Report for the social worker confiscating the Ortwein children. She had never written either document before and had no idea how to do it. The rookie social worker was basically just a trainee who had just been promoted to a Social Worker I after being a social worker aide for several years. Lowery informed me that I was to write the documents with the information provided from the SW I only.
I emailed him a request to be completely relieved from the case but he declined.
In both the Petition and Detention Reports I was told to allege that serious harm had come to two of the Ortwein children and that the mother had failed to access proper medical attention for them without being prompted to do so. I was also supposed to allege that the mother’s two other children were at risk of serious injury due to the mother’s inability to properly supervise them; her other two children therefore needed to be kept in protective custody as well.
On August 17, 2011, I informed Lowery and Lynch that I needed the Emergency Room Discharge Reports to attach to the detention report. I had been asking the SW I for the hospital reports for two days and had not received them. Finally, she brought me an ER report for one of the children and told me that we probably did not want to attach it to the Detention Report, as it would not support the petition already filed regarding the children’s detention.
The report clearly stated that the child had only sustained superficial wounds that did not require emergency room treatment and that the mother had properly cared for the wounds. Furthermore, the doctor checked the mandatory box regarding suspected child abuse as NO. (The mother later told me that the doctor was upset that CPS had ordered her to take her child to ER, and complained that it wasted the ER’s time and resources).
I immediately questioned the social worker as to where the other child’s medical report was and she informed me that there was a problem with that report as well. After reading that report I started explaining to my colleague that I had wasted over three hours preparing the Detention Report and that now we needed to rethink the whole process and possibly return the children to the mother immediately. I was concerned that the Agency’s reputation and credibility with the Court would become a bigger issue than it already was at the time. The case was a disaster from the very beginning.
While the social worker and I were speaking, Bryan Lowery called me into AJ Barrett’s office. [AJ Barrett is listed on the County’s Social Services Directory as one of five “Children’s Services Managers.”] I followed him into the office and I shut the door behind me before sitting down between the two of them. While seated I attempted to tell Barrett about how messed up the case was and the terrible job Lowery was doing. I also explained to him that not only was Lowery using poor judgment, that he did not meet the merit requirements to be supervising me in the first place. I informed Barrett that according to Merit System, a Social Worker Supervisor I couldn’t supervise a Social Worker V, only a Social Worker Supervisor II could do so. Lowery didn’t have a master’s degree, which prohibited him from ever being a SW Supervisor II. If anything, I should have been supervising him not the other way around.
The conversation became heated as I attempted to express my frustration with this case and the Agency in general, especially some of the agency's unusual policies and procedures that they had recently implemented. I informed them that I knew they were only being written to suppress me and were not in the best interest of the Agency.
I had made several serious allegations against the Agency to Director Stacey Cryer, CEO Carmel Angelo, and the Board of Supervisors, about irrational practices being implemented. I had also complained about staffing issues as well, especially in regards to unqualified social worker supervisors. The conversation ended and I went to lunch.
When I returned an hour later I was met by the Welfare Fraud Investigator who had been summoned from Ukiah to Willits to have me escorted out of the office. He had me wait outside in my car for another hour while a letter was written and sent up to the Willits Office from Ms. Cryer in Ukiah. The letter stated that I was placed on administrative leave and that I was not to contact anyone in the County until further notice.
I was now faced with an ethical dilemma. Should I follow the unreasonable demands of the letter, or did I report what had happened in this case and correct the Agency from making critical mistakes? I chose the latter.
After I returned home that evening, I sent an email to the fraud investigator, County Counsel, Director Cryer, and CEO Angelo relaying to them how this case was being mishandled. The next morning at the Detention Hearing (August 18, 2011) County Counsel requested a 24 hour continuance, which was granted by the judge.
On August 19, 2011, the Agency returned to Court with an amended petition without the medical neglect allegations, but they did not correct the information written in the Detention Report. Furthermore, they still did not attach any medical records with Detention Report. Instead, they attached pictures that the SW I took of the two children’s injuries on August 15, 2011.
A trained social worker would never just attach just pictures of injuries of children to a report without all corresponding medical information from a physician. Pictures of injuries on children, especially infants or tots, are extremely inflammatory and can bias the best of us, judges included. The practice is discouraged among professionals and is considered extremely unethical. To make things worse, they left in the Detention Report the following paragraph:
“The mother has failed to protect the children from serious physical harm, and when they were injured, she failed to seek immediate medical care until told to do so by a family member or Child Protective Services (CPS) staff. The mother has repeatedly failed to provide supervision appropriate to the age development of each child. The mother minimized the extent or seriousness of the injuries, rather becoming defensive, asking what more could she possibly do? The mother did not demonstrate that she grasped the extent of the injuries, or that she understood how to prevent further injuries to any of her four young children.”
There were never any serious injuries to the children for the mother to minimize in the first place, and she actually had a better grasp on the extent of the injuries than any of the professionals involved. The medical reports stated that they were superficial wounds that did not require emergency room treatment, as noted by the ER doctor, and that the mother had appropriately cared for the wounds. I read the reports myself.
Not only did the Agency bias the judge, they also biased the psychologist that they ordered the mother to for an evaluation. The psychologist quoted the above paragraph in her report as part of her findings and criticized the mother’s abilities.
Ms. Ortwein explained to me that she was unhappy with being sent to the psychologist and was not as cooperative as she should have been. She stated that she didn’t answer the questions as well as she could have either, and just marked random bubbles without really reading the questions. The mother admits that she didn’t do well with the psychologist because she didn’t want to go in the first place. Ms. Ortwein had become upset with the Agency and their attempts to vilify her.
As a result of the detention of her children without a warrant, the Detention Report and then the Psychological Report, Ms. Ortwein has endured an up and down relationship with the Agency where she has had her children returned to her and taken away again, and eventually ordered out for adoption. As I read her 99 page appeal brief I was amazed as to what she has been through. But what’s even more amazing is how my complaint about Mr. Lowery’s initial directive in this case has gone from bad to worse.
County CEO Carmel Angelo, Stacey Cryer, and County Counsel’s decision to cover-up Lowery’s unlawful detention by withholding exculpatory evidence is unlawful and they could still be personally sued for it today. The Agency has definitely targeted Ms. Ortwein and has gone out of their way to vilify her. All this just because I made Lowery look bad and embarrassed him in front of one of his favored workers, that new hire social worker.
Since this particular incident first started in August of 2011, Lowery has been promoted to the second highest position in all of Health and Human Services, and the SW I has followed him through the ranks and now holds a high position in HHSA. I don’t consider her innocent in this; she made the decision to keep her mouth shut and follow Mr. Lowery’s directive even after I warned her about the need for the warrant, and to this day the medical records have never been made part of the court’s record. Lowery has taken good care of her by seeing that she rose rapidly through the ranks.
One has to think, had Ms. Ortwein’s case been assigned to a competent and qualified social worker in the first place, and if the Emergency Response Supervisor (Lowery) had been competent and qualified as well, would this mother’s children have ever needed to be detained?
Ms. Ortwein had come to the Agency three months earlier to ask for help. The Agency opened a voluntary case after her husband had been deported to Mexico, leaving her alone with no support in the home and no financial resources. The way she has been treated is beyond terrible. She has become a victim of a dysfunctional County organization which now involves Lowery’s former employer Tapestry Childdren’s Services, which is part of the mental health system. Ms. Ortwein's children have become a big funding source for the County’s community partners and has cost the taxpayer’s thousands and thousands of dollars over the past four years and will most likely cost thousands and thousands of dollars for many more years to come — “million dollar babies.”
When the agency first got involved in this case, the children were normal; not anymore, just ask the Tapestry MFT Intern that is involved in this case and is apparently calling all the shots now.
I’m considering turning this case over to Robert Powell Esq. the famous CPS defense attorney from San Jose who handled the Baby Emerald case after I contacted him a couple of years ago. I am currently working with him on a totally different Mendocino County Case in which a complaint is forthcoming. I can’t wait to explain Mendocino County’s Katie A. program to Mr. Powell; he already has questions about it in the other case and wants a breakdown. Ms. Ortwein’s appeal is a victory for me, and as promised, I will eventually vindicate myself and why I was terminated. Hopefully it will force the County to reinstate me. Whether I accept it or not will be my decision only. The main thing for me is that I can clear my name and restore my reputation and become employable again.
As Clint Eastwood would say, “When you hang a man, you better make sure he’s dead.”