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How Mendocino County Stole Four Children From Their Mother

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.”


  1. Chad October 5, 2017

    Anybody with a court case please call the law offices of Robert Powell Esq. 408-553-0200 immediately

  2. Rachael Bundeson October 25, 2017

    Hello my name is rachael bundeson and I was 16 when I had my daughter I was a ward of the court also and had my daughter Mendocino county did the same thing to me and I tried to voice my innonce I was shot down by my attorney to speak up. My case is a little different but at the same time very similar. I was ordered to sign my rights away to my daughter in April of 2011. Brian Lowry proclaimed that I neglectd my daughter and the same thing that was in this womans report was in mine. The only difference is when I wanted to appeal it my attorney Julie spolojaric said it wouldnt be worth it because I would lose and have worse consequences for me. In the end my daughter has been adopted out and I havent been the same since because this whole time I have known that I was done wrong. There is way more to it.

    • james marmon October 26, 2017

      Julie Spolojaric is not very parent friendly. She is very judgmental and would place every kid in the County under Camille Schraeder’s care if she could. She usually only represents children in dependency court, I’m sorry she was assigned your case.

      I shouldn’t really say she represents children because she never listens to their cries to go home.

      • james marmon October 26, 2017

        Attorney Jeremy Meltzer finally got tired of telling parents “don’t fight CPS because it will only make things worse” and left our sweet county. I must say he at least he tried when he first came here in 2006.

    • Bryan Lowery July 29, 2023

      I am right here at 18311 Dustin CT. Reno NV 89508 if you want to talk smack!!! You all deserved what I gave you even though I had zero education for the position I held. My GED was enough to run that County. Bunch if meth jerks!!!

  3. Star O'Dell March 31, 2019

    I have similar problems right now. I need help I go to court Tuesday April 2. They stole my daughter from school telling her she would be taken to her sister. The two girls haven’t seen each other yet. They lied to me saying that the girls biological grandfather could have them to care for. They haven’t done that yet. Mendocino CPS placed my girls in foster care. Separated, lied to, and the older one told me she got in trouble for asking for her baby Sister and told there’s no chance of her speaking to our seeing her sister. Why are they punishing my girls? I need immediate help please someone with anything to help me. I also have a 19 yr old son that is perfectly capable of passing CPS test or back ground check. That they say hasn’t come in yet. I feel as if I’m being part of human trafficking victim. My girls are being sold through the system, please help before it’s too late to get them home!!!!

  4. concerned Mother January 8, 2021

    My daughter had her child given to the father who is a drug user and drug dealer, judge Mayfield did this and simply believed the lies told to her by the father and his mother. The case should never have went anywhere considering my daughter was improperly served well actually she wasn’t served at all the father threw the papers at my then 17 yr old son. My daughter told the truth in court. This judge based her decision souly on the fact my daughter admitted to hitting the fathers drug dealing girlfriend, she ignored the fact that the father attacked both my daughters the 17 yr old sustaining a fractured wrist he also yrs early broke my 16 yr old sons jaw. These judges act like a parent who is being lied about and is facing someone trying to take their child should not get overly upset… .as a mother I can say If someone is trying to take my child I AM GOING TO SCREAM ,CRY,FIGHT AND MAKE A TOTAL SCENE. SHOW ME A MOTHER THAT WOULDN’T. CPS AND THESE JUDGES HAVE A LONG HISTORY OF LYING, NOT RESEARCHING. NOT CARING WHAT THE TRUTH IS, THE ONLY THING THEY CARE ABOUT IS WHAT THEY HAVE DECIDED IN THEIR MIND (NOT FACTS) IS TRUE. THEY ARE DESTROYING CHILDREN’S LIVES AS WELL AS THE LIFE OF LOVING PARENTS. THEIR IS NO WAY TO REPAIR THE DAMAGE THEY ARE DOING. CPS NEEDS TO BE LOOKED INTO AND EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEW AND INTERACTION THEY HAVE WITH PARENT OR CHILD SHOULD BE RECORDED. THEY LIE,THEY,CHEAT AND THEY DO NOT ALWAYS HAVE A CHILD’S BEST INTEREST AT HEART. UNLESS A CHILD IS BEING BEATEN OR ABUSED ,NOT BEING CARED FOR MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY, THE BEST INTEREST IS FOR THEM TO BE WITH THEIR PARENTS AND OR FAMILY. These agencies are federally funded and the money is the thing that they care about and that is the sad truth. The fact that they are taken at their word is ludecris ,they are humans with flaws who make mistakes ,who are not always the honest,caring,people they pretend to be or should be.Someone needs to care enough to do what is right , someone needs to care about what is happening to these families.

  5. Rachael Bundeson May 15, 2022

    So who do we need to call to do something about all this.. I have been wanting to do something about all this from the time all this went down. I was only 16 and now I’m 30.

  6. Iuta Spangler November 10, 2022

    Sonoma county took my baby for domestic violence but they are giving him back to his father who litterally strangled me to death they say also cause I have a child already who is getting adopted but that is to my mother and that was a mutual agreement to get cps out of my life and they know that they still are making a dangerous man the sole parent of our child. There is so much wrong with that.

    • Marmon November 10, 2022

      They make their decisions based on Risk. Many factors can go against a single mother, even if there is no allegations of actual abuse. I believe in doing the Risk assessments to see what services I need to provide, I don’t believe that children should be removed or kept from mothers based on Risk Only. Being a single unemployed mother or if you were ever in foster care will weigh heavily against you. Past criminal history, or prior substance use will also cost you, no matter what the current circumstances are. Being a victim of domestic violence is the worst, the assessment tool blames the victim. You make bad choices. Your other child already in the system probably sealed your fate.


      • Marmon November 10, 2022

        My former Project manager in Del Norte County who brought in Standard Decision Making (SDM) into my agency also agreed with me about the Risk Assessments. Risk Only assessments are flawed because Risk never goes away.


      • Iuta spangler December 26, 2022

        I won my trial i get my kids back. Just some patience stubbornness and doing what needs to be done for my kids.

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