A family from southern California is suing the City of Coronado after their children were taken away for nearly a year because the father admitted to legally smoking medical marijuana.
According to legal filings obtained this week by the Courthouse News Service, Michael Lewis and Lauren Taylor have filed a lawsuit against Coronado, CA, San Diego County and nine local police officers for what they say is a violation of civil rights that started with a routine visit from law enforcement in August 2011.
Attorneys for the family say Lewis was recommended medical marijuana by his physician in order to counter the debilitating migraines he started suffering from after being exposed to chemicals during the Gulf War, but investigators who stopped by their Coronado home two summers ago disregarded the prescription.
The lawsuit alleges that police officers were called to investigate the Lewis residence after being told that the family was running an illegal day care center on the same site where marijuana was being regularly smoked. Following a visit during August 2011, police wrote that they found pot, but identified no other hazards — or a day care facility, for that matter. Three days later, however, agents with the United States Department of Health and Human Services returned to the residence and seized the couple’s two children, ages four and two.
According to the lawsuit, the children were removed from their parents’ care and then deposited at a San Diego County emergency shelter for allegedly abused and neglected minors.
“The children were there for approximately two weeks without their parents and were no doubt terrified," the complaint states. Meanwhile, adds the lawsuit, "The only allegations against Lewis and Taylor were, essentially, that Lewis legally used marijuana, and police found marijuana in the home.”
The lawsuit claims the children were taken based on allegations of “general neglect,” but attorneys for the plaintiffs say there was no reasonable or articulable evidence to suggest such was the case.
"Nonetheless, even though they knew Michael Lewis' use of medical marijuana was completely legal in that he had obtained a medical marijuana recommendation after an evaluation from a licensed medical doctor, and that Lewis only used the marijuana outside the presence of the children and only for amelioration of pain, these defendants seized and detained the children. They failed to conduct any independent investigation prior to seizing the children. Michael and Lauren were shocked, stunned, amazed and terrified,” it reads.
And although the parents tried to take appropriate measures to have their children returned, their attempts proved unsuccessful for nearly a full year: 364 days, to be exact. During that span of time, defendants from the HHS allegedly lied to the court, the family’s attorney says, and insisted that the children were in danger.
One of those defendants, Ian Baxter of the HHS, “misled the court by stating that he did not need to conduct any pre-placement preventive services because of the 'emergent nature' of the situation and asserted that Michael and Lauren left their children 'inadequately attended and inadequately supervised' around the marijuana. This statement was totally false, and Baxter knew it, or - even worse - simply didn't care,” the complaint alleges.
Other statements were soon made by defendants from the Department of Health and Human Services, the complaint continues, including N. Quinteros, Benita Jemison, Abigail Joseph, Antonia Torres, Brooke Guild and Alfredo Guardado. Other defendants named in the lawsuit are Coronado police Officers Patrick O'Malley and Robert Cline.
"Based on Joseph's and Torres' multiple false statements to the juvenile court, the children continued to be detained in county facilities and not at home with their loving parents. As a result, they were deprived of regular, open, and free contact and companionship of family and friends, including their parents,” the complaint alleges.
"Throughout the ordeal, Taylor and the children never tested positive for any drug. Although Michael Lewis ingested marijuana for medicinal purposes pursuant to a physician's recommendation, he never tested positive for any other drugs. Further, there was (1) no evidence of abuse or neglect by either parent, (2) no evidence that Michael's marijuana use impaired his parenting skills or judgment and (3) no evidence that Michael Lewis acted inappropriately toward his children at any time - ever.”
Finally on August 2 of last year, a Fourth Appellate District Court ruled against a previous decision and said "'the record does not support a finding that Lewis' marijuana use or alleged mental illness had any negative impact on the children.” The children were returned five days later, and now the family is suing for abduction of a child, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment.
News of the lawsuit against Coronado and its officers comes days after a 2-year-old Texas girl died while in the custody of a foster mom who was put in charge of the child because her parents admitted to smoking pot. The foster mother, 54-year-old Sherill Small, has since been charged in the murder of Alexandria Hill.
“We never hurt our daughter,” the girl’s father, Joshua Hill, told KVUE earlier this month. “She was never sick, she was never in the hospital, and she never had any issues until she went into state care.”