Just after 1 a.m. the morning of Feb. 25, 2019, a SWAT team with guns drawn broke down the door of a suburban home in Chandler, Arizona where parents were caring for an unvaccinated child with a fever. The armed policemen had a “temporary custody notice” from a judge to remove a two-year-old from the home after his mother refused to obey the order of a doctor to take the child to the hospital for testing earlier in the day. The child and his siblings, ages four and six, were taken into state custody and placed in foster homes and the mother and father both have been charged with child abuse.1 2 3 4 5
The story began that day when the mother, who is pregnant, took her toddler to Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, AZ after his fever rose to over 100 F. When the doctor asked the mother if the child was vaccinated and she said, “No,” the doctor told the mother to take her son to the emergency room at the Banner Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, AZ to be tested for meningitis.
According to The Arizona Republic, the mother said that after the doctor’s office visit, the child was laughing and playing with his siblings and, when she took his temperature again, it was near normal. She then called the doctor to say she would not be taking her son to the emergency room and also expressed worry that, because her son was not vaccinated, she would get in trouble with the Department of Child Services (DCS). When the mother did not follow the doctor’s orders to take the child to the hospital emergency room, the doctor contacted DCS.
DCS called the Chandler Police and “requested officers to check on the welfare of a two year old infant.” At 10:30 p.m., two police officers knocked on the family’s door but nobody answered. After a DCS caseworker arrived, a call was made to the doctor, who still insisted the child should be taken to the hospital. However, in a phone conversation between one of the police officers and the child’s father, who was inside the home, the father said that his son’s “fever broke and he was fine.” There are indications that the father was concerned about the high cost of an emergency room visit in light of the fact the child’s fever was down and he was acting normally.6
Just after midnight, the DCS caseworker obtained a “temporary custody notice” signed by a judge and police officers called the criminal investigations bureau. About 1:30 a.m., a SWAT team with guns drawn and yelling “Chandler Police Department” kicked down the family’s door. A video recorded by a security surveillance camera shows the father emerging walking backwards with his hands up and being immediately handcuffed, as the mother follows with her son in her arms.
The officers reported they found two other young children in their beds, one of whom was sick and had vomited, and that the home was “messy.” All three children were taken to the children’s medical center and then placed in foster care in separate homes.
Juvenile Court Hearing 10 Days Later
At a juvenile court hearing 10 days later, the parents asked for their children to be returned. Attending the hearing was state Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) and members of Arizona DCS Oversight Group, which is composed of Arizona citizens concerned about abuse of power by DCS state government officials. According to The Arizona Republic covering the hearing, DCS was represented by a lawyer for the state Attorney General’s Office.7
The state’s attorney asked the judge to close the hearing to the public, commenting that members of the news media were in the audience and the family had spoken with the media, which he said was not in the “best interest” of the children. Judge Jennifer Green declined and pointed out that, in Arizona, “we like our courts to be open.”
The parents’ attorneys said they were unaware of restrictions about speaking with the media and that the parents had been allowed only one visit with their two older children since the night they were taken but had not seen their youngest child at all. Apparently, DCS officials told the parents they could not see their two year old son, who did not test positive for meningitis but had a common respiratory infection (RSV), because he was at a “medical appointment” the day of the scheduled visitation.
The state’s attorney opposed returning the children to their parents. He said the parents were “hostile” and not cooperating with DCS and they had brought members of the DCS Oversight Group to a DCS visit, while the grandfather had tried to videotape a meeting with DCS.
At the request of DCS, the judge approved psychological evaluations for both parents, ordered the father to continue drug and alcohol testing, and reminded the parents and grandparents that they were no longer in control of the children’s medical and health decisions, which were now being made by the state.
Doctor Professor: “I’ll Have to Call Child Protective Services”
A New York Times article quoted Seattle Children’s Hospital emergency room doctor and University of Washington School of Medicine bioethics professor Douglas S. Diekema, MD, who commented on the case. He appeared to side with the doctor who reported the mother to DCS for failing to follow orders.
Dr. Diekema said he personally encounters parents refusing a recommended treatment plan and sometimes will get a second physician’s opinion to convince the parents to comply so he can “avoid coercion.” Still, he does recall having told parents:
I hate to say this, but I have to let you know that if you walk out of this emergency room department, without agreeing to something that makes me comfortable, I’ll have to call child protective services.8
Arizona State Rep: “We used A SWAT Team on a family with a child with a high fever”
According to The Arizona Republic, after the early March juvenile court hearing, Rep. Townsend was interviewed outside the courthouse and said she was disturbed by the case. “It was brought to my attention that these parents may have been targeted by the medical community because they hadn’t vaccinated their children,” but parents who don’t vaccinate their children because of medical concerns aren’t criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such.
She also questioned whether DCS labeling the family as “hostile” was appropriate. “It doesn’t say anywhere that after your kids are taken, after police bust down your door, that you have to be nice to DCS to get your kids back.” Critical of the use of force, Townsend added:
We’re not talking cartels holding someone who’s been kidnapped, we’re not talking about a drug bust, we’re not talking about a flight risk. We’re not talking about any of that. This was a family with a child who has a fever…We used a SWAT team on a family with a child with a high fever.
Rep. Townsend helped write legislation requiring DCS to obtain a warrant before removing a child from their parents or guardians in non-emergencies. She said, “It was not the intent of (the law) that the level of force after obtaining a warrant was to bring in a SWAT team. The imagery is horrifying. What has our country become that we can tear down the doorway of a family who has a child with a high fever that disagrees with their doctor?”
During discussions in the Arizona legislature this year about whether vaccine exemptions should be restricted or expanded, Rep. Townsend, who has a vaccine injured child, defended parents’ right to make voluntary vaccine use decisions for their minor children. She said:
Our country is sovereign, our State is sovereign, our family is sovereign, our God is sovereign and the most holy and sacred last frontier of sovereignty is our own body. Dearest friends and people of Arizona, it seems we are prepared to give up our liberty, the very sovereignty of our body, because of measles. I read yesterday that the idea is being floated that if not enough people get vaccinated, then we are going to force them to…. I am going to ask you to educate your children, educate your family, educate those around you about the fundamentals of liberty and what that means. It seems we have lost those fundamentals along the way and are chasing our fears.9
Children Placed in Custody of Grandparents
On Mar. 15, DCS agreed to allow the three children to live with the children’s paternal grandparents but the state still retains custody. In a statement sent to The Republic, the children’s father said in part:
We have been through a very traumatic experience with our encounter with DCS. We would like other parents out there to know and realize the amount of power DCS has over the welfare of your children. Even though we remain confident in our innocence through our case, it is immediately an uphill struggle of what to do or not to do….The process of removal in our opinion was uncalled for and we would like to see the laws/process change when dealing with expedited removal of children. Our children have sure been through a traumatizing experience and hope they have not been harmed psychologically or emotionally as we are a very happy family who love each other and would do anything for each other.
On Mar. 28, 2019, the Chandler Police recommended the mother and father be charged with child abuse.10
1 Nanez DM. A couple decided not to take their feverish child to the hospital. Hours later police kicked down their door. The Arizona Republic Mar. 25, 2019.
2 Navarro D. SWAT Team with Guns Drawn Raids Arizona Home for Toddler with Fever. ABC News Mar. 28, 2019.
3 Farzan AN. Armed police bust down the door at Arizona home and seize unvaccinated toddler. The Washington Post Mar. 29, 2019.
4 Hassan A. With Guns Drawn, Officers Raided Home to Get Feverish Child. The New York Times Mar. 29, 2019.
5 Billeaud J. Police in Arizona Kick in Door to Bring Sick Boy to Hospital. Associated Press Mar. 30, 2019.
6 See Footnote 3.
7 See Footnote 1.
8 See Footnote 4.
9 Innes S. State Rep Kelly Townsend says mandatory vaccinations are ‘Communist.’ The Arizona Republic Mar. 1, 2019.
10 Roberts L. Were Chandler police who raided a home of toddler with high fever wrong? No….and yes. The Arizona Republic Mar. 29, 2019.