A California woman said her infant son was taken by Child Protective Services, then given a full body medical test and thirteen vaccines without a warrant or parental consent. This was done based on the recommendation of a doctor who has been sued repeatedly.
Rachel Bruno reached a $500,000 settlement in December with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office (LACSO) and two other settlements are near finalization.
“Before this, I assumed that if social services took your kids, you did something really bad,” she said.
Instead, she learned she could do nothing and find herself at the mercy of untrained and reckless bureaucrats.
Bruno said she is diagnosed with seizures and needs uninterrupted sleep, so she hired a nanny, Shannon King, to watch her newborn, born in 2015, to watch him from 10PM to 6AM.
Her son was seven weeks old on July 8, 2015, when she was awoken at around 4AM. When she got to her son’s room, she found King patting her son on the chest as he was lying face up in his crib. She sent King away.
“At that point, Rachel unswaddled [her son] and placed him on her chest in an attempt to get him to sleep. [Her son] intermittently slept and cried on her chest between approximately 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m,” attorney Shawn McMillan stated in his initial complaint.
After several hours still unable to get her son to fall asleep, shetook her youngest son to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), accompanied by her mother and her oldest, then twenty months. Bruno’s mother took her oldest back to her mother’s house later that day.
Her son was found to have had a serious skull fracture and had emergency surgery at approximately 1:30 p.m. which lasted approximately three hours.
Shortly after the surgery, the hospital called the Orange County CPS because the fracture was so severe it could have been child abuse.
Senior Social Worker Laura Todd was sent by Orange County CPS to investigate. Dr. Daphne Wong, a doctor at CHOC, was also brought in to determine if there is child abuse. Wong has been sued repeatedly, according to testimony at a deposition in this case.
Todd said she was aware of multiple lawsuits against Wong.
“I’ve heard that on at least one occasion she had made a statement or given an opinion and later on changed that opinion,” Todd said, when asked by McMillan what she knew. Todd, who was deposed in 2018, also claimed she wasn’t sure if she’d heard this before or after the incident.
According to depositions, Todd spoke to Wong, Bruno and Jason Schmoker, a lieutenant at the LACSO, who instructed her not to speak to anyone else. Bruno said she was quizzed repeatedly by Schmoker, Todd, and hospital staff.
Bruno told The Daily Caller the same thing she told police, Social Services and the hospital, that she didn’t know how her son was injured; she still doesn’t know.
Bruno also told all three that her husband, Ricardo, had been out of town for several days but took a flight home arriving late that evening.
Dr. Wong stated that it was her belief that the wound happened hours before which would rule him out.
Because of Schmoker’s instructions, Todd did no more investigating, not even confirming with Ricardo that he had taken a flight.
He arrived at the hospital at approximately 10:30PM.
Yet, at 8:33PM that night, Todd sent a text message to her supervisor, Nicole Strattman, stating, “no, think mom,” to Strattman, who was speculating herself that it was the nanny.
Remarkably, according to the deposition, Todd initially claimed she hadn’t thought the mom did before being confronted with the time of the text message.
Schmoker is not a detective and he called on Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau. At around 9:00 p.m. Schmoker talked Detective Maricruz Perez.
“Detective Maricruz Perez and Detective Belen Lewis arrived at CHOC at 12:30 a.m. on July 9, 2015. On July 9, 2015, Defendants Perez, Lewis, Schmoker, and Todd, and each of them, discussed [Bruno’s son] proposed seizure and removal from Plaintiffs’ custody,” McMillan’s complaint stated.
The detectives from LACSO decided to place a “Hospital Hold” on the child, a verbal protective custody order with the ostensible purpose of keeping the toddler safe. Without a warrant or court order, police accompanied CPS to Bruno’s mother’s house at around 2:30 AM on July 9. Bruno’s mother was threatened with arrest if she did not hand over the oldest.
Then, without getting consent from either parent, the hospital administered a full body forensic test for child abuse.
“[Bruno’s son’s] tests were normal and indicated that he was not the victim of sexual abuse or physical abuse.” McMillan said in his complaint.
He continued. “While [Bruno’s son] was in the County’s custody, Social Worker Doe 1 also asked for [Bruno’s son] to be subjected to multiple vaccinations in direct contravention of Ricardo’s demand to be present for any medical procedure.”
Following the vaccinations, custody was granted to Rachel’s husband Ricardo on the condition that Rachel move out while the investigation continued.
Rachel said she lived at times in hotels and at her mother’s house, which CPS initially forbade, before she said she could no longer afford hotels.
Then, on August 22, everyone reversed course, the district attorney’s office did not file charges and CPS said that if she agreed to stipulate the events went a certain way, without admitting any guilt, her son would be returned.
She was still monitored by CPS with monthly visits, until the case was closed in March 2016; Bruno hired McMillan a few months later.
McMillan said the law requires a warrant unless there are exigent circumstances like the possibility of harm to officers or destruction of evidence.
In this case, the youngest child was at the hospital and was staying overnight.
“Where’s the emergency?” McMillan asked rhetorically.
He noted that the older child was in even less danger; his grandmother wasn’t even in the home when the skull was fractured and there was even less reason to take him.
He said each social worker is required to, “positively identify, is there some lesser way ameliorate? Can I leave the kids with mom and dad?” he said, noting leaving the kids in Ricardo’s custody wasn’t even discussed.
Even more remarkably, Todd admitted during the deposition that CPS had not provided her training on how to appropriately manage parental consent for medical examinations until November 2015; it was the first time that training had been administered to any social worker even though she’d been a social worker more than twenty years at that point.
McMillan has earned a reputation winning numerous big-ticket cases against CPS in California. He said he repeatedly sees social workers commit perjury, mislead or make up a reason to take a child, and mislead or make up things from medical files. He says they are rarely punished and instead often rewarded.
McMillan said there are about ten lawyers who specialize in CPS cases in California and they together maintain an ongoing database of offending social workers, tracking what happens to them.
“Every time, invariably what happens, these social workers will get promoted, or they will get a lateral move, off the front line,” he said.
This appears to be a persistent issue. A 2017 story in the Orange County Register said that even though a jury awarded Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick 4.9 million in 2011, a social worker in her case, Marcie Vreeken, who fabricated evidence, was later promoted.
McMillan warned that Bruno’s prior assumption that if someone had their kids taken, they must have done something wrong was very faulty. “Absolutely not true,” he said about that assumption.
McMillan said all three entities, LACSO, CPS, and CHOC, have changed their protocols. The hospital will require a court order or parental consent before any medical procedure is done. He said LACSO did not even have a policy, generally ceding to CPS on child removal; in this case, their deputies didn’t even follow that simple directive.
Their new policies are discussed in the settlement.
Orange County CPS also updated their policy on when a warrant is needed before a child is removed.
Media relations at LSCSO, CHOC and CPS did not respond to requests from the Caller for comment.