For a printable .pdf version of this document please click here.
Except as otherwise noted, this account is drawn from the brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by attorneys for Sharon, her sister and her mother, which is available in full here.
The story of Sharon’s[*] ordeal at the hands of the Oregon Department of Human Services and the Deschutes County, Oregon, Sheriff’s Department begins with an allegation not from Sharon or from anyone who knew Sharon, but from her father’s boss; Franklin Smith.
Smith told police that Sharon’s father had tied Smith’s 7-year-old son’s shoes together and had also touched the son’s genital area, outside the boy’s pants. Smith also claimed that Sharon’s mother had accused the father – her husband – of molesting Sharon and her sister when he was drunk and that she didn’t like the girls to lie in bed with him when he had been drinking.
The police arrested the father for allegedly touching Smith’s son inappropriately. Later, they added charges that he abused his own daughters. The trial ended with a hung jury. Bankrupted by legal bills, the father accepted a plea regarding the boy that ensured he would serve no jail time, a plea that amounts to “I didn’t do it but a jury might think I did.” The charges concerning his own daughters were dropped.
After the arrest, police waited more than a week before notifying Oregon DHS.
DHS assigned the case to Bob Camreta – who apparently didn’t think the matter was terribly urgent. He waited another three days before interrogating Sharon. Perhaps his bosses didn’t take it seriously either. How else to explain why, in a field where most investigators are women, a case that could involve questioning a child about the most intimate aspects of her life was assigned to a man?
During those three days, Camreta could have interviewed Sharon’s mother, who, after all, allegedly had concerns (and would later prove eager to get to the truth). They could have interviewed other relatives, parents of her friends, her pediatrician, and neighbors. Such responsible, standard practice likely would have produced one of two results: enough evidence of innocence to end the investigation or enough reason for concern to go to a judge and ask for a court order to question Sharon.
Such court orders can be obtained quickly and easily. There is no requirement for a hearing with all sides present. Camreta simply could have gone to the judge himself, or DHS could have sent one of its lawyers. In some cases, it can be done with a phone call.
Yet Camreta did none of this. Instead, he took the easy – and, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would find, illegal - way out. He and armed Sheriff’s deputy James Alford marched into Sharon’s elementary school and demanded that the nine-year-old developmentally delayed girl be removed from her classroom and taken to another room in the school for questioning.
No one explained what was going on to Sharon. She simply was ordered into the room and left there with two men she’d never seen before, one of them armed. Alford remained silent, a looming presence in the background. Camreta did the talking.
In addition to the gun, Alford also had something which could have been far more useful: A tape recorder. But he and Camreta never used it. So there is no recording of what happened next. But there is Sharon’s account, from the brief she, her sister, and her mother filed in the current case, quoting from Sharon’s own affidavit and deposition:
When Camreta asked Sharon if her father touched her “all over [her] body,” she truthfully said yes, referring to affectionate hugs, kisses, and piggy-back rides. Camreta then asked “over and over again” if “some of those were bad touches.” Over and over again, Sharon said no. In response to the frightened nine-year-old’s repeated and clear denials of abuse, Camreta “would say, ‘No that’s not it,’ and then ask me [Sharon] the same question again.” “For over an hour,” Camreta relentlessly repeated “the same questions, just in different ways. . . .” During that time, he also provided an unexpected, and unwanted education about child abuse and adult sexual gratification to Sharon, who had been completely unfamiliar with the concept.
As the minutes stretched into hours, Sharon looked through the slats in the blinds and out the window. She saw the school buses coming to take all the other children home. Afraid that she would have no way to get home and tiring of the relentless cross examination from Camreta, Sharon finally gave in and agreed with some of Camreta’s allegations because, as she explained later, “I had a feeling that’s what he wanted to hear, just lies, not truth.”
Only then was she allowed to leave.
But Sharon would find another shock when she got home. Although she wanted desperately to talk to her mother, Alford and Camreta had gotten there first, and were questioning her in the living room. Feeling nauseous, Sharon ran upstairs. That night, she threw up five times.
SHARON’S MOTHER IS GLAD TO CO-OPERATE
Sharon’s mother, Sarah, who was not accused of mistreating the children, did what most parents do – she gladly offered to cooperate. As soon as Camreta suggested that Sharon be taken to the local Child Advocacy Center (called the KIDS center), where trained professionals do interviews in ways that are designed both to maximize the chances of getting at the truth and minimize trauma to the child – she readily agreed, because, she said, she was confident her children had not been abused.
Sarah even tried to set up appointments herself, only to be told that Camreta now was standing in the way and wouldn’t allow the interviews to go forward.
Clearly, Camreta could have gone to Sarah first, questioned her, and gotten her permission to have Sharon interviewed the right way, at a child advocacy center.
A CASCADE OF ERROR
Sharon’s trauma didn’t end with the warrantless interrogation.
After the interviews, the caseworker went to Sarah and said she had to kick Sharon’s father out of the house during the investigation or he’d take away the children. Sarah says she told the Camreta this would be difficult for her but she’d do it. Camreta went to court and claimed Sarah said exactly the opposite. Once again there is no tape recording of Camreta’s conversation.
The court took Camreta’s word for it. Sharon then endured the worst of her traumas. She was torn from everyone she knew and loved and forced into the chaos of the Oregon foster care system for three weeks.
There, she says, the foster mother “questioned me every night, repeatedly, about what I had said and what was going on and what I had better say when I went to the KIDS Center.”
Even when children really have been maltreated, foster care can be a devastating experience. Sometimes children feel they must have done something terribly wrong and now they are being punished. Two studies, of more than 15,000 cases, found that even maltreated children left in their own homes with little or no help fared better, on average, than comparably-maltreated children placed in foster care. And in this case, when Sharon finally was interviewed the right way, no maltreatment was found.
And it could have been far worse. Study after study has found abuse in one-quarter to one-third of all foster homes. So Sharon, who had not been abused in her own home, was placed at significant risk of abuse in foster care.
But the trauma didn’t end there. A court ordered the special interview and medical exam that Camreta first suggested and then delayed. While the interview is done as carefully as possible, there is no way to minimize the trauma involved in strangers performing an examination on a child looking for possible sexual abuse – except one: the presence of a loving parent to help the child get through it.
But Camreta refused to allow it. He ordered Sharon’s mother out of the room and out of the building – so she could not hold Sharon’s hand or even offer words of comfort.
In an affidavit, Sharon says:
Then I was taken to some doctor’s office, but it wasn’t my doctor. It was full of strangers I had never seen before. I didn’t know who they were. I wish my mom could have been there. I felt very scared and alone.
They asked me all sorts of questions and then they looked all over my body, and it was very uncomfortable.
I felt like a prisoner and that I had to do everything they told me. I did not want to be examined. I wish I had not had to go through that. I never understood why it was happening to me. They took pictures of my private parts and never asked my permission.
And, indeed, the Ninth Circuit, recognized that trauma. First, the judges cited one of their own previous decisions:
“children have a … right to the love, comfort, and reassurance of their parents while they are undergoing medical procedures, including examinations — particularly those ... that are invasive or upsetting. The interest in family association is particularly compelling at such times, in part because of the possibility that a need to make medical decisions will arise, and in part because of the family’s right to be together during such difficult and often traumatic events.”
Then the court related that decision to Sharon’s case:
The KIDS Center assessments involved the visual inspection and photographing of the children’s genitals. This process could certainly be emotionally traumatic to a young girl. …The children’s right to their mother’s comfort and their mother’s right to provide such comfort were thus at their apex. [Emphasis added.]
Ultimately the KIDS center found no evidence of abuse. But they did recommend that Sharon and her sister receive counseling for the trauma they endured as a result of being taken from their mother and placed in foster care.
The children were ordered returned home from foster care. All of the trauma they endured was inflicted by Camreta, Alford and the Oregon Department of Human Services.
And all of it was for nothing.
Sharon, her sister and their mother sued. The Ninth Circuit ruled that Sharon’s Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated.
Just as Camreta used scare tactics on Sharon, now those opposed to the Ninth Circuit ruling are trying to use scare tactics on the rest of us; practically suggesting that this ruling, if upheld, will bring the entire investigative process to a halt.
That is not true.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Ninth Circuit, child welfare agencies still will have the right to interview children at school and they still will have the right to interview children out of sight of the parents and without getting their parents’ permission. All they have to do is call up a judge and explain why there is “probable cause” that the child has been harmed or is at risk. They don’t have to give the accused a chance to mount a defense – they don’t even have to go to court in person.
Furthermore, there is always an exception under the Fourth Amendment for “exigent circumstances” – meaning, in child abuse situations, the child is in imminent danger, or the family might flee, for example, and there is no time to get a warrant.
Had DHS simply agreed to abide by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, it could have taken the Oregon taxpayer money it is spending litigating this case all the way to the Supreme Court and spent it on more useful endeavors such as training its workers in how to interview children without badgering and traumatizing them.
In short, there is nothing in the Fourth Amendment that stops DHS and its counterparts around the country from protecting children – at most, these Constitutional protections may curb DHS’ power to traumatize the children it is supposed to protect.
[*] -Sharon is not the real name of the child, who is referred to in court documents as “S.G.”
 Deposition of Sarah Ray Greene, included in Bob Camreta, Petitioner, v. Sarah Greene, personally and as next friend for S.G., a minor, and K.G., a minor, Respondent, James Alford, Deschutes County Deputy Sheriff, Petitioner, v. Sarah Greene, personally and as next friend for S.G., a minor, and K.G., a minor, Respondent, Joint Appendix, p. 51.
 Affidavit of S.G., included in Joint Appendix, note 1, supra., p. 73.
 Joseph J. Doyle, Jr. , "Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effect of Foster Care" American Economic Review: December, 2007 and Joseph J. Doyle, "Child Protection and Adult Crime: Using Investigator Assignment to Estimate Causal Effects of Foster Care," Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 116, No. 4, 2008. And for a full discussion of these studies see National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, The Evidence is In, (June 3, 2009) available online at: http://www.nccpr.org/reports/evidence.pdf
 For a discussion and full citations for these studies see National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, Issue Paper #1: Foster care vs. Family Preservation, the Track Record on Safety and Well-Being, updated Jan. 3, 2011, available online at: http://www.nccpr.org/reports/01SAFETY.pdf
Affidavit, Note 2, supra.
 Sarah Greene, personally and as next friend for S.G., a minor, and K.G., a minor, v. Bob Camreta, et. al., Case # No. 06-35333, Opinion, Dec. 10, 2009, available online at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2009/12/10/06-35333.pdf , p. 16338.