There was a time when Corey Chaney and April Rodgers thought their months-old daughter, Summer, would be taken away from them.
During a period of nearly two months, between April and May, police officers and social workers kept showing up at the Kentucky couple’s home to investigate reports that they were abusing their daughter, according to the Courier-Journal.
The calls were insistent. As soon as one case was closed, another opened. In one case, Chaney, 25, and Rodgers, 23, were accused of engaging in a drunken fight outside the home while one parent held their young daughter. Another time, a caller accused Rodgers of holding the baby upside down over a balcony.
Each time, the family was left dumbfounded and afraid.
“We were so scared that someone was going to take her away,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers and Chaney knew the reports were false and tried to alert the state’s social service’s agency that they were being set up. But they weren’t taken seriously, they told the Courier-Journal.
Each anonymous call alleging serious abuse had to be investigated, the agency countered. So the couple submitted to drug testing and signed several “prevention plans” drafted by the agency to prevent child abuse.
In all, police investigated six different reports of child abuse, all unsubstantiated, according to the Elizabethtown Police Department.
Finally, the couple decided to take action. With the help of police, they arranged to leave their home for a few days and stay with relatives, anticipating that another call would come in to child protective services as soon as an earlier case was closed.
And it did, the Courier-Journal reported:
The first night they were away, May 22, a call came into the abuse hotline reporting that Chaney had become violent and thrown the baby against the wall. Another call followed on May 23, alleging a disturbance at the couple’s apartment. Police went to the apartment but found no one home.
Days later, the couple’s neighbors — Beth A. Bond, 37, who was a social worker with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and Bond’s fiance, Joseph W. Applegate Jr., 42 — were arrested and charged with six counts of falsely reporting an incident.
According to the Courier-Journal, the calls began after police say the two couples engaged in a “verbal dispute,” though Chaney and Rodgers deny that there was ever such a conflict.
Rodgers contends that Bond, who lived downstairs, thought that they were being “too loud.”
An attorney for Chaney and Rodgers, victims of the hoax, say their case highlights systemic flaws that allow virtually anyone to upend lives with blatantly false claims.
“This could happen to anyone,” the lawyer, Barry Sullivan, told the Courier-Journal. “The bottom line is that there was a social worker allowed to run amok because there’s a system in place to protect anonymous callers.”
Sullivan told the Washington Post Monday that his clients are exploring legal action against their former neighbors and the child protective services agency.
Bond resigned from her job as a state social worker; the agency said that if she hadn’t resigned, she would have faced disciplinary action.
Still, according to Teresa James, commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, the division that employed Bond, the agency has to investigate every serious allegation:
As for anonymous calls, James said the cabinet relies on such calls to the hotline to learn about and investigate alleged child abuse and can’t ignore calls that meet requirements for investigation. It accepts anonymous calls because callers often are afraid of retaliation, she said, and the cabinet has no way to track down such callers.
Meanwhile, if an allegation of child abuse or neglect appears serious, officials must investigate, she said.
“The cabinet has to go out on every call that comes in that meets the criteria,” she said.
Chaney and Rodgers have since moved with their daughter to a new home after the ordeal, which, Chaney said, “took over our lives.” And though the culprits were arrested, Chaney said that the misdemeanor offense Bond and Applegate were charged with pales in comparison to the impact on his family’s lives.
“You can tear someone’s family apart,” he told the Courier-Journal, “and it’s a misdemeanor.”