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Parents sue New York City to protect civil rights against government’s illegal searches

Note: This piece was updated on 4/5/2024 to include a link to AFPF’s brief.

If the idea that government officials can threaten to take your children if you don’t allow them into your home based only on anonymous complaints sounds like something that would only happen in Moscow, I have some bad news for you.

This occurs every day in the United States, even though it clearly violates people’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Consider the facts in a new federal class-action lawsuit against New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).

Government officials for ACS are currently pursuing unconstitutional searches tens of thousands of times each year on families based often on no more than an anonymous complaint to New York’s child abuse hotline.

Luckily for families in New York and across the country, the Family Justice Law Center and the NYU Family Defense Clinic heard this and said, “We have to do something about it.”

In February, they, alongside two law firms, filed a suit against the ACS based upon their systemic use of these unconstitutional searches against parents.

The lawsuit names nine plaintiffs who have been victimized by this practice. Their stories, along with the rest of the complaint, reveal how the ACS would use tactics and threats against parents to gain entry into their home, and once inside, search every inch of the house as well as conduct strip searches of their children for evidence of abuse or neglect.

My colleagues at Americans for Prosperity Foundation filed an amicus brief in this case highlighting the important constitutional concerns with this practice. 

Take Plaintiff Curtayasia Taylor and her two boys, ages seven and twelve: Beginning in September 2022, ACS, based solely on an allegation of neglect, searched every inch of their home as well as strip searched the two boys.

ACS lied to Curtaysia, saying that the searches were required by law and that her children were no longer hers but rather “clients” of the government whom she needed permission from ACS to speak to. These searches happened on five different occasions until the investigation was abruptly closed in November 2022 with no findings of neglect.

Curtayasia’s story is not unique: The lawsuit shows how these types of illegal searches – utilizing tactics of coercion, lies, and threats – are condoned and oftentimes encouraged by ACS policy, leading to more than 50,000 searches like the ones Curtayasia and her family experienced.

More than 99.5% of all ACS searches are done without a court order.

And not only are these searches illegal and traumatic, but they also rarely find any evidence of neglect or abuse.

Less than seven percent of investigations lead to charges in Family Court, and many of those are thrown out.

I can’t imagine what Curtayasia was feeling when the government came knocking on her door, called her children “clients” of the government, and told her she could lose them at any moment. Hopefully, with the help of organizations like the Family Justice Law Center, no other parent will have to find out.

Government overreach feels like an abstract concept. But it has a real impact.

The government’s first job is protecting the rights of all citizens. When it strays from its constitutional duty, we’re grateful for principled advocates like those at Family Justice Law Center and other civil liberty organizations who are willing to fight for the freedoms of all Americans.

— Greg Glod

Policy Fellow, Americans for Prosperity

 

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