Both the caseworker and several attorneys who reviewed the case on behalf of the Houston Chronicle said the supervisor’s actions could amount to perjury, a charge the agency denies.
The caseworker, Paul Lozelle, made the allegation to several top officials at the the Department of Family and Protective Services in a blistering resignation letter obtained by the Chronicle. The allegations come on the heels of two recent child welfare cases in which CPS workers faced allegations of altering records.
In his letter, Lozelle accused his supervisor of presenting his words as his own, signing them before a notary and entering the document into the court as an affidavit in order to justify the removal of a 1-year-old boy from his family.
Lozelle, who was on leave when the affidavit was submitted, told the Chronicle that he did not believe it was necessary to remove the child and had only authored the report at the direction of his supervisor. He said he was surprised to see his words, signed by someone else, filed in a legal document.
The Chronicle is not naming the supervisor because he has not been charged with a crime.
Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the state agency, defended the supervisor’s handling of the case, and said the man did not want to comment.
“Perjury is about the truth of the facts in an affidavit, not about the signature on it,” Crimmins said in an email to the Chronicle. “The facts presented in the affidavit are correct and true, and no one is disputing that.”
Three legal experts interviewed by the newspaper said otherwise.
“I don’t know how we can have any faith that when they’re submitting evidence in these cases it’s trustworthy,” said defense attorney Chris Tritico. “Look at the history of what’s going on with CPS. They just got sanctioned for doing virtually the same thing — coming in and lying in court — and now you’ve got them submitting false affidavits in court.”
‘They never told me why’
Last year, a Harris County juvenile judge sanctioned the agency $127,000 for wrongfully removing a Tomball couple’s children. At the time, the family’s attorneys alleged a caseworker had created or altered records weeks after entering them in order to justify taking Dillon and Melissa Bright’s kids, though the online records system didn’t track changes so it wasn’t possible to verify what happened.
Then in February, more questions bubbled up after the Chronicle reported on the termination of a CPS supervisor who allegedly changed records of a family visit to instead show a staff meeting, according to paperwork obtained through a public records request.
In the current case, Lozelle reported bringing his concerns to a lawyer with the Harris County Attorney’s Office, which argues cases on behalf of CPS, but he said she told him it didn’t matter because no one would notice.
Lozelle said he doesn’t dispute the narrative or any of the facts in the affidavit, but he stressed that the observations were his and that his supervisor did not come along for any of the family visits described.
The case dates back to at least November, when Lozelle visited Marquel Gordon and his son. The boy’s mother had dropped the tot off at his dad’s and refused to take him back. So the 21-year-old planned to raise the boy himself, according to a partially redacted version of the affidavit.
During that visit, Gordon admitted that he smoked pot occasionally but said he would stop because his son was “more important.” Because of his admission, the caseworker arranged for other family members to help raise the boy.
Drug testing conducted during an initial screening came back positive for cocaine. So Lozelle returned to the home, and the father agreed to go to treatment. He also agreed to a safety plan, a common first step to avoid terminating parental rights, and CPS left the boy with his aunt.
By mid-December, Gordon still hadn’t gone to treatment, though he said he’d stopped using. He found a program, but they weren’t accepting new clients until mid-January.
Because of that — and because Gordon had already lost custody of his first child a year earlier — the department decided to push for removal.
“They never told me why they was trying to take him,” Gordon said in an interview last week.
Allegations under review
For the young father, the entire process has been overwhelming and difficult to navigate, with few people available to answer questions. When a reporter told him that the state was seeking to remove his child, he seemed surprised.
He said it didn’t seem fair to hold the earlier case against him. At the time, he said, he didn’t know CPS was involved.
Despite the earlier removal, Lozelle said he didn’t think it was necessary to take the younger child. But his supervisor asked him to write up a removal affidavit first.
“I visited …and was invited inside after knocking and introducing myself,” the partially redacted affidavit reads. “I observed the victim child… to be clean, apparently healthy and free from any marks or bruises.”
As a result, the case is scheduled for a removal hearing on Wednesday.
After a month of medical leave, Lozelle returned to work in mid-February and realized what happened. He quit his job within a few days.
“I brought this perjury to the attention of the county attorney who thought for a minute and said that she doubted that anyone would notice,” he wrote in the resignation letter, “and even if they did, I did not need to worry, because I was not the one who had committed perjury.”
Lozelle copied several DFPS officials in an email submitting the resignation, including Commissioner Hank Whitman.
The letter doesn’t name the attorney Lozelle said he consulted, but the county attorney’s office said in a statement that they’d be reviewing Lozelle’s description of events. The office declined to comment further because of the pending child welfare case.
Although Crimmins described the supervisor’s signature on the affidavit as “proper and legal,” lawyers interviewed by the Chronicle said it constitutes perjury.
Attorney Katya Dow described it as “absolutely” perjury and Pat McCann, a past president of Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, agreed.
“If this a regular practice,” he said, “however well-intentioned, then the folks doing it ought to go hire lawyers right now.”
Source : https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texa