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Parents file $1M claim against Mountain View police, alleging they forced 5-year-old to submit to sexual assault exam

Landels staff reported possible child abuse; parents say witnesses saw daughter hurt genitals at trampoline park

A Mountain View family has filed a $1 million claim against the city of Mountain View, alleging that police officers wrongfully conducted a sexual assault exam of their 5-year-old daughter, who was held down as she struggled against the paramedic examining her.

Doug and Danielle Lother revealed the incident to ABC7 news last week, saying that their daughter fell while on a playdate at an indoor trampoline park and suffered a minor injury -- a scrape -- on or near her genitals. While the injury healed over the weekend, the girl mentioned her injury to staff at Landels Elementary School, who then reported it to child protective services (CPS).

The claim, filed by the family's attorney on Feb. 11, states that Mountain View officers and a Santa Clara County social worker showed up at the family's door on Jan. 28 to investigate the report of possible sexual assault, but refused to tell the parents what the allegations were. The child and parents were separated and the child was interrogated during the incident, according to the claim.

Officers told the family that their child's injury would need to be examined by a female paramedic at the home, which the Lothers did not consent to, the claim alleges. The alternative, they were told, was for their daughter to be removed from the home and evaluated at a hospital.

The girl was forcefully held down and examined for several minutes, the parents told ABC7. She continues to have nightmares about the incident and her grades have suffered, they said.

Robert Powell, the San Jose-based attorney who filed the claim on behalf of the family, told the Voice that officers and the social worker both mishandled the situation, failing to explain from the outset why they were even at the home. The family should have been informed that the girl spoke of her injury at the school, prompting a call to CPS through the county's Department of Family & Children's Services.

"The social worker is supposed to tell them why they are there and they refused to do that," he said. "We had one of the cops saying, 'We don't do that.'"

Had the social worker and responding officers described the nature of the report, the parents could have explained from the outset that their child had fallen at a park and hurt herself. The parents also offered the contact information of another parent who could corroborate the story, Powell said, which should have been the end of the police call. Instead, the officers gave the family an ultimatum: allow the medical exam or have CPS to take their child away for an exam, Powell said.

These kinds of incidents are not rare, Powell said. Officers frequently cross the line in child abuse investigations, he said, noting one case in Kentucky where a family's children -- all under the age of 5 -- were strip-searched by police during a child abuse investigation without a warrant and little reason to suspect wrongdoing.

"This is not necessarily an aberrant case, but this is the insanity that is Child Protective Services," he said.

In an email, Mountain View police spokeswoman Katie Nelson said the claim filed against the city prevents the department from commenting on the specific details of the incident. But she said the story aired by ABC7 news on June 6 "does not give a full picture of the investigation."

"As much as we would like to correct the inaccuracies from the report, we can't speak to the specifics regarding the investigation," she said, adding that residents with questions or concerns are encouraged to reach out to the police department.

Law enforcement agencies in Santa Clara County have consistent policy manuals stating that suspected victims of child abuse should not be detained involuntarily for the purposes of an interview or physical exam without the consent of a parent or guardian. Exceptions exist for exigent circumstances, including an immediate need to address a medical issue or a belief that the child is at risk of harm if the interview or exam is not completed.

"They violated policy, but they also violated common sense," Powell said.

In cases of known or suspected child sexual assault, California law states that consent from parents or legal guardians is not a requirement for a physical examination or collection of evidence, provided a CPS agency signs documentation granting temporary guardianship. "Local procedures" for obtaining consent from CPS must be followed, according to the state's penal code.

The claim is seeking $1 million for emotional distress, past and future medical and mental health treatment, punitive damages and attorney fees. Powell said the city attorney's office has contacted him to discuss the possibility of an early resolution.

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Comments

23 people like this
Posted by Horrified
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 10, 2019 at 12:05 pm

They should have asked for more, this is absolutely terrible.


33 people like this
Posted by What?!
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 10, 2019 at 1:40 pm

Looking at the information provided here rationally rather than emotionally, it seems as if the authorities largely did what they were required to do. If people don't want cases of potential child abuse (remember: as stated above, school staff knew only whatever they heard from the student, and they are required to take certain actions), then get the laws and protocols changed! We got where we today after people who worked with children in the past did *not* automatically report ambiguous injuries, and were vilified for that.

It seems the parents' core complaint is that they weren't fully informed of the rationale when visited by CPS. But whatever the full details, this article is another one of those presenting almost exclusively the parents' and their laywer's telling of the story (a lawyer who'd likely take a substantial fraction of any monetary award as a fee). Good for drumming up reader sympathy; not so good for impartial judgment.


4 people like this
Posted by What?!
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 10, 2019 at 1:56 pm

^ meant to say

If people don't want cases of potential child abuse investigated vigorously (remember: ...


10 people like this
Posted by Been there
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2019 at 3:06 pm

When they come in, they only inform you of the general allegation (physical abuse, sexual, etc). Then they ask you if you can think of something that would warrant such alllegations.
I can see how parents could have been dumbfounded by the allegations of sexual abuse, no less.


16 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2019 at 3:34 pm

It sounds like the forced exam was the traumatic event.
The government has gone too far attempting to demonize people without due process.
Thank heavens the press did not get hold of the allegations before the exam was performed. Anyone near the girl would have been accused in the press.


13 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 10, 2019 at 4:01 pm

Is the paramedic properly trained to do this exam? If she was having a hard time, maybe she should have called a pediatrician or nurse for backup.


13 people like this
Posted by Overkill
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2019 at 4:09 pm

I’d be curious to know what the child actually said to the teacher. It was probably just that she had some wound in the genital area. Which would make the teacher’s assumption of sexual assault and subsequent reporting to CPS way overkill especially without talking to the parents first. That forcible exam would be traumatizing for any child. Shame on CPS and MVPD for subjecting her to that without just cause.


28 people like this
Posted by mv dweller
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 10, 2019 at 4:23 pm

mv dweller is a registered user.

If the child wasn't a victim of abuse, she is now, at the hands of authority no less. If they actually felt she was a victim, this exam was absolutely mishandled. If they didn't, and were simply following procedure, then the procedure needs to change. Generally I prefer to believe in incompetence rather than sinister intent... but as written, this case makes one wonder wth they were thinking.


25 people like this
Posted by Rossta
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 10, 2019 at 4:40 pm

Rossta is a registered user.

I am from a law enforcement family, but it is getting where calling the cops is the LAST thing I want to do.


11 people like this
Posted by vonlost
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 10, 2019 at 5:50 pm

vonlost is a registered user.

Such cases are a judgment call by officials, who showed extremely poor judgement concerning the considerable trauma they were putting the girl through by their actions at that time. The procedures allow a gentler approach which wasn’t followed.


8 people like this
Posted by Been there
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2019 at 5:06 am

@Overkill
Yes mandatory reporters are trained to NOT use their discretion and just report anything and everything.
This was the case for me, a young inexperienced mandatory reporter heard my child say something that in her view justified a call. I did have an unpleasant couple evenings explaining myself (cleared eventually but still waiting on the copy of the case from CPS).
It is a scary experience and I wish they made changes to reporting guidelines as a result of this suit, as well as changes to how allegations are handled.


16 people like this
Posted by Mandatory reporter
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 11, 2019 at 7:38 am

I'm a mandatory reporter in the schools, and I didn't know about this obligatory exam. I once reported a 5-year-old who told me a man was "bothering" her, and I passed it on to CPS. I did not know about this horrendous exam that sounds like child abuse itself inflicted by people of trust. I have to take an annual online course about my responsibility as a mandated reporter, but I will be thinking about consequences of my actions that I never thought about before. I am sorry this incident happened to the family. It sounds traumatic for everyone. I hope they're getting counseling.


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 11, 2019 at 11:35 am

Isn't it neat how "standard procedure" for police is behavior that would land any of us in prison? Imagine what would happen if you or I held down a little girl and did a genital examination against her will.

"I was just following orders" did not work in Nuremburg as a defense, and it should not work for people who are allegedly public servants.


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