A Mountain View family filed a federal lawsuit against the city claiming that Mountain View Police Department officers unlawfully forced their 5-year-old daughter to undergo a traumatic sexual assault exam, violating their civil rights and running afoul of department protocol.
The suit, filed on behalf of parents Annie and Douglas Lother last month, seeks a jury trial after three officers showed up at the family's house on Jan. 28 and demanded the child's genitals be examined by a paramedic. Officers reportedly believed the child may have been a victim of sexual abuse.
The child had injured her pubic area three days prior when she fell at a Sky High Sports trampoline park, according to the civil complaint. The injury had healed, but the girl mentioned that her vagina had bled or was bleeding while she was at Landels Elementary School and a teacher or principal made a referral to either Child Protective Services (CPS) or law enforcement. The girl was pulled from class and questioned on Jan. 28.
Later that day, officers -- identified in the suit as Mark Poirier, Mason Motomura and Matthew Rogers -- reportedly pounded on the door of the family's home, entered and refused to explain why they were there, according to the suit. A social worker with the county, identified as Joseph Phan, accompanied the officers and also did not explain the nature of the report that brought them there -- a requirement under California law.
The girl was separated from her mother and questioned in the front yard in plain view of the public, the lawsuit states. She told officers that she had injured herself at a trampoline park and, after minutes of interrogation, started to whine and told them she didn't want to answer any more questions. According to the suit, Poirier is heard on a police body camera recording saying that the concerns of possible sexual abuse seemed "more and more unfounded," and that the injuries were innocent in nature.
After asking several probing questions to Douglas Lother, including how he disciplines his daughters and if there was "anything more" he could tell officers to understand "a little bit more about the situation," the officers gave an ultimatum: allow a paramedic to inspect the child's genitals or have her forcibly transported to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center for an examination.
Motomura told the parents that he and the other officers would not leave until the exam was complete or the child was taken to Valley Medical Center, refusing to comply when Douglas Lother demanded that the three officers leave the home.
According to the complaint, Motomura tried to convince the parents that the in-home examination was the better option.
"There is only two options," he said, according to the lawsuit's transcription of body camera footage. "Doing this here in her own home with a female medical expert. Mom is welcome to be present, nothing traumatic, abusive is going to happen, or if you refuse, then we have to go the other route and CPS will take them in ... to be seen by an emergency room doctor."
The suit states that the parents tried multiple times to offer alternatives, including a trip to a physician to verify the injury was not serious and healing. Danielle Lother also offered contact information for witnesses who could corroborate the story that the girl injured herself at a trampoline park.
"Danielle (Lother) offered in a pleading tone to take the child to the doctor tomorrow and send them the results," according to the suit. "Danielle again offered that she would get the pediatrician on the phone. These offers were again refused."
The Lothers say they were forced to hold down their child and pull off her clothes for the paramedic while she was kicking and crying. The paramedic commented that she couldn't see without better lighting, leading Douglas Lother to pull out the flashlight on his phone to assist in the examination.
"In a nightmarish moment of his life, Douglas (Lother) actually found himself holding a flashlight with one hand, pointed at his daughter's private parts, while he and his wife were holding down their struggling, screaming, crying 5-year-old daughter, as a stranger was putting her fingers on his child's labia and spreading the outer folds of the labia with her fingers to visually inspect them in the bright light of a flashlight held by Douglas," according to the suit.
Laura Yamada, the paramedic for American Medical Response (AMR), concluded after a two-minute examination that there was nothing wrong with the child's vagina, but only after prefacing her statement by saying that she was not a doctor.
In the weeks following the incident, the family hired San Jose-based attorney Robert Powell, who filed a $1 million claim against the city of Mountain View arguing that suspected victims of child abuse cannot, by the department's own policy, be detained involuntarily for the purposes of an interview or physical exam without the consent of a parent or guardian. Exceptions exist only 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.
Mountain View city officials said they could not comment on existing litigation. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the lawsuit in closed session at its Tuesday, Oct. 15, meeting.
Powell told the Voice that officers erred in demanding a sexual assault examination, and that they lacked a compelling reason to escalate the situation or suspect the parents of wrongdoing. The account of the injuries sustained at Sky High Sports was consistent between the father, the mother and the child.
"This was three days later -- she was absolutely fine," Powell said of the girl. "They knew that from her own mouth within seven minutes of them arriving."
Powell said the family decided to move forward with a civil complaint after they ran into "disparate views" over what would be an appropriate settlement arrangement with the three culpable agencies -- the city, the county and AMR.
The suit alleges that the incident has caused severe emotional distress, anxiety, and symptoms including nausea and severe depression, forcing the family to spend money on therapeutic counseling and medical care, and faces future medical and mental health expenses.
The daughter, in particular, has suffered lasting consequences from the encounter with police, according to the suit, including mood changes and "extreme hypervigilance." She slept in her parents' bed for two months, was still having nightmares eight months after the exam and has seen her grades drop.
The suit claims that the city violated the family's right to due process, privacy and against unreasonable seizure, and alleges that the officers committed battery and false imprisonment. The suit also lays blame on the paramedic for negligence in conducting an exam that was a "substantial factor" in causing harm to the daughter.