Tuesday, January 8, 2008

To save the kid we had to ...

Via Radley Balko, here's the tale of a Colorado family that was raided by police and held at gunpoint because the parents decided to care for their 11-year-old son themselves instead of send him to the hospital after he bumped his head.

The Garfield County All Hazards Response Team broke down Tom Shiflett's door Friday night and, following a court order, took his son for medical treatment.

The doctor's recommendation: Take Tylenol and apply ice to the bruises. The boy was back home a few hours later.

Authorities said they had reason to believe Shiflett mistreated his 11-year-old son, Jon, by failing to provide him proper medical care for a head injury. But Shiflett says his privacy and his rights were invaded, and that he has the right and the skill to treat his son himself. Shiflett, 62, said he served as a medic in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.

An army medic? Huh, you might think him capable of treating his own kids' bumps and bruises.

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario told reporters that the full-on paramilitary assault was necessary because Shiflett is a "self-proclaimed constitutionalist," although he declined to specify any illegal or threatening behavior on the man's part.

The use of a SWAT team to enforce an official preference for professional care over informal first-aid raises the already extreme militarization of American policing -- and the intrusiveness of even the most seemingly innocuous government agencies -- to a new and bizarre level. It's bad enough when doors are kicked in and people thrown to the floor -- or killed -- to serve warrants for non-violent offenses like drug possession. That's a monstrous abuse of government power that inevitably breeds fear of so-called "peace keepers" and builds an adversarial relationship between people and the state. But how do you characterize the use of violence to settle a disagreement between low-level officials and parents over the proper treatment of minor injuries?

It's easy to imagine a scenario under which Shiflett family members could have been injured or killed during an action supposedly intended to administer medical care. Would Sheriff Vallario have argued (in words probably all too familiar to Vietnam vet Tom Shiflett), "it was necessary to kill the kid in order to save him?"

It's long been clear that the state is too intrusive -- the micromanagement of American life has been an increasingly annoying problem for decades. But fans of the state have argued that a preference for less-intrusive government is simply a personal fetish based in only one small philosophy of governance. Incidents like the attack on the Shiflett family make it clear that an intrusive state is a dangerous state. Government agents don't just insert themselves into our lives; they acquire the troops and weapons to enforce their authority over all objections. SWAT raids are an inevitable tool of government officials who poke their noses everywhere and won't take "no" for an answer.

And injury and death are the certain outcome.

Sheriff Vallario can be reached at: (970) 945-0453

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Blogger Kirsten said...

Funny, but I thought government employees (especially law enforcement!) usually have to swear or affirm an oath that they will uphold and defend the Constitution. So doesn't that mean Sheriff V. is supposed to be a constitutionalist himself?

January 8, 2008 10:57 PM  
Blogger Trotter said...

So did Bush. A lot of folks do, but for some reason most Americans have forgotten that the Constitution is much more than a mere "piece of paper."

We have to stand up and remind those in power of our rights. Sad we have to do so, but we sort of screwed ourselves over by electing "misinformation" to office.

January 9, 2008 10:58 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

You didn't mention in your post (though the article did) that the fellow was belligerent when dealing with the paramedics and the social workers involved. Social workers have to assume the worst when dealing with someone they believe might be abusive. The SWAT team might have been over the top, but would you suggest the same if they sent a SWAT team and it did turn out that the parent was abusing the children? I think not.

January 9, 2008 2:07 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Shiflett's landlord, Ross Talbott, who was present at the raid, says it was the paramedics who were belligerent -- not family members. After long experience, I tend to take "official" stories with a grain of salt.

January 9, 2008 2:21 PM  
Blogger Joseph said...

Funny thing - this same story is circulating on some right-wing blogs as an example of Liberals run amok!

January 10, 2008 5:11 AM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

After the past few years, I don't see how conservatives can present themselves as champions of a government that leaves you alone. But this isn't an ideological issue -- or it is, but not a conservative vs. liberal one. It's a matter that pits people who favor personal liberty and a restrained state against those who think that no area of human life and no level of violence should be off limits to government officials.

January 10, 2008 9:26 AM  
Anonymous Frank said...

The paramedics weren't even called by the family, they were called by a nosy neighbor that needs to have "MYOB" spray-painted across her trailer.

The paramedics then barged in the front door without an invitation. That's a crime where I come from. Why haven't they been charged?

January 13, 2008 5:17 PM  
OpenID bodhranman said...

I'll be quite honest...I find this eminently believable. Having been a homeschooled kid for a good number of years, and knowing the horror stories that circulate about the way in which social workers deal with families in instances of alleged abuse, I'm inclined to completely discount the official story.
As near as I can tell, for every legitimate instance of child abuse that gets dealt with, there are a dozen cases in which social services are responding to a bogus call, or somebody's hypersensitivity. It makes me kind of worried, if I ever have kids, at the possibility that in choosing to discipline them in a certain way I might have said child taken away from me because I "abused" them.
This, to me, is a fairly good example of government run utterly amok. At least it's local, and you have a better shot at changing it.

January 17, 2008 11:35 PM  

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