Mother Sues DHS for Taking Her Child Under False Allegations

By Trish Mehaffey, Reporter

IOWA CITY — A Guernsey mother filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Iowa Department of Human Services for placing her 5-year-old daughter in foster care based on a false allegation and asks the court to prevent this from happening again.

Jessica Wilbur, 20, filed the civil lawsuit in Johnson County District Court, claiming Paul Lafauce, a DHS abuse investigator, and DHS Director Charles Krogmeier violated her constitutional rights by placing her child in foster care based on document signed by the child's non-custodial father Robert Nino of Marshalltown, a convicted sex offender.

Nino took the 5-year-old girl for a weekend visit in November and instead of returning her to Wilbur, he kept her and filed a false sexual abuse complaint against Wilbur with the department, according to petition filed Nov. 13. Nino then signed a voluntary foster care placement agreement with DHS and the child entered foster care for two weeks.

The sexual abuse allegation was false and no child abuse investigation was filed by DHS, but the department refused to return the child until after the article about the case ran in The Gazette, Natalie Cronk, Wilbur's attorney, said.

Cronk said DHS contacted Wilbur at that point and said her child would be returned if she signed a plan to assure the child's safety. The plan had nothing to do with the initial allegations.

Cronk then went with Wilbur to the foster care home of Nino's sister, who wasn't a qualified foster parent, to take the child home after DHS couldn't produce an order granting authority to restrain or withhold the child from her mother.

The Johnson County DHS office has retaliated against Wilbur after she took her daughter home by proceeding with a baseless investigation and has threatened additional action, the lawsuit contends.

Roger Munns, DHS spokesman, said Tuesday after reading the lawsuit that he had to consult with department officials and didn't think he could comment.

The suit asks the court to declare the DHS policy of taking children away from their parents by obtaining signatures on voluntary foster care placement from parents with no custodial rights as a violation of Iowa law and constitutional principles.
It also asks for punitive damages against LaFauce.
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