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Garlic for Vampire

February 11, 2012 permalink

A lawyer on Esther Buckareff's documentary Powerful as God said that cross examination to a social worker is like garlic to a vampire. California Social worker Bridget Hannegan got her dose of garlic.



Man accused of child abuse challenges social worker

An Orange County jury saw something uncommon this week: a father getting the chance to cross-examine a social worker who had labeled him a child abuser.

And since the father happens to be a prosecutor with the Orange County District Attorney's Office, it made for some uncomfortable moments.

George McFetridge, 61, and his wife, Bette, 64, are suing Orange County's Social Services Agency and social worker Bridget Hannegan over an interaction in 2008 that led Hannegan to list the McFetridges on the state's Child Abuse Central Index.

The McFetridges' adopted daughter, Holly, then 15, had briefly run away from the family's Irvine home and told a worker at Huntington Beach Youth Shelter that Bette McFetridge had pushed her into a towel rack. The worker reported what Holly had said, which led Hannegan to come calling.

In February 2008, Hannegan, a senior investigative social worker, visited Holly at Woodbridge High School and said she was shocked at what she saw.

“Immediately I noticed her hair,” Hannegan testified while being questioned by the county's attorney, Daniel Spradlin. “It looked like she got hazed.”

While Holly's bangs looked normal, her hair was “cut severely uneven to the back” at about one inch in length, Hannegan said. She lifted up the back of Holly's hair and saw three circular, silver-dollar sized bald spots, Hannegan testified.

Holly said that George McFetridge had restrained her while Bette cut her hair as punishment for lying, Hannegan testified.

Then it was time for cross-examination.

George McFetridge prosecutes financial fraud cases for the District Attorney's Office. He's put away mortgage scammers like Jimmy Osborn, who cost 10 families their homes.

He pointed out that Hannegan had referred to Bette McFetridge as “Bette Jane” in her report.

“It's your testimony that you didn't even get my wife's name correct in your report?” he demanded.

He went on to question Hannegan's investigative techniques, asking if she had spoken to any of Holly's friends or teachers to try to corroborate her story (answer: no) or had taken a photograph to document Holly's severe haircut.

Hannegan replied that she is not “trained” to use a camera. “It's not part of my job description,” she said.

“You felt your one-hour visit with Holly was sufficient for you to have a grasp of her credibility?” Answer: yes.

In her report, Hannegan determined that Holly's allegation of physical abuse by Bette McFetridge was “unfounded,” but she added an “inconclusive” finding of alleged emotional abuse based on the haircutting incident.

Under the law at the time, Hannegan was required to report the McFetridges to the state's Child Abuse Central Index even though the emotional abuse finding was inconclusive. The law has since changed.

The McFetridges could have remained on the index for 10 years, but they succeeded in getting their names removed after 11 months through an appeals procedure created by a court ruling in another family's lawsuit, George McFetridge said.

Still, the McFetridges say their reputations were damaged by a process in which a social worker was empowered to act as prosecutor, judge and jury, and parents weren't given a chance for a hearing before being condemned to 10 years of public shame.

The issue has been a big one here in Orange County. Nearly 800 Orange County residents landed on the state's list of child abusers based on investigations that failed to determine whether any abuse actually occurred back in 2009 and 2010, according to an Orange County grand jury investigation.

With the jury out of the Santa Ana courtroom, George McFetridge argued to Superior Court Judge Michael Brenner that Hannegan lied in her report.

The McFetridges admit that the haircutting incident took place, but deny that Holly was restrained and say Hannegan exaggerated the severity of the cut and lied about the existence of bald spots.

“She's just making stuff up. She knows there's no right to confrontation,” George McFetridge told the judge. “If you read her report, you'll think we're despicable people … and it's all fabrications.”

The McFetridges want $1 for each of the 11 months they were on the index, plus $28,000 they spent putting Holly in a halfway house while they were listed as child abusers.

Brenner appeared skeptical of the McFetridges' case and, after argument by Spradlin, considered ordering a verdict in the county's favor. After several tense hours for the McFetridges, Brenner decided to let the jury make the decision. We'll let you know when they reach a verdict.

The McFetridges' adoption of Holly ultimately didn't work out. Their biological son, Scott, is now 40.

Source: Orange County Register