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Battered Mother Sues Child Protectors
January 22, 2015 permalink
Damon Mammaro assaulted his wife by choking her and stabbing her with a fork, then kidnapped their daughter Daniella. But instead of helping mother Michelle Mammaro, New Jersey authorities accused her of child abuse. Now a court has granted her the right to sue the state Department of Children & Families and the local police department.
N.J. mom can sue 'DYFS' employees, judge says
PHILLIPSBURG—A Phillipsburg mother has won the right to sue state employees who charged her with child abuse after her husband allegedly stabbed her and kidnapped their child.
Michelle Mammaro, 29, continues to "seek justice in her case against" the state child services workers and police who "pursued her as a child abuser," her attorney said today.
The Federal District Court in Trenton ruled that these state employees are not immune from suit for conduct in violation of the constitution rights of parents, and Mammaro has won the right to sue department heads and individual employees of the state Department of Children & Families, its Division of Child Protection and Permanency (then the Division of Youth and Family Services, DYFS) and the Watchung Police Department, Kenneth Rosellini of Clifton said in a press release.
The case began after an incident in July 2011 involving Mammaro's then-husband. Damon Mammaro allegedly assaulted his wife by choking her and stabbing her with a fork at their home in Phillipsburg. He then left with the couple's 19-month-old daughter, Daniella.
A manhunt ensued, lasting several hours, before he was arrested in Easton and taken to Northampton County Prison, according to reports at the time.
Initially, Damon alone was investigated by state services for child abuse, but the agency filed charges of child abuse against Michelle in September that year, Rosellini said Jan. 21.
"This is a victim of domestic violence, and instead of helping her, they investigated and targeted her," he said.
It took more than a year for a Warren County Family Court judge to rule that Michelle Mammaro was not guilty of child abuse, Rosellini said. During that time, Rosellini and his client allege, caseworkers and police violated Michelle Mammaro's parental rights and went "beyond their constitutional bounds."
According to their complaint, in 2012, Mammaro was no longer able to stay at a state "safe house" and had to move to a friend's home in Watchung.
Rosellini said that instead of inspecting her new living space, case workers arrived with police to take the child from her mother.
Under the law, the "emergency removal" called for a court hearing within 72-hours and a judge ultimately ruled that the agency should not have removed the child, Rosellini said.
"The Attorney General's Office argues immunity through prosecutorial conduct, however, they're not protected if they do something outside of that, and the judge agrees with us," he said.
In addition to monetary judgments against the individuals named in the complaint— department heads, three case workers, two case worker supervisors, a police chief and two officers — Mammaro seeks injunctive relief requiring reform of current practices such as advising parents of their rights, training case workers properly and expediting the review process.
Most importantly, Rosellini said, their goal is to ensure that case workers "don't retaliate when parents do assert their rights."
"We want to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," he said.
A management conference is scheduled for March, after which, Rosellini said, he plans to question the state employees under oath.
Source: The Warren Reporter