A former social services director in North Carolina pled guilty last week to obstruction of justice, a felony, for leading the department at a time when social workers were using illegitimate documents to dodge court oversight of a family separation.
Cindy Palmer, who led the Cherokee County Department of Social Services for several years, stepped down as director after the charges were filed against her and some subordinates in May, 2020. She was allowed to take on a financial role in the agency, which she occupied until her resignation in September. On Oct. 26, she pled guilty as part of a plea agreement and will likely avoid prison, although she will have a felony on her record and has been barred from working with the county social services department.
The criminal charges against her and others relate to their efforts to bypass mandatory judicial hearings regarding the parents’ rights in multiple cases.
According to the indictment, the officials sometimes used legal-looking but unenforceable documents they called “custody and visitation agreements” that stated the parents agreed to allow social workers to place their children in foster care. The use of these documents is at the heart of several civil cases in the county, and earlier this year, a federal civil jury awarded a combined $4.6 million to a father and daughter who were separated through the use of a custody and visitation agreement.
A former DSS supervisor explained in court that the agency was under pressure to speed up the processing of family separation cases. So under Palmer’s watch, her subordinates turned to coercing some parents into signing the papers under threat of placing their children far from home, which would make visitation arrangements and communication with their children more difficult, said the witness, a former supervisor who has agreed to testify in all related cases in exchange for having several charges dropped.
According to Carolina Public Press, Judge William Coward “forbade her from working at Cherokee County DSS but not from taking care of children.”
Former social services attorney Scott Lindsay is facing 20 felony charges relating to the illegal child removal practices.