A former Child Protective Unit supervisor in North Carolina has pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for his future testimony against higher-ups implicated in the systematic wrongful removal of children from their parents, according to a news report.
According to prosecutors, David Hughes and his superiors sometimes did an illegal end run around a judicial review in tough-to-prove cases of child maltreatment in Cherokee County, saying the Department of Social Services was under pressure to move cases more quickly, according to Carolina Public Press.
Hughes and two superiors were indicted in 2020 on nearly 40 felony and misdemeanor charges revolving around the scheme. Prosecutors say the three separated families using what they called a Custody and Visitation Agreement. The document looks legal, two judges have agreed, but they ruled the CVA did not carry the force of law and said the child separations were unlawful.
Hughes testified in his guilty plea that the kids were generally pulled from the family home and placed with relatives. Using the unauthorized document allowed DSS to bypass judicial approval of removal and placement, bringing the case to a swifter conclusion.
But some parents and other critics said parents were coerced into signing the agreement.
Hughes is expected to testify against his former boss, Cindy Palmer. The former Cherokee County DSS director faces two felony obstruction-of-justice charges, two misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor charge of willful failure to discharge duties and a felony perjury charge. Palmer returned to work for DSS and is currently the department’s business officer.
The other target of the indictment, former DSS attorney Scott Lindsay, faces 20 felony obstruction-of-justice charges, two misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one misdemeanor charge of willful failure to discharge duties. Hughes is expected to testify truthfully against him, too.
In exchange for his testimony, prosecutors agreed to drop 10 felony charges against Hughes, who will be sentenced after his superiors’ cases are complete. Palmer and Lindsay have pleaded not guilty.