Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Children removed from home of ACLU director after dispute - South Dakota

Written by John Hult

The stepchildren of the director of the South Dakota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union were placed in protective custody last week after a family dispute call at his address.

Robert Doody, 31, was asked to leave a closed child protection hearing Tuesday morning at the Minnehaha County Courthouse. A judge decided at the hearing to keep the children in protective custody during a Department of Social Services investigation.

The inquiry was sparked by a report of physical abuse given to the Department of Social Services by the biological father of two of the children. By law, Social Services can place children in protective custody for 10 days while it investigates claims against parents.

Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan confirmed Tuesday that he was aware of allegations, but said no charges have been filed against the mother or stepfather.

“We’ll have to wait for the investigating agency’s report,” McGowan said.

Doody said the removal of his Native American stepchildren, as well as his absence from the courtroom, constitute violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The welfare act bars the foster care placement of Native children under most circumstances and gives Native parents additional rights during custody hearings.

“This is a disgrace. It goes to show that the state does not give due process to Indians or non-Indians,” Doody said after the hearing. “It’s a sham.”

Doody and the children’s maternal grandmother initially walked into the hearing Tuesday morning but were asked to leave, he said.

Doody denied any wrongdoing.

The only family members inside the courtroom were the children’s biological parents: Doody’s wife, Kimberly St. John, and their father, David Knorr.

After the hearing, Knorr said the judge determined that the children would remain in protective custody while the Social Services investigation proceeds. Doody and his wife objected to a placement in Knorr’s home.

The report appears on the Sioux Falls Police Department’s daily call log as a “family dispute” Friday morning, although Knorr said the incident in question took place Wednesday.

Police spokesman Sam Clemens confirmed only that the call came in as a Department of Social Services referral.

Doody has been the director of South Dakota’s chapter of the civil rights organization since 2008.

The organization has offered support to Native Americans suing the Department of Corrections and displaced voters on Indian reservations.

A spokesperson for the national ACLU declined to comment on the matter Tuesday.

“Robert Doody is an ACLU employee and as this is a personal matter,” Marsha Zeesman said.

Doody’s lawyer, Debra Voight, did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday night.

St. John is director of Mita Maske Ti Ki, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.


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