Corissa Mueller had no reason to expect that discussing her daughter’s treatment with emergency room staff would lead to her infant’s forcible seizure of by state child welfare officials.
Corissa and her husband both have degrees in engineering. After college, they went to Texas, where they worked for Motorola. Until Taige was seized by CPS, Corissa worked as a chemical engineer, while Eric completed an advanced engineering degree.
A few years ago they moved to Boise, which boasts its own concentration of high tech companies. Eric works for a computer chip manufacturer and Corissa raises their three children, Von, Taige, and a brother Noah, born July, 2008. As someone with a scientific background, Corissa is trained to gather information and make an objective decisions. Especially when it comes to her children.
August 12, 2002
Which is why she took Taige to the hospital in the first place. Taige had a low grade fever (100.8) and wasn’t eating well. Though Corissa thought Taige probably was suffering the aftereffects of the same flu that recently had run through her family, she knew that an infant’s immune system is not fully developed and that it was important to have expert medical care in case Taige had something more serious.
When she arrived at St. Luke’s that night in August 2002, a physician recommended a variety of treatments — from giving Taige fluids and a full blood test to administering antibiotics and a spinal tap.
Corissa carefully considered the benefits and risks of each of them. She understood the risk of brain damage, paralysis, and death from a spinal tap. She weighed that risk against the odds that Taige actually had meningitis — which the doctor said was less than five percent. She listened to the doctor’s cautionary advice that it’s better to do a spinal tap sooner rather than later, as an infant’s temperature can increase rapidly.
Corissa decided to give Taige fluids and do a full blood test. If the temperature came down and the blood test didn’t turn up any problems, she reasoned that the spinal tap might not be necessary. The doctor agreed to this plan. And, thankfully, Taige’s temperature did come down. Not only that, the blood tests came back “normal.” So Corissa started to think that her hunch had been right, that it was just the flu after all. And since it was 1:30 am, she asked a nurse about taking Taige home.
Child protective services shows up
Unbeknownst to Corissa, her earlier conversation about deferring the spinal tap had triggered a call to child protective services.
OFFICER SNYDER: WELL, CALM DOWN. OKAY? LET’S TAKE THIS ONE STEP AT A TIME.
MRS. MUELLER: WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO MY BABY?
OFFICER SNYDER: THEY’RE GONNA DO THE TESTS THAT THE DOCTOR SAID THEY WERE GONNA DO….
MRS. MUELLER: HOW CAN YOU DO THAT? LET ME CALL MY HUSBAND!
OFFICER SNYDER: MY OTHER CHOICE IS TO PUT YOU IN HANDCUFFS. WOULD YOU RATHER ME DO THAT?
Two Boise police officers and a CPS worker arrived and took custody of Taige. The police officers restrained Corissa (one on each arm) and took her down the hall while the doctor performed the spinal tap.
And even though they had never discussed it with Corissa, they gave Taige steroids to forestall the brain swelling that can occur as a consequence of removing spinal fluid from such a tiny child.
While this was going on, the police officers physically restrained Corissa, told her she couldn’t use the telephone and finally asked her to leave the hospital.
But Corissa refused. Because she knew that Taige was allergic to formula and that her baby would soon need her mother in order to nurse. Forty eight hours after the state seized Taige, a judge sensibly returned her to her parent’s custody.
Oh…send her home.
Though child protective services probably conjures up child abuse, what we have here is a case about a difference of opinion between a conscientious mother and a aggressive doctor. To put it another way, the mother’s “crime” was discussing her infant’s treatment step by step and insisting on approving each procedure only when needed.
Tape recordings made by the police officers of their conversations that night reveal that both they and the CPS worker knew that there was no legal basis to take Taige from her mother. One officer says:
“…legally we would be violating her rights to do that….she’s not doing anything to harm her child.”
But, incredibly, they agreed to seize Taige anyway. The CPS worker explained to the officers how this could be accomplished:
“Well if nothing else, they could declare her and she could go to shelter care for two days and in that time she would be treated. And then in shelter care the judge can say ‘Oh send her home.'”
You can read the full transcript here (.pdf)
So in this case, CPS workers and city police manipulated the rules in order to end discussion between the doctor and Corissa.
The tapes make clear that the CPS worker and the police officers all knew that what they were about to do would violate Corissa’s legal rights. But they just went ahead and did it anyway.