A federal judge has ruled that a case against two employees of Singing River Hospital and a state child welfare caseworker accused of unjustly separating a newborn baby from her mother may proceed – denying the defendants’ attempt to claim immunity for their actions
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Baltazar Cruz and her daughter. The mother – who speaks the indigenous Mexican language Chatino, limited Spanish and virtually no English – gave birth to her daughter at Singing River Hospital in November 2008. Two days later, the child was taken from her following allegations by a hospital employee who spoke only in Spanish to the mother.
They claimed she was undocumented, traded sex for housing and concluded she intended to give her child away. While she was at the hospital, her Chatino-speaking cousin tried to tell officials that she is actually employed at a Chinese restaurant, and did not in fact “admit” to allegations that she was involved in the sex trade. But a social services representatives who did not know her language nonetheless excluded her cousin from discussions between them.
After the state health department filed a “report of suspected abuse and neglect,” officials temporarily gave Baltazar Cruz’s baby to a couple who wanted to adopt a child, but were not licensed as foster parents, according to court documents. And at a court hearing that followed, Judge Sharon Sigalas agreed with the couple’s argument that the baby would have “developmental” problems because she would not communicate with the baby in English.
Baltazar Cruz was without her daughter for almost a year, and the court nearly terminated her parental rights.
It was only after a federal investigation of the case was initiated that the judge, prosecutor, and guardian ad litem all recused themselves from the case, claiming a new conflict of interest. The judge who replaced Sigalas granted Baltazar Cruz custody.
A federal judge ruled Friday that these officials could not now claim immunity from constitutional allegations against them, concluding, “This case is riddled with contradicting stories and potential indicia of misconduct.”