Monday, September 27, 2010

The Face of Evil

I missed this story when it originally came out:

Here's what happened:

  • Christopher Ratte, a tenured professor of classical archeology at the University of Michigan, took his 7 year old son Leo to a Tigers baseball game.
  • He didn't know that alcoholic lemonade [Mike’s Hard Lemonade] existed when they stopped at a concession stand.
  • The vendor gave Leo alcoholic lemonade by mistake.
  • A Comerica Park security guard noticed the bottle in Leo's hand.
  • Ratte was interviewed by a Detroit police officer at Children's Hospital, where a doctor at the Comerica Park clinic had dispatched Leo -- by ambulance!  And we wonder why health costs are out of control.
  • An ER (Emergency Room) resident who drew Leo's blood found no trace of alcohol.
  • It was two days before the state allowed Ratte's wife to take their son Leo home and nearly a week before Ratte was permitted to move back into his own house.

Brian Dickerson elaborates:

[I]t wasn't until the top of the ninth inning that a Comerica Park security guard noticed the bottle in young Leo's hand.

"You know this is an alcoholic beverage?" the guard asked the professor.

"You've got to be kidding," Ratte replied. He asked for the bottle, but the security guard snatched it before Ratte could examine the label.

An hour later, Ratte was being interviewed by a Detroit police officer at Children's Hospital, where a physician at the Comerica Park clinic had dispatched Leo -- by ambulance! -- after a cursory exam.

Leo betrayed no symptoms of inebriation. But the physician and a police officer from the Comerica substation suggested the ER visit after the boy admitted he was feeling a little nauseated.

The Comerica cop estimated that Leo had drunk about 12 ounces of the hard lemonade, which is 5% alcohol. But an ER resident who drew Leo's blood less than 90 minutes after he and his father were escorted from their seats detected no trace of alcohol.

"Completely normal appearing," the resident wrote in his report, "... he is cleared to go home."

The sympathetic cop who interviewed Ratte and his son at the hospital said she was convinced what happened had been an accident, but that her supervisor was insisting the matter be referred to Child Protective Services.

And Ratte thought the two child protection workers who came to take Leo away seemed more annoyed with the police than with him. "This is so unnecessary," one told Ratte before driving away with his son.

But there was really nothing any of them could do, they all said. They were just adhering to protocol, following orders.

And so what had begun as an outing to the ballpark ended with Leo crying himself to sleep in front of a television inside the Child Protective Services building, and Ratte and his wife standing on the sidewalk outside, wondering when they'd see their little boy again.

Chris Ratte's sisters, Catherine Miller and Felicity Ratte, left Massachusetts at 10:30 the night of the fateful lemonade purchase after the police officer who'd reluctantly requested a removal order told Ratte the state would likely jump at the chance to place Leo with responsible relatives. But when the two women arrived at the CPS office early Sunday, a caseworker explained they would not be allowed to see Leo until they had secured a hotel room.

The sisters quickly complied. But by the time they returned to CPS around 10:30 a.m., their nephew had been taken to an undisclosed foster home, where he would remain until a preliminary court hearing the following afternoon.

By that Monday, April 7, when Ratte and his wife returned for a meeting with Latricia Jones, the CPS caseworker assigned to their case, no one in the family had been able to talk to Leo for a day and a half.

At a hearing later that day, Jones recommended that Leo remain in foster care until she had completed her investigation, a process she estimated would take several days. It was only after the assistant attorney general who represented CPS admitted that the state was not interested in pursuing the case aggressively that juvenile referee Leslie Graves agreed to release Leo to his mother -- on the condition that Ratte himself relocate to a hotel.

Finally, at a second hearing three days later, Graves dismissed the complaint and permitted Ratte to move home.

Don Duquette, a U-M law professor who directs the university's Child Advocacy Law Clinic, represented Ratte and his wife. He notes sardonically that the most remarkable thing about the couple's case may be the relative speed with which they were reunited with Leo.

Petrarch opines:

The point is not that individual bureaucrats are themselves particularly evil, or even that government service is specially attractive to evil people - though in certain particular areas that may be so.

The point is that bureaucracy itself, by the way in which it inherently separates responsibility from authority, always causes evil to be done even when no individual person is trying to make it so.

Somewhere far, far up the line, a law was passed and regulations written.  Was there some evil monster in the Congress scheming to destroy families?  Of course not - as Walter Mondale memorably said, "Not even Richard Nixon is in favor of child abuse!"  Yet the end result of this law was a child snatched from his family and traumatized; that child will never again feel safe, nor will he ever trust the police or the rest of the government.  That is evil.

What about the cops and social workers involved?  As the original article made plain, they were obeying their sworn duty to the law.  The law required the cop to report the matter; the law required the boy's removal by the social workers.  For them to do otherwise would require them to break the law and their oaths.  They were placed in an impossible position with no right answer.

So, who is to blame?  Who should be fired?  Everyone involved had the very best of intentions.  Everyone involved did precisely as their organizations demanded and as the law specified; it would be unjust to blame any one individual.

Yet evil was done, and is being done, and will continue to be done on an ongoing basis, and nobody seems to be able to stop it or even plausibly blame anyone.  We explain it thus - "the system."

I almost agree with this.  But my reading of the narrative is that two people, Leslie Graves and Laticia Jones, conspired to keep Leo in custody longer than was necessary.

In anyone can point to a credible photo of either of these women, I will happily place it under the post title.


Professor Hale said...

If alcohol is that harmful to children, that it is considered child abuse, I cannot understand why that state allows it to be purchased by anyone.

So much for the time-honored practice of children learning to drink responsibly under their parents' supervision.

God help the Catholics if word gets out about what is in the communion cup.

Elusive Wapiti said...

Where I'm presently at, the state of Louisiana, it is perfectly legal for adults to give their children alcohol inside the four walls of their own home.

The Euros have a much more lax attitude toward youth consumption of alcohol...and wouldn't you know it, their social problems with alcohol and drunk driving are much lower than ours.

All this behavioral regulation I suspect stems from those busybody feminists and female voters who first gave us prohibition and then, dissatisfied at the images of a few people wasting away sucking on a hooka, the war on drugs.

I note also that most of the entire CPS organ, as is the case with most 'social workers', are female. Thus the face of the evil nanny state truly is that of a wrinkled old busy-body hag, sticking her nose into everbody else's business.

I note also that, as in this example, it won't be men who take away women's children, it is women taking away women's children. And why not, they (those women) have had lots of practice taking children away from men.

Professor Hale said...

I can further only assume that there just isn't enough real child abuse going on in that location to justify their current manpower and budgets.

Justin said...

Phi, you are way to gentle on the cop. He is a grade A asshole and his outrageous bullying set this whole fiasco in motion.

Professor Hale said...

Also, if stadium refreashments were not so overpriced in the first place, the man might have easily spotted he was paying for alcohol instead of just lemonade.

ironrailsironweights said...

Clearly, all the people involved, from the stadium security guard to the cops to the social workers, should be punished very severely. Perhaps something like a 60-day suspension without pay and a demotion would be in order.

"Just following orders" is never an acceptable excuse for doing the morally wrong thing.

Dexter said...

"Phi, you are way to gentle on the cop."

Agree. Cop should have looked the other way. Cops have a positive obligation not to enforce stupid laws, and not to enforce sensible laws stupidly.