Examining the Fallout of Experimental Prosecution
By Traci Eccles
Trending Now: Medical Child Abuse Allegations
Medical Child Abuse (MCA), formerly known as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP), is the latest trend in the widespread removal of children from their homes by Child Protective Services (CPS) case workers. These allegations surface when a child is “diagnosed” as having been medically abused by a parent, usually their mother, who is accused of exaggerating, fabricating, and inducing symptoms in their child to manipulate doctors into performing unnecessary medical procedures, including surgeries. Unlike the old, discredited theory of MSbP, the current MCA allegations are falling on families with children who have verified special needs and/or complex medical diagnoses. In this scenario, parents are being held accountable for controlling the decisions and actions of highly trained physicians.
Once a parent is suspected of MCA, children are removed from their homes, an aggressive state dependency action is initiated, and in some cases, criminal charges follow. This generally takes place prior to review of the alleged victim’s past medical history, interviews with treating physicians, or investigator contact with individuals who have long-term relationships with the family. In direct conflict with the accused’s right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, MCA investigators generally disregard evidence supporting their innocence, thus denying them due process.
Prosecutors and members of law enforcement are in the business of securing convictions. Like privately owned companies whose productivity, funding and future is dependent upon “making the sale,” the criminal justice system also relies on “closing the deal” as a measure of success. Unlike the private sector, State actors hold two superpowers that escalate the odds of success and invite misconduct—the presumption of truth, and the shield of immunity.
The Presumption of Truth
Statements made by law enforcement and prosecutors are presumed, by the court, to be true. While other parties and witnesses are subject to scrutiny in determining credibility, members of the criminal justice system are assumed credible despite powerful monetary motives to abuse authority for the sake of conviction.
In 2014, the Honorable Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals publicly stated, “There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land.” According to Brady v. Maryland (1963), a Brady violation includes the withholding of evidence by law enforcement and prosecutors that is favorable to the defendant. This condemning recognition of a widespread propensity for dishonesty in prosecuting cases opened the door for a conversation, but has yet to be addressed in a way that curbs the bad behavior.
The Shield of Immunity
Prosecutors in the United States are granted absolute immunity in initiating a prosecution and presenting the State’s case. This protection shields them from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits if they are acting within the scope of their duties.
Law enforcement officers and CPS case workers share the similar, but less all-encompassing, protection of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is designed to guard against government actors’ liability “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982).
Disobedience isn’t curbed by the fear of getting caught, but by the likelihood of facing punishment. Due to the rarity with which perjury by government actors in court proceedings is addressed, fear of getting caught is inconsequential. Because of the protections of absolute and qualified immunity, the likelihood that prosecutors, law enforcement officers and CPS case workers will face punishment for making false accusations, fabricating evidence, and lying during litigation is slim to none.
2014: Oregon’s First MCA Criminal Prosecution
On April 1, 2014, Katherine (Kate or KP) Parker was arrested while sitting down to dinner with her family in their Grants Pass, Oregon home. She would later learn she was facing 43 criminal charges, most of which alleged Medical Child Abuse of her two youngest children, Joshua and Bethany Parker. Joshua had been diagnosed and treated for serious genetic conditions from the day of his birth in 2006. Bethany began receiving consistent care for pre-existing medical problems at 3 years of age following her arrival to the United States after being adopted by Kate and Charley Parker in 2010. Joshua’s and Bethany’s medical care was being managed under the supervision of highly qualified medical teams in Oregon. Astonishingly, a parent who follows the treatment orders of their child’s physicians can be accused of Medical Child Abuse.
In late March 2014, prior to Kate Parker’s arrest, the Multnomah County Grand Jury met in a marathon, secret session to hear testimony. Several who testified knew Kate only as followers of her online blog through CaringBridge, a non-profit organization that offers personalized websites to people facing various medical conditions, hospitalizations and medical treatments. Additional testimony was given by Dr. Cathleen Lang, a CARES NW pediatrician who had not met nor spoken to either Joshua Parker or Bethany Parker. Lang had not been involved in the medical treatment of either Parker child prior to determining they were victims of Medical Child Abuse.
A laundry list of hearsay allegations were brought forth by Multnomah County District Attorney Charles Mickley and were subsequently accepted by the Grand Jury for indictment. Mickley would later admit that, in his rush to indict on 43 charges, he had not thoroughly reviewed all state statutes identified in his allegations. However, the overcharging by Mickley was the force behind the $1.2 million bail request that he was granted.
Politically-Charged Media Response
Within hours of Kate Parker’s arrest, news media swarmed to the story. With the headline, “Mother of 8 arrested in medical child abuse case,” Portland, Oregon’s KOIN 6 News released the following statement: “A Josephine County mother is in jail, accused of being the mastermind behind an elaborate scheme to medically abuse her children.”
As the high-profile case unfolded, the media focus shifted to the potential political impact the case could have on the US Senate candidacy of accomplished neurosurgeon and GOP front runner, Dr. Monica Wehby, who had been significantly involved in the treatment of several Parker children.
With the story breaking weeks before the Primary election and remaining in the political spotlight throughout Dr. Wehby’s candidacy, reporters offered broad speculation as to the reflection of the allegations against Kate Parker on candidate Wehby’s judgement, and whether the neurosurgeon would be facing charges as well. While such statements undoubtedly had a negative impact on Monica Wehby’s political career, according to Dr. Cathleen Lang, and then-Detective Erica Hurley of the Portland Police Bureau’s Child Abuse Team, the surgeries performed on the Parker children were not a subject of concern, indicating the State knew Dr. Wehby’s medical treatment for the Parker children had been medically necessary and appropriate.
The Truth about KP … Based on Social Media & Hearsay
Portland mother and self-proclaimed “close friend” of Kate Parker, Tiffany Reed, acted as State’s witness for the prosecution in the secret Grand Jury indictment, and was scheduled to testify in the pending criminal trial against Parker. Reed’s claims were quoted in multiple news stories and she was featured in a television news interview with Portland, Oregon’s Fox 12 reporter, Kaitlyn Bolduc.
In the interview, Reed stated, “The Kate I originally knew and the Kate that is now, I feel in my heart, is two different people.” Kate Parker’s relationship with Reed existed primarily through Reed’s comments on Parker’s CaringBridge website. In 2012, Reed made one visit to the Parker home in Grants Pass, Oregon, upon her own insistence. Due to the reported strange behavior exhibited by Reed during that visit, Kate Parker would later block Reed on Facebook and discontinue online communications with her. Nearly two years later, it was this visit upon which Reed based her claim of “close friendship” with Kate Parker, and her personal knowledge of the Parker family during her Grand Jury testimony. Reed also said in the FOX 12 interview, “The doctors very much rely on us parents to accurately report our children’s symptoms, and to be honest about them.”
In June of 2015, more than a year after the FOX 12 interview, Tiffany Reed was also subject to allegations of Medical Child Abuse by pediatrician Cathleen Lang and DDA Charles Mickley. During the second day of her CPS trial in November 2015, Reed admitted guilt and the trial abruptly ended. The same Multnomah County DDA, Charles Mickley, who was actively prosecuting the Parker case at that time, agreed to an extraordinarily generous deal that involved the same-day return of Reed’s son from foster care back into her custody, and no criminal charges despite Tiffany Reed’s reported admission that she intentionally lied to doctors for the purpose of medically abusing her son. Local media also deferred to a blog titled, “The Truth about KP Mom of 7, 8, 9” for supposed facts regarding the charges against Kate Parker. The blog, authored by an anonymous source who published detailed information about the ongoing criminal investigation against Kate Parker, began with a mission statement about non-harassing content, protecting the Parker children, and getting to the truth.
As the high-profile case gathered state-wide media attention, “The Truth About KP…” blog took on a public-lynching attitude toward Kate Parker and her supporters. This movement spawned other online discussion groups dedicated to following the Parker case and condemning the accused. Despite the online mob mentality perpetrated by individuals who anonymously claimed intimate knowledge of the Parker family and the case against Kate Parker, the evidence on file with both defense and prosecution did not support the details and speculation that leaked into news stories about the case.
The Medill Justice Project Intervenes
With steadfast belief in their client’s innocence, Kate Parker’s attorneys, Lisa Ludwig and Tiffany Harris, submitted a case summary to Northwestern University School of Journalism’s prestigious Medill Justice Project for consideration, and the case was selected for investigation. The Northwestern journalists spent 11 weeks poring over case-specific materials. They flew from Chicago, Illinois to Portland, Oregon multiple times to interview doctors, nurses, therapists and others who knew and had been involved with Kate Parker and her children. While in Oregon, they also drove to Parker’s hometown of Grants Pass, 250 miles south of Portland, to conduct interviews.
In December of 2015, after concluding their investigation, Medill Justice Project published their findings, causing the State’s case against Kate Parker to fall apart. In the report, the public was made aware that Dr. Lang and Detective Hurley had admitted to Dr. Wehby that no one was concerned about the surgeries she had performed on Joshua, despite the case against Parker being based largely on Dr. Wehby’s surgeries. Days later, the Multnomah County DA began a steady process of dropping charges from the original 43 count indictment, beginning with all claims associated with surgeries performed by Dr. Wehby. The Medill Justice Project was the first to announce the news of the State’s intent to drop charges.
The Parker Family Now
The Parkers have been irrevocably impacted by their four-year ordeal at the hands of Dr. Cathleen Lang from CARES NW, Multnomah County DDA Charles Mickley, and Josephine County DHS. It would be impossible for a family which defines the word “functional” in terms of healthy familial relationships to survive the experience unscathed. The Parkers have scars caused by the actions and misdeeds of others whose damage cannot be undone.
The Parker family is grieving their loss of Bethany, who remains in State custody and whose health has declined substantially since being taken away from her home. Kate Parker was informed in February 2016 via an email written by DDA Mickley that doctors had given Bethany a life expectancy of 1-3 years. The rest of the Parker family hadn’t been told of Bethany’s prognosis because DHS failed to follow court orders to keep the Parkers informed about her medical problems. Now dependent on a ventilator to breathe through a tracheostomy (opening in her throat), Bethany is reliant upon the g-tube for which Kate Parker had been criminally charged with the claim that it was medically unnecessary.
While in State custody, Bethany has had numerous surgeries, including the release of the tethered spinal cord that Dr. Lang claimed was a condition Kate Parker had fabricated, and a cardiac-related procedure that Lang claimed was not going to be necessary. A long list of new and ongoing medical problems demonstrates that Bethany Parker has not been “thriving” after being removed from Kate’s care, despite what law enforcement, DHS, and the foster provider reported. Joshua Parker, whose doctors allowed his family to believe was terminally ill, still holds the same medical and chromosomal diagnoses he had when this ordeal began. His doctors now label his needs as “chronic,” and they are utilizing a different approach to Joshua’s medical care because of this reclassification. Evidence shows Kate Parker told the truth about Joshua’s symptoms and physician-determined prognosis, both online via her blog, and to the specialists she entrusted with her son’s care.
Emily, David, Sarah and Isaac Parker loathe DHS and the foster parents who abused them verbally, emotionally and, in the case of one child, physically, without any reprisal from DHS or law enforcement. Megan Parker, the oldest child in the family who is now 26, shared the following thoughts, “People are more likely to believe something bad, or glamorized, than to believe the truth, because the truth doesn’t entertain them as much.” Then, after appearing to debate whether to say more, she added, “And I no longer look at people as potential friends so much as eventual betrayers.”
The children’s father, Charley Parker, is now in charge of navigating the children’s medical care. He deals with doctors having preconceived ideas based on Joshua’s medical record erroneously stating he was a victim of MCA. Because Kate was fraudulently prosecuted for MCA, Charley now ensures the doctors document everything in writing. He insists that doctors communicate directly with each other, a reasonable request that frequently results in a slowing-down of care for Joshua. With any new symptom a child experiences, Charley feels a pang of worry that seeking appropriate care could result in false accusations against him, especially if he follows treatment orders that turn out to be wrong, as Kate did in good faith. He does not let fear of false accusations stop him from taking proper care of his children, but says the thought still crosses his mind.
Despite the pain each Parker family member still experiences, they are committed to putting their lives back together and moving forward. Four adult family members attend college, and the younger kids speak with enthusiasm about their individual educational and career plans. There is spirited discussion about favorite activities, outings with friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, movies, music, books, art, and video games, and frequent laughter rings through their warm, inviting home. While every Parker would agree that their life was shattered by the lies told about their mother and the hell they each subsequently endured, it is apparent to even a casual observer that the deep love and faith shared by the family will prevail as they rebuild what was broken and torn apart.
Editor’s Note: An upcoming series of articles will focus on the facts regarding the experimental prosecution launched by Multnomah County DDA Charles R. Mickley, Jr. against an Oregon mom seeking care from AMA accredited physicians for her sick children. DDA Mickley originally sought indictment on 43 counts relating to the newly-identified criminal allegation, Medical Child Abuse (MCA). The State’s unsupported allegations could have resulted in a 30-year prison sentence for Kate Parker, an individual with no prior instances of abuse or neglect, no criminal background, and no adverse mental health history.
In addition, the series will examine the short and long-term effects of this ordeal on the Parker children, as well as the resiliency with which the family put their lives back together to move forward since Kate Parker was cleared of all felony charges. She was reunited with her husband and children in early 2016 following a 99-week separation.
What happened to Kate Parker could happen to any parent who seeks professional medical care for their children, particularly for those with special needs and/or complicated medically-diagnosed conditions. No family should have to endure such a reckless act of government intrusion; by telling Kate’s story, it is the author’s intent to create public awareness in the hope that fewer families will. If you, or anyone you know have been falsely targeted for Medical Child Abuse, please contact the US~Observer. Email email@example.com, or call: 541-474-7885.