Iowa DHS social worker charged with lying in child removal case

Photo from the Iowa Department of Public Safety - 4/11/19

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa social worker has been charged with perjury for delivering false testimony that helped convince a judge to remove four children from their parents, investigators said Tuesday.

Former Department of Human Services employee Chelsie Gray is charged with knowingly giving false information during a December 2017 hearing in which she recommended a judge terminate the parental rights of a mother and father.

Gray, 30, of Lawler, was arrested Monday and booked at the Cerro Gordo County jail in Mason City. She was released within an hour after posting bond, a jail official said. She is charged with three counts of perjury, a felony that carries up to five years in prison.

Gray was assigned as the case manager when DHS sought to remove four northern Iowa children from their biological parents for reasons that aren’t public. In that role, she was responsible for setting up services for the children and parents and evaluating mental health and substance abuse issues, among other duties.

Gray testified under oath about the children and recommended they be placed in foster care. In a ruling stripping the parents of their rights, Judge Gregg Rosenblatt credited Gray’s testimony as very credible, unbiased and persuasive.

But criminal affidavits signed by Division of Criminal Investigation agent Scott Reger outline how Gray allegedly committed perjury.

She testified at the hearing that she had spoken with their teachers about academic and social concerns they were exhibiting at school. In reality, she later admitted that she had not spoken to teachers and had only received some emails that were forwarded from their foster mother, Reger wrote.

“That was a mistake,” Gray allegedly said.

Gray also admitted that she falsely testified that she saw the children at least once per month in their foster home as required by Iowa code, the affidavit said. In addition, she testified that she would recommend a foster care placement keeping all four children in the same home when she had been discussing a plan to separate three boys from their sister, it said.

Gray did not immediately return a message, and it wasn’t clear if she had a defense attorney.

An assistant Cero Gordo county attorney who represented the state in the child removal case discovered several discrepancies in Gray’s testimony a year ago and notified the court. In response to the discovery, Judge Adam Sauer overturned Rosenblatt’s ruling last June and dismissed the state’s petitions to terminate parental rights. Sauer said that Gray’s “lies and misrepresentations” were material to the case and tainted the outcome.

“Providing false testimony of any kind is an unfathomable violation of the trust that the people in the State of Iowa place in their public servants and cast a dark and permanent shadow upon all of us,” he wrote.

Despite the ruling, Gray continued to work for DHS. She voluntarily resigned in September only after The Associated Press inquired about her job status and wasn’t forced to do so, the agency has said. State and county officials launched a criminal perjury investigation after the AP reported on Sauer’s ruling in October. The agency has refused to release a review of Gray’s other cases that it conducted last year.

DHS spokesman Matt Highland said Tuesday that the agency “does not tolerate false information being submitted to the court.”

“The Department works closely with law enforcement and county attorney offices as appropriate. The process worked as it should,” he said.

Critics of DHS, including family advocate Nancy Augustine, have long contended that the agency is too aggressive in removing children from parents and allows social workers to twist facts without consequence. They welcomed the case against Gray, which is believed to be the first perjury charge against a DHS worker since 2007.

“I can’t wait to see what happens with this case because they have to start holding these people accountable for their actions,” Augustine said.

Related: “Find help yourself” – Family fights Iowa mental health system for 10 years

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