Active: Federal lawsuit filed to end warrantless searches and seizures

Alarmed by her three-month-old son’s 103-degree temperature and at the family pediatrician’s urging, graduate student Sarah Perkins brought baby Cal to a hospital emergency room just a few miles from their home in Waltham, Massachusetts. Sarah’s husband Josh Sabey, a documentary filmmaker, stayed home with the couple’s toddler, Clarence.  

Doctors at the hospital ordered an X-ray to check the ailing baby for pneumonia. To Sarah’s surprise, the scan revealed a weeks-old, nearly healed fracture on one of Cal’s ribs. That’s when a new nightmare began. 

Hospital staff notified the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF), who immediately opened a child abuse investigation. A social worker aggressively interrogated Sarah, who had no idea how her son’s injury happened. After Sarah called home, Josh brought Clarence to the hospital and they too faced DCF’s questions. 

Finally, after Sarah and Cal were kept overnight at the hospital, the family was allowed to return home. Although they would be required to check in with DCF in a couple of days, the couple believed the stressful episode was largely behind them. 

But the next night around 1 a.m., DCF workers knocked on the family’s door. They were accompanied by Waltham police officers. Although they had no warrant or court order of any kind, DCF had decided to remove the children from the home. Sarah and Josh protested, but when police threatened to break down the door, the couple got their children out of bed. Baby Cal was still nursing, so Sarah got stored breast milk out of the refrigerator for DCF to take. The couple tried to keep three-year-old Clarence calm by telling him he was going on an adventure; but the boy, desperate to stay with his parents, soon began screaming. Undeterred, DCF took both children away into the night and placed them with a foster mother. 

Frantic, Sarah and Josh went to their family for help. Within 24 hours, Josh’s parents were able to take custody of their grandchildren. Meanwhile Josh’s aunt, a popular lifestyle blogger based in France, shared the story in a Twitter thread that quickly went viral. Four weeks later at a hearing, Sarah and Josh were finally given permission to take Clarence and Cal home in a conditional arrangement while DCF continued to investigate. Sarah and Josh followed the legal process and after three months, the government restored their full parental custody, exonerated Sarah and Josh of all wrongdoing, and permanently dismissed their case. Baby Cal’s fracture is now believed to have been caused accidentally when his grandmother was removing him from a car seat.

What happened to the Perkins-Sabey family has generated national outrage, thanks to Josh’s aunt and follow-up reporting from The Washington Post and Reason. For parents, it’s a horror story. Children should feel safe in their homes and not taken from their parents unless there is an imminent danger, or removal of parental rights at a fair hearing. These safeguards are spelled out in the Constitution’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments’ protections against warrantless searches and seizures. 

The government should work to prevent child abuse and remove at-risk children from truly abusive homes, but the government must adhere to its lawful obligations so that all individuals can feel secure in their homes, property, and persons. 

Although their DCF case is closed, the Sabeys recognized wrongful government overreach early in their unfortunate saga. Police barged into their home a full 36 hours after release from the hospital, so there was obviously no emergency. And at no time during those 36 hours did DCF seek a warrant, as they should have. 

Represented at no charge by PLF, the Sabeys are fighting back with a federal lawsuit against the public officers who unlawfully seized their children, so that no other family has to endure the same unnecessary, unlawful trauma for seeking medical care for a sick child.

After the Sabeys filed their lawsuit, the DCF officers argued they were entitled to qualified immunity and tried to have the case dismissed. But in March 2024, a district court judge ruled the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity at this stage, allowing the case to move forward.


What’s At Stake?

  • Children should feel safe in their homes and not be taken from their parents unless there is an imminent danger, or the parental rights have been taken at a fair hearing.
  • The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments protect individuals from warrantless searches and seizures, so that all individuals can feel secure in their homes, property, and persons.

Case Timeline

March 14, 2024
Ruling on Motions to Dismiss
U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts
May 02, 2023


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