Author fought back and got his kids back

By Roger Larsen

July 30th, 2012

HURON — Robert Coleman wonders what other parents would do if they were faced with a similar situation.

But he has some advice — fight back and never give up.

He admits to a marital indiscretion right off the bat when he’s telling the story. It’s something he regrets. It’s also something that led to the nightmare. He blames the state of Michigan’s child protective services agency for allowing it to go as far as it did.

And he has written a book, “At the Mercy of the State,” in which he chronicles with mostly trial transcripts, exactly what happened four years ago.

In 2008, the Huron family was living in Michigan. He and his wife, Janet, were landlords of an apartment building. Tenants included a couple — she a spurned lover of his, both of them he describes as mentally challenged — who falsely accused him of abusing his children, ages two and six.

“I had my two children abducted into the foster care system,” Coleman said. “These people are allowed to take away your children without any evidence.”

He admits to spanking them. But he was accused of taking a belt to them and beating them.

Not true, Coleman said.

In the preface to his book, he notes that some people argue against spanking entirely. Others believe – and he is one of them – “that a spanking for disciplinary purposes, done modestly, without intent to harm the child, is indeed a good thing because it teaches right from wrong.”

The family was spending a weekend in a hotel when their world came crashing down.

Crashing down in the form of a bang at their door.

Coleman said inviting the police and social worker into the room without a warrant was his worst mistake.

“Where they got their evidence was after they walked in the door,” he said.

“At three o’clock in the morning on a Sunday we had a bang at the door, bam, bam, bam,” he said.

His wife got up while he could hear the door pushing the chain. “They were yelling maintenance,” he said.

“When she opened that door, just cops flooded in,” Coleman said. “They held me at my bed to where I couldn’t get up, grabbed my kids, out the door they went and that was it, have a nice day.”

It would take them a year to get their children returned to them.

They were in court every month. He said he was portrayed as the worst person in the world. “The testimony had nothing to do with anything,” he said.

“What we did was they had no case so eventually they had to give them back,” he said.

The problem comes down to money, he said. When kids are placed in foster care the state is paid by the federal government, he said.

After a year, the options were for the government to terminate their parental rights or give the children back. Coleman was not going quietly.

“I fought tooth and nail; I was way too public with my issue,” he said. “So they couldn’t dare take my kids away from me.”

He said the state of Michigan maintained it did nothing wrong. But Coleman also has evidence that while his children were in foster care they were abused.

“I was accused of spanking my kid … and yet this lady drug my kid across the floor and I have evidence of it, and locked her in the basement on numerous occasions,” he said.

Coleman had a doctor examine them when he got them back for overnight visits so he would not be accused of additional abuse.

“The doctor said, ‘sure enough, those kids are scarred. They have been molested in foster care’,” he said.

Coleman has looked into South Dakota’s practices and doubts anything like what they experienced would happen here. He has talked with parents whose children were taken on false allegations, but they were returned after eight days.

The Colemans are together again, but he is pushing forward with a class action lawsuit against the state of Michigan. He believes his case among all of them is the most documented.

He has also contacted members of Congress. Last month, Rep. Kristi Noem’s office was notified of a recent complaint regarding child protective services.

Rep. Hansen Clarke of Michigan has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the treatment of African American children and families by the Michigan Department of Human Services’ Child Protective Services Department.

“My office has received complaints from individuals and community groups alleging the CPS is removing African American children from their parents in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner,” he wrote in a May letter.

“I take very seriously allegations of children being forcibly and unjustifiably removed from the custody of his or her parents,” he wrote.

“They’re trafficking kids is what they’re doing,” Coleman alleges. “It’s horrible.”

While Michigan claims it does whatever it takes to protect children, he said people are scared.

“Because they have the power to just walk right in,” he said. “They could come in right now and take your kids and get away with it and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“Once they have your kids in custody, you can’t cross-examine them, you can’t do anything, it’s one-sided,” Coleman said.

He said state officials will tell the child he or she can go home if they will say their dad spanked them with a belt.

“You’re telling this to a six-year-old who believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny,” he said. “What do you think they’re going to say?”