Woman with badge conducting interrogation

Arizona CPS Caught Trying to Secretly Voice Analyze Parents

by Monica Mears
Health Impact News

Activists Hold CPS Accountable for Police-State Tactics to Kidnap Safe Children

Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS), under fire for its skyrocketing rate of child removals in recent years, was just exposed for a new policy which allowed social workers to secretly record interviews with parents or caregivers suspected of crimes using a controversial and questionable technology meant to detect lying.

The Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA), which a DCS spokesperson labeled a “new tool,” isn’t really new at all, and appears to have almost zero validity. One independent study found the lie detector was “no better than flipping a coin.”

The CVSA policy had only been recently implemented late last December. Gregg Woodnick, a Phoenix family law attorney whose practice defends families against DCS charges, unearthed the new policy and after confronting DCS legal counsel, notified local TV station 12 News.

Woodnick said DCS was effectively performing polygraphs on people without their consent.

After 12 News notified Arizona’s DCS they were doing a story on the secret recordings, an agency spokeswoman, Cynthia Weiss, said the policy was being “rescinded.”


A DCS recording policy meant to further investigate abuse has some people saying the agency has “gone too far.

CPS Using “Voodoo Science” to Kidnap Children

Gregg Woodnick 2

Attorney Gregg R. Woodnick. Image source.

Stephen Lemons of the Phoenix New Times reports:

Gregg Woodnick was preparing a continuing legal education class in DCS cases for his fellow attorneys when he ran across the document online in the department’s massive policy procedure manual.

Needless to say, his eyes bugged out when he saw it. When he shared it with other attorneys who practice in this area, their peepers did likewise.

“It’s pretty earth-shattering,” said Woodnick. “OCWI [Office of Child Welfare Investigations] — these are not police officers, just DCS case workers. That they would consider secretly audio recording and then use voodoo science [to analyze it] — there are a million problems with it.”

One problem, according to Woodnick, would be that since OCWI works hand-in-hand with law enforcement, it naturally would share the results of this voice-stress analysis with the cops, who might decide from the jump that a parent being questioned on suspicion of wrongdoing is lying.

“Obviously that changes an entire police investigation,” Woodnick explained. “It’s very, very troubling.”

Woodnick said that though the results, like those of a polygraph test, would not be admissible in court, the information could be used to trick people into confessing to a crime that they did not commit. [1]

AZ DCS Wants to Destroy Families, Not Help Them

The Arizona Republic notes that in a 2007 study for the Department of Justice, CVSA was used to ask subjects in a jail about drug use, and then confirmed findings through actual drug tests. It found that CVSA caught deception only 15 percent of the time.

“It’s a sham. … There is no scientific validity to the results,” said John J. Palmatier, a former police officer and criminal justice professor who has studied such technologies for 34 years.

Palmatier was trained in the use of CVSA by the product’s maker, the Florida-based National Institute for Truth Verification. [2]

Critics point to this latest police-state tactic as part of a broader focus within the department to incriminate parents, rather than actually assist families and connect them with state services, as the department was intended to do. The director, Greg McKay, is a former Phoenix police officer who headed the Office of Child Welfare Investigations five years ago.

“It was public knowledge, it’s been on their website,” Jennifer Kupiszewski, an attorney, and former assistant attorney general told the Phoenix New Times. “As if, ‘Oh, we didn’t mean that’? Those policies take a long time to develop. So someone put a lot of thought and time and effort into working up to that covert portion.”

Local Lawyer Calls “Agenda-Driven” Investigators Part of the Problem

The covert audio story, which broke March 20, ran a week after Healthy Impact News/Medical Kidnap interviewed Woodnick to discuss the state of Arizona’s DCS.

When Woodnick spoke with Medical Kidnap, he noted that “agenda-driven investigators” can be part of the problem when it comes to DCS reform, and believes that better and more education for investigators, who are usually not forensically informed, would be a big step toward reforming the system.

Woodnick trains attorneys and doctors in CPS legal investigative procedures.

All Child Interviews by DCS Should Be Recorded

Additionally, when it comes to reforms, Woodnick says the legislative drive for warrants “may save a few peripheral cases” by slowing down the child removal process and requiring social workers to put their accusations in writing, but he noted requiring all child interviews to be recorded would be even better. When DCS removes a child, they “usually get 72 hours plus a weekend – five days – with no lawyer present.”

“Unfortunately, the limited ‘forensic interview’ training that caseworkers receive can lead to horrific results,” agrees Brad TenBrook, an associate at Woodnick’s firm and a former assistant attorney general for the state of Arizona.

A poorly conducted forensic interview of a child can impact a criminal prosecution and re-enforce a false belief.

Essentially, the child may actually think something occurred because of what was improperly suggested during the flawed forensic interview.

Notably, CPS rarely, if ever, records their interviews.

So the investigation is completed based on the notes taken by the interviewer who may have had a pre-conceived notion when he or she began the process. This is contrary to standards in forensic interviewing… [3]

DCS Can Take Kids Without Even Criminal Standard of Evidence

Woodnick also pointed out that the probable-cause standard of evidence for removing a child is very low and might be another area to push for reform.

Reforming the standard by which children are removed from their homes – essentially raising it to the level of criminal — is an area that is being advocated by other activists as well.

Currently, the standard of evidence used in CPS cases is only that of “probable cause” – the same as is used in car accidents.

Is Abolishing DCS the Only Solution?

Merissa Hamilton 2

Taking Woodnick’s concern regarding standards of evidence a step further, Merissa Hamilton, an activist and the vice chair of the Maricopa County (Phoenix) Libertarian Party (MCLP) notes:

I see no reason for DCS to exist. If there is a criminal situation then that should be handled by law enforcement.

Since entering the fight for reform, Hamilton has advocated for and overseen the local Maricopa County Libertarian party’s call to abolish DCS added into its platform. She notes that the state Libertarian platform advocates for the criminalization of child abuse investigations, but she is working within the party to have it amended to reflect her local party platform to abolish the agency altogether.

This would then require law enforcement, with its higher standards, open records and courts and due process rights, to handle any investigations.

Libertarian Activist Hosts Family Rights Summit in March

Galvanized by the outpouring of support and devastated families, Hamilton worked to raise awareness and on March 18 helped sponsor a Family Rights Summit. The Summit hosted Carlos Morales, a former CPS caseworker from Texas turned whistleblower.

To watch the main speakers from this event, visit the MCLP Facebook video here.

After the summit, an interview with Hamilton did go viral. To date, it has received 56K hits on her Facebook page.

Steve Isham, a long-time activist from Phoenix, also spoke at the Summit. A social worker who spent six years as the director of a state-funded nonprofit to help mentally ill children and who actually participated in drafting DCS protocol guidelines in the late 1990s, he has created a scorecard for families regarding the various groups that are involved in a DCS investigation.

Isham also actively works to assist families in finding resources and assistance when their children are wrongfully taken by DCS.

“The Entire System is Created to – by Default – Just Take the Children”

Hamilton, a former Arizona U.S. Senate candidate in 2016, campaigned in the primary specifically for Child Protective Services reform.

Initially, she says, some advised her against making CPS reform a part of her platform, telling her it was too controversial.

And she acknowledged:

I used to think CPS issues were just isolated. But when you’ve seen the pattern of dozens and dozens of families, I can’t accept that the system is broken. The entire system is created to – by default – just take the children.

Molly McGrath Tierney, the former Director of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, agrees with this position which is a national problem and not strictly related to Arizona.

On the campaign trail, initially, people would dismiss Hamilton’s  claims. She describes families whose children were removed for nothing more than a nine-year-old playing outside by themselves, or a kitchen sink with dirty dishes in it. She says,

Once others are informed, they become as passionate as I am.

Hamilton says when she contacted state representatives to try to get help for a family, not one was willing to get involved.

Having worked with numerous heartbroken families in their efforts to get their children home, Hamilton describes the impact of rapid Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) laws, innocent parents put on the state child abuse registry and corrupt or apathetic court-appointed attorneys.

How DCS Actively Works to Break Parents’ Bonds with Their Children

But as skewed as the laws and the system are, Hamilton alleges some caseworkers within the system are worse.

Hamilton says kids are frequently told their parents don’t want them and aren’t even trying to get them back.

This intentional manipulation to break parental bonds with their children is a consistent theme in many cases, she reports.

This pattern is also reported by the Arizona Republic in a recent feature story.

“We still don’t know why they (their kids) were taken. The case-closed paper they gave us said we abandoned Christopher at the hospital — but that’s not true. They kept us from seeing him,” says Maribel Ontiveros, the mother of a child taken by Arizona DCS. [4]

Lawyer with Children Afraid to Take DCS Case, Retaliation a Legitimate Fear

Not only do caseworkers actively work against parents, they can also use their immense power to remove children to threaten and coerce. One family came to Hamilton, desperate for help – the lawyer they had tried to hire had turned them away because “they didn’t want to put their own family at risk by taking the case.”

Retaliation seems hard to believe, but Hamilton often tells the story of Leanna Smith, whose story has been covered by Medical Kidnap.

Arizona allegedly medically kidnapped Smith’s daughter while sick in the hospital because she wanted a second medical opinion from a hospital in another state with more experience. They refused to return her daughter and when she fought back, the state took her younger daughter Jameelah in retaliation, changed her name and she was then allegedly abused while in state custody.

Most horrifying of all, Jameelah now seems to have vanished. Heartbroken, Leanna continues to look for her. To learn more about the Smiths’ story see here.

Also See:

Corruption and Medical Malpractice Coverup involving Arizona CPS? How One Family was Destroyed

Looking ahead, Hamilton says she plans to build relationships with Phoenix city government and run for the local Paradise Valley School Board on a platform of parental and children’s rights. She notes that public schools are the main point of access DCS has to children, and she hopes to raise awareness with families and instigate reform with local schools.

But, Hamilton reiterates,

I will continue to work with parents, advocate on their behalf, and help them find legal resources.

This is the second article in a series covering Arizona DCS. Part 1:

Arizona: Battleground for State-sponsored Child Kidnappings – Highest in the Nation

Sources and References

[1] Lemons, Stephen. Phoenix New Times. March 20, 2017.  http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/dcs-director-greg-mckays-police-state-memo-okays-covert-interviews-and-secret-voice-stress-analysis-9177845

[2] Ortega, Bob. Arizona Central Online. March 21, 2017.  http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-investigations/2017/03/21/arizona-department-of-child-safety-lie-detection-technology/99472634/

[3] TenBrook, Brad. Attorney at Law Magazine. http://www.attorneyatlawmagazine.com/phoenix/what-to-expect-when-cps-knocks-on-your-clients-door/

[4] Ortega, Bob. “Arizona’s DCS: Why are kids taken away? Too often the answer is unknown.” Arizona Republic. 22, Jan. 2017. http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-investigations/2017/01/22/arizona-department-child-safety-why-kids-taken-away-too-often-answer-unknown/96539080/