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Iowa social worker out after false testimony in custody case

A social worker has left the Iowa Department of Human Services months after a judge found she repeatedly gave false testimony against a mother and father who were unfairly stripped of their parental rights.

Posted: Oct. 9, 2018 2:49 PM

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A social worker has left the Iowa Department of Human Services months after a judge found she repeatedly gave false testimony against a mother and father who were unfairly stripped of their parental rights.

Chelsie Gray left DHS payroll on Sept. 23, two weeks after The Associated Press asked about her status, department spokesman Matt Highland confirmed.

He said Gray wasn't fired or forced to resign, and therefore the agency cannot disclose any information about her departure under Iowa law. The agency also declined to release the findings of a review of Gray's cases that the state launched after learning about her false testimony last spring.

Gray delivered fabricated reports and trial testimony that helped convince a judge to terminate the legal rights of the mother and father of four northern Iowa children, District Associate Judge Adam Sauer ruled on June 12. The judge said Gray's testimony was riddled with "lies and misrepresentations."

The case came as Iowa DHS social workers were under fire for failing to stop child abuse in some high-profile cases, including two teenage girls who died under the care of their adoptive parents.

Gray, who had served as the case manager for the family, claimed that she attended monthly visits with them as required by DHS policy but failed to do so, Sauer found.

Gray also claimed to have spoken with the kids' teachers regarding troubling behaviors they were exhibiting at school. The teachers later said they were never contacted by Gray, and Sauer ruled that "that false testimony is of grave concern." Gray also gave false information about whether the mother had complied with the terms of her probation and tested positive for drugs.

In a ruling last year stripping the parents of their rights, Judge Gregg Rosenbladt credited Gray's testimony as "very credible," unbiased and persuasive in her recommendation to place the children in foster care.

Nichole Benes, an assistant Cerro Gordo County attorney, notified the court last spring after discovering discrepancies in Gray's testimony and reported them to DHS and the attorney general's office. She later told the court that that a review of Gray's cases had been completed and uncovered 10 known instances in which she gave false information.

Sauer called Gray's testimony unacceptable. He said that terminating a parent's rights was the most important decision a court can make, and that it must be a fair proceeding based on facts and evidence.

"What does not, or at least should not happen, is that an agent of the government, charged with the task of safeguarding the welfare of children, would completely fabricate contact with a family in order to mask non-compliance with the agency's policy," Sauer wrote. He added, "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."

Sauer blasted the state for trying to minimize the impact of Gray's testimony on the outcome of the case. He dismissed all four petitions to terminate parental rights filed by the state, and ordered that "referrals for new foster case placements shall stop immediately."

It's unclear whether Gray faced any discipline and whether she gave false testimony in any other proceedings. DHS rejected AP's request for the findings of the case review or any information about corrective actions taken as a result, noting that much of the agency's work is protected by confidentiality laws.

Gray said Tuesday that she was unaware of Sauer's ruling because she was on maternity leave with newborn twins this summer. Gray, 29, declined comment on the reason for her departure from DHS, where she'd worked for about 2 1/2 years.

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