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Judge to decide if children should have been removed

March 23, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

A Washington County Circuit judge must decide whether police and social workers acted within the law when they removed three children from an East Avenue home last November because of unsanitary conditions found during a warrantless search.

Judge Donald Beachley faces the decision after a two-hour suppression hearing Monday in the criminal cases of Stephen Arthur Lowe, 49, and Patti Jane Lowe, 35, the parents of the three boys ages 8, 10 and 12.

Each was charged with three counts of reckless endangerment and three counts of contributing to conditions to harm the welfare of a child, court records said.

A conviction on each count can carry a penalty of 5 years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.

In January, the Lowes requested jury trials in Washington County Circuit Court. No trial dates have been set.

If Beachley rules Hagerstown City Police and Washington County Department of Social Services child protection workers had no right to enter the home at 16 East Ave. on Nov. 5, he could throw out all the evidence found inside.

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Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Susan Lochbaum called witnesses Monday in an attempt to demonstrate how serious the situation was in the house, based on information received from people who provided authorities with disturbing allegations.

Barbara Shevokas, a child protective services caseworker, testified she had some first-hand knowledge of the situation but had been denied entry into the home.

Believing the children were in danger, she contacted police to accompany her to the home on Nov. 5.

Although no one answered repeated knocks, Hagerstown City Police Detective George Knight testified he heard movement inside the house.

Not knowing whether the children were inside, Knight said police entered the unlocked home to look for the children. They were not there.

The decaying remains of a dog were found in a bedroom. The floor of the home was covered with garbage, clothing, assorted junk, cat and dog feces, and there was a smell of animal urine, according to testimony.

"The conditions inside the house were the worse that I've seen in the 18 years I've been a policeman," Knight said.

Steve Kessell, attorney for Patti Lowe, contended the entry into the home wasn't permitted by the law that allows children to be removed from dangerous or unhealthy environments.

"They weren't there to remove the children but to do a home investigation," Kessell said, acknowledging that his client and her husband had thwarted prior attempts by Social Services personnel to visit the home.

Police took photographs and made observations that the Lowes want thrown out of court because they claim the entry was illegal.

Police should have secured the house and gotten a search warrant, argued Robert Voss, attorney for Stephen Lowe.

Lochbaum told the judge she has case law to back up her argument that if the officers were in the house legitimately, as she contends, they can seize or photograph what is in plain view.

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