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Judge says children should have been removed from house

June 03, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

Washington County Circuit Judge Donald Beachley ruled Thursday that police and social workers acted within the law last November when they removed three children from their home because of alleged unsanitary conditions.

Hagerstown City Police Detective George Knight told Beachley in a May 18 court hearing that he believed there were children in danger inside the 16 East Ave. home when officers entered without a warrant last November.

They were in "danger of disease, in danger of everything inside the residence," Knight said from the witness stand.

The parents, Stephen Arthur Lowe, 50, and Patti Jane Lowe, 36, are each 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 five years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.

On Nov. 5, 1998, Washington County Department of Social Services workers took three boys, then ages 8, 10 and 12, into protective custody from their 16 East Ave. home where they were living in what police described as deplorable conditions.

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The family was not home when police arrived at 3:30 p.m. The children were taken after the family returned from a shopping trip, police said.

During the May 18 hearing, Knight said he could smell fecal matter through the mail slot. He said the smell made him and another detective back away from the house.

From outside the home, Knight said he could see mounds of trash in the kitchen area that would have prevented people from walking in there.

The decaying remains of a dog were found in a bedroom next to the room in which the children slept, police said.

"Everything that was in that place, in my opinion, was a danger to those kids," Knight said.

In his ruling, Beachley said police and social workers were also aware of "an extensive history with the Baltimore City Department of Social Services involving two allegations of physical abuse and three neglect investigations, all at least three to four years prior to 1998."

Stephen and Patti Lowe were represented at the May 18 hearing by separate public defenders.

Knight said social services had been denied access previously, but business cards left at the home were gone, indicating someone in the home took them.

Beachley took into account information police and social workers had that Patti Lowe had threatened to move her family to Colorado to avoid further investigation.

"The police were justified in believing that the Lowe children were being harbored inside the residence to avoid further investigation and contact with the authorities," Beachley said in his ruling.

No trial date has been set.

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