By Bob Unruh
Nearly a dozen members of a police SWAT team in western Colorado punched a hole in the front door and invaded a family's home with guns drawn, demanding that an 11-year-old boy who had had an accidental fall accompany them to the hospital, on the order of Garfield County Magistrate Lain Leoniak.
The boy's parents and siblings were thrown to the floor at gunpoint and the parents were handcuffed in the weekend assault, and the boy's father told WND it was all because a paramedic was upset the family preferred to care for their son themselves.
Someone, apparently the unidentified paramedic, called police, the sheriff's office and social services, eventually providing Leoniak with a report that generated the magistrate's court order to the sheriff's office for the SWAT team assault on the family's home in a mobile home development outside of Glenwood Springs, the father, Tom Shiflett, told WND.
WND calls and e-mails to Garfield County Social Services were not returned, and Leoniak, who earlier served as a water court clerk/referee, also was not available.
Sheriff Lou Vallario, however, did call back, and told WND he ordered his officers to do exactly what the magistrate demanded.
"I was given a court order by the magistrate to seize the child, and arrange for medical evaluation, and that's what we did," he said.
According to friends of the family, Tom Shiflett, who has 10 children including six still at home, and served with paramedics in Vietnam, was monitoring his son's condition himself.
The paramedic and magistrate, however, ruled that that wasn't adequate, and dispatched the officers to take the boy, John, to a hospital, where a doctor evaluated him and released him immediately.
The accident happened during horseplay, Tom Shiflett told WND. John was grabbing the door handle of a car as his sister was starting to drive away slowly. He slipped, fell to the ground and hit his head, Shiflett said.
He immediately carried his son into their home several doors away, and John was able to recite Bible verses and correctly spell words as his father and mother, Tina, requested. There were no broken bones, no dilated eyes, or any other noticeable problems.
The family, whose members live by faith and homeschool, decided not to call an ambulance. But a neighbor did call Westcare Ambulance, and paramedics responded to the home, asking to see and evaluate the boy.
The paramedics were allowed to see the boy, and found no significant impairment, but wanted to take him to the hospital for an evaluation anyway. Fearing the hospital's bills, the family refused to allow that.
"This apparently did not go over well with one of the paramedics and they started getting aggravated at Tom for not letting them have their way," a family acquaintance told WND.
"The paramedics were not at all respectful of Tom's decision, nor did they act in a manner we would expect from professional paramedics," the acquaintance said.
So the ambulance crew, who also could not be reached by WND, called police, only to be told the decision was up to the Shiflett familiy.
The paramedics then called the sheriff's office, and officers responded to the home, and were told everyone was being cared for.
Then the next day, Friday, social services workers appeared at the door and demanded to talk with John "in private."
They were so persistent Tom ended up having to get John out of the bathtub he was just soaking in, to bring him to the front porch where the social workers could see him, the family reported.
Then, following an afternoon shopping trip to town, the family settled in for the evening, only to be shocked with the SWAT team attack.
The sheriff said the decision to use SWAT team force was justified because the father was a "self-proclaimed constitutionalist" and had made threats and "comments" over the years.
However, the sheriff declined to provide a single instance of the father's illegal behavior. "I can't tell you specifically," he said.
"He was refusing to provide medical care," the sheriff said.
However, the sheriff said if his own children were involved in an at-home accident, he would want to be the one to make decisions on their healthcare, as did Shiflett.
"I guess if that was one of my children, I would make that decision," the sheriff said.
But he said Shiflett was "rude and confrontational" when the paramedics arrived and entered his home without his permission.
The sheriff also admitted that the injury to the child had been at least 24 hours earlier, because the fall apparently happened Thursday afternoon, and the SWAT attack happened late Friday evening.
Officials with the Home School Legal Defense Association reported they were looking into the case, because of requests from family friends who are members of the organization.
"While people can debate whether or not the father should have brought his son to the ER – it seems like this was not the kind of emergency that warrants this kind of outrageous conduct by government officials," a spokesman said.
Tom Shiflett said when John was evaluated by the physician, "they didn't find anything wrong with him."
He said the paramedics never should have entered his home, but they followed his wife in the front door when she came in.
"My attention was on my son," Shiflett said.
He said the SWAT team punched a hole in his door with a ramrod, and the first officer in the home pointed a gun right in the face of Tom's 20-year-old daughter.
"I don't know where social services ever got started, or where they got their authority," he said. "But I want to know why we have something in this country that violates our rights, that takes a parental right away."
He said he saw a multitude of injuries in Vietnam, and while he recognized that his son needed to be watched, he wasn't willing to turn his child over to the paramedics.
With 10 children, most of them older than John, it's not as if he hasn't seen a bruise or two, either, he said.
"Now I'm hunting for lawyers that will take the case … I'm going to sue everybody whose name was on that page right down to the judge," he said.
Mike Donnelly, a lawyer with the HSLDA, told WND the case had a set of circumstances that could be problematic for authorities.
"In Doe V. Heck, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that parents have a fundamental right to familial relations including a liberty interest in the care, custody and control of their children," he said.
He also said many social services agencies apply "a one size fits all approach" to cases, regardless of circumstances.