Durham County District Court Judge James Hill rendered a Solomonic decision Wednesday when he upheld a no-contact order against an activist crusading against a powerful public agency charged with placing children in foster care.
But the judge also upheld activist Amanda Wallace’s right to free speech while protesting the foster care policies of the county’s social services department.
Hill’s late afternoon decision took place in a fifth-floor courtroom after Ben Rose, director of Durham County Department of Social Services (DSS), filed a no-contact order this month seeking to bar Wallace, the Operation Stop CPS [Child Protective Services] founder, from protesting in front of his home, at the county courthouse, and at the DSS offices.
Wallace says her statewide organization works to hold CPS agencies accountable while advocating on behalf of parents with children in the foster care system.
It was late afternoon when Hill’s “no-contact order pursuant to the Workplace Violence Prevention Act” was filed with the county’s clerk of court’s office.
Hill, in the no-contact order, wrote that “[Wallace] and her followers have regularly appeared and protested” at DSS offices, and have “appeared at the personal residence of Ben Rose and harassed and intimidated” him.
The court order also states that a county CPS worker, Rachel Moses “received no less than 300 text messages” between July 22 through the 28,”complaining of her handling of DSS cases.
Hill, on Wednesday, ordered Wallace to “not visit, assault, molest, or otherwise interfere” with DSS, Rose, Moses, nor interfere with DSS operations.
Hill also ordered Wallace to cease stalking and harassing DSS, Rose, and Moses.
Moreover, the district court judge ordered Wallace to not contact DSS, Rose, and Moses “by telephone, written communication, or electronic means.”
Rose and Moses both testified that while Wallace and Operation Stop CPS members had not communicated actual threats of violence against them, they were both wary of the potential for violence, given Operation Stop CPS members’ incendiary language that left them feeling targeted and coerced, with the potential for violence as a consequence of “escalating misinformation” from Wallace and her followers.
Rose told the court that while he respected Wallace’s right to protest, he felt targeted for harassment and intimidation, particularly after Wallace and her followers visited his home, and with emails that said “do this or we will continue to make your life miserable.”
Rose added that the “misinformation” Wallace was sharing with her followers and the public made him fear for his safety.
“That’s why we decided to take this step,” Rose said about the no-contact order.
The DSS director says his daughter, a Black Lives Matter supporter, was home when the protests took place and that she and his wife were “traumatized” by the incident.
Rose said he shared his concerns with the state’s department of health and human services, the state’s attorney general office, and the county sheriff.
“I can’t afford private security,” he later added.
Wallace, who represented herself in court, asked Rose if she or her followers had ever threatened him.
“No,” he answered.
“Have I ever threatened your employees?”
“No,” he replied again.
Moses told the court that the texts she received on her phone were specific to the CPS cases she was working on. Still, she worried that someone with Operation Stop CPS had followed her to her home in Guilford County, where a protest took place on May 24 at the apartment complex where she lives.
Moses added that she has confronted angry parents before, but “this is different.”
“It’s different because it feels like intimidation and bullying,” she said. “They are demanding that I do something [return children in CPS custody to their parents] that I do not have the legal authority to do.”
While announcing his decision Wednesday, Hill stated that Wallace and her followers “shall be allowed to peacefully protest,” but with restrictions.
Those limitations include ordering Wallace and her followers to “remain no less than 25 feet from the employee and main entrance of DSS while protesting,” as well as prohibiting the “use of any voice amplification devices.”
Hill also ordered Wallace and her followers to refrain from chanting “when minor children are leaving the building, when they appear to be exercising DSS-supervised visitation.”
The order went into effect Wednesday and will remain in place until April 24 of next year.
Wallace, a former investigator with CPS agencies across the state, started working as a CPS investigator with Wake County on February 14, 2018. In May 2021, she founded Operation Stop CPS after witnessing what she says was the unjustified separation of children from their parents. Shortly after, Wake officials placed her on administrative leave and she was terminated later that month.
On Tuesday afternoon, Wallace and a small cadre of mothers who have lost custody of their children, stood in front of the county’s public health department and used a bullhorn to amplify their protest messages that CPS is “kidnapping children” and commiting “genocide” against impoverished Black and brown children.
“CPS, you can’t hide,” Wallace and her fellow protesters chant. “We charge you with genocide.”
The INDY this week reported that the no-contact order accused Wallace and others of “aggressively shouting defamatory statements” including “kidnapping,” and “you are stealing Black children,” along with “you are committing genocide of Black children” in front of Rose’s home, where he divides his work schedule with time at his DSS office.
The no-contact order stated that Wallace poses a threat to all of CPS when she said “she will take action, by any means necessary,” and notes as evidence an unrelated photo of Wallace at a gun range “and other gun images.”
Wallace challenged the implication of those photos of her at a gun range during Wednesday’s hearing when she asked Rose if he had ever visited a gun range.
“Yes,” he answered. “I believe very much in the Second Amendment as well.”
Wallace in May was served a similar no-contact order in New Hanover County. Last week, an influential nonprofit, Movement for Family Power (MFP), filed a letter in New Hanover District Court urging judicial officials “to either dismiss this case entirely or give Ms. Wallace adequate time for a defense.”
Wallace on Wednesday told the court that the charges filed against her in New Hanover County were dismissed.
Minutes after the judge’s decision, Wallace worried about being heard during her public protests of DSS.
“They took away my bullhorn,” she told the INDY.
On Thursday, Wallace told the INDY she planned to be out in front of the county’s public health department building first thing Friday morning.
“We’re going to take a tape measure with us and make sure we’re 25 feet away from the building,” she says.
Wallace says she has filed an appeal of the judge’s order with the county’s district court.
Meanwhile, her crusade will continue.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, and continue to make noise,” she says. “The judge’s order doesn’t silence the people.”
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