New Jersey police and Dept. of Children and Families officials raided the home of a firearms instructor and demanded to see his guns after he posted a Facebook photo of his 11-year-old son holding a rifle.
“Someone called family services about the photo,” said Evan Nappen, an attorney representing Shawn Moore. “It led to an incredible, heavy-handed raid on his house. They wanted to see his gun safe, his guns and search his house. They even threatened to take his kids.”
Moore was not arrested or charged.
A Dept. of Children and Families spokesperson told me they could not confirm or deny an investigation or raid had taken place due to government regulations.
“The department has a child abuse hotline for the state of New Jersey and anybody can make a call to that hotline,” spokesperson Kristen Brown said. “We are required to follow up on every single allegation that comes into the central registry.”
I’ve got no problem with the agency following up on an allegation – I’ve had to call such agencies a number of times over the years in my professional capacity and fully expect them to investigate the reports I’ve made. What I don’t expect, however, is for them to send armed police officers demanding to perform warrantless searches based upon a photo of a kid with a rifle when neither the photo nor the conduct depicted in it constitutes criminal activity or abuse/neglect of a child.
Of particular concern is this part of the incident.
The family’s trouble started Saturday night when Moore received an urgent text message from his wife. The Carneys Point Police Dept. and the New Jersey Dept. of Children and Families had raided their home.
Moore immediately called Nappen and rushed home to find officers demanding to check his guns and his gun safe.
Instead, he handed the cell phone to one of the officers – so they could speak with Nappen.
“If you have a warrant, you’re coming in,” Nappen told the officers. “If you don’t, then you’re not. That’s what privacy is all about.”
With his attorney on speaker phone, Moore instructed the officers to leave his home.
“I was told I was being unreasonable and that I was acting suspicious because I wouldn’t open my safe,” Moore wrote on the Delaware Open Carry website. “They told me they were going to get a search warrant. I told them to go ahead.”
The Fourth Amendment requires that government agents get search warrants before barging into homes and searching them. There has to be probable cause to get a warrant – and if officers do not have a warrant, it is perfectly reasonable for someone to refuse to permit a search. What’s more, refusal to voluntarily consent to a search can never rise to the level of probable cause that permits a search. As such, the officers in question were engaged in nothing short of intimidation of a law-abiding citizen.
By the way, why was there even a picture of the son with a rifle? Because the boy had just completed a hunter safety course and the proud father chose to memorialize the event with the photo he shared on Facebook. The rifle in question was a low caliber one – but even if it had been an AK-47 there would have been no legal grounds for doing more than making a basic inquiry because the gun is legal and the child holding it properly and safely under parental supervision is certainly legal.
On elast note – this incident shows one of the flaws in our laws on reporting abuse and neglect – the fact that reports can never lead to criminal or civil liability for the reporter. I understand the rationale for such immunity, but surely that immunity should not apply when the report is so clearly without merit as to bring into question the good faith of the reporter.