Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

St. Luke’s sues Ammon Bundy, others involved in Boise protests over child welfare case

Ammon Bundy speaks on April 3 to a crowd of followers in front of the Ada County Courthouse in downtown Boise. A major Boise hospital was locked down for about an hour after Bundy urged supporters to protest a child protection case there involving a family friend.  (Idaho Statesman)
By Ian Max Stevenson and Kevin Fixler Idaho Statesman

St. Luke’s Health System has filed a lawsuit against Ammon Bundy, a far-right independent candidate for Idaho governor, and others involved in a slew of protests in March related to a child protective services case — protests that prompted the hospital to go on lockdown.

The St. Luke’s complaint was filed in Ada County on Wednesday, with Bundy; his activist organization, the People’s Rights Network; and Diego Rodriguez, a Bundy campaign adviser and the grandfather of the child involved, as named defendants.

Other defendants are Bundy’s campaign, and a website and political action committee operated by Rodriguez.

In March, police took custody of a 10-month-old baby at a gas station in Garden City after authorities said they feared the baby’s weight loss was potentially life-threatening. Bundy drove from his home in Emmett to St. Luke’s Meridian Medical Center that same evening and eventually was arrested for misdemeanor trespassing after trying to get authorities to release the child.

Over the next week, a series of protests, orchestrated by Bundy and his People’s Rights organization, drew crowds at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center, where protesters believed the baby was being receiving care. Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, a candidate for governor in the Republican primary, also attended one of the protests, Rodriguez told the Statesman.

In addition, protests took place at the Ada County Courthouse, where the custody matter was adjudicated, and at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare headquarters, which oversees Idaho’s child welfare and foster care programs.

“The complaint alleges there was a concerted effort to disrupt St. Luke’s business through false statements related to care and repeated defamation of St. Luke’s parties,” said a Wednesday statement from St. Luke’s.

The hourlong lockdown “interfered with St. Luke’s ability to provide care for our community,” according to the statement.

Bundy and Rodriguez did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“It is important for us to stand up to the bullying, intimidation and disruption, and the self-serving and menacing actions of these individuals, for the protection of our employees and patients, and to ensure our ability to serve our community,” St. Luke’s President and CEO Chris Roth said in the statement.

The lawsuit aims to force the defendants to cease “ongoing harassment and to remove defamatory and false material they have posted and shared online,” according to the St. Luke’s statement. It also asks for $50,000 in damages, which the hospital said would be donated to a St. Luke’s program that evaluates children for alleged abuse.

Update on the child welfare case

A week ago, McGeachin told attendees at a voter rally that the matter related to the parents of the child was dismissed earlier in the day. McGeachin had weighed in on the family custody situation, seeking Gov. Brad Little’s involvement to return the child to his parents, which Little declined to do through an attorney.

At the rally, which included several of the state’s right-wing candidates for office, McGeachin called the result a “miracle.” The crowd of about 1,000 people responded with loud cheers and applause.

Later during the event, members of the family, including Rodriguez, appeared on stage at Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park in Meridian, holding the child.

Child welfare matters are confidential in Idaho, and the state’s Department of Health and Welfare has declined to comment about individual cases.

“The work of child welfare is guided by the assessment of the assigned worker as to the safety of the child or children in the family,” Greg Stahl, a spokesperson for Health and Welfare, said in an email to the Idaho Statesman, speaking generally about the process. “Once the worker assesses that the child can safely be in their home without intervention or supervision, the case and the department’s involvement in the family can cease.

“There are some cases where children are removed from a home due to imminent danger safety concerns related to the parenting in the family and the parents quickly understand the concerns and work collaboratively with the department to address those concerns to meet the needs of their children. This is a very positive outcome for children and families and we are always excited when this happens.”

A custody battle and a week of protests

Concerns about the health of the 10-month-old sparked the state’s action and the week of protests in March. While the child was in state custody, the family maintained that he had lost an insubstantial amount of weight and that his parents were working to find him more nourishing foods.

Organizers of the protests personally targeted those who had been involved in the case, posting photos, names and home addresses of police officers, a social worker, a nurse practitioner and an Ada County magistrate judge online. Those involved were called “perpetrators,” and right-wing activists went to their homes. Signs at protests were labeled “WANTED” and “HANDS OFF OUR KIDS!”

Roughly a week after the state took custody of the child, he was returned to his parents. Shortly after, a planned protest at the magistrate judge’s house was canceled.