Part Two: She was homeless, so cops and Child Protective Services took her kids, then they all got sick on toxic Treasure Island

by Carol Harvey

Loud pounding exploded on Liz Washington’s townhouse door on Treasure Island one day in 2005. Her children’s father, a tall imposing man, was sorting laundry on the living room floor. He rose and peered through the peephole.

A large African-American woman stood outside on the stoop. He recognized the woman as the kids’ previous social worker. When he cracked open the door, four burly male cops stormed in from behind her and pushed their way into the house. The worker announced coldly, “Someone at the school called CPS on you. I’m here to take your kids.”

Liz Washington
Liz Washington

Thus began the traumatic and violent snatch-and-grab re-enactment of cops’ theft of Liz’ kids from a Tenderloin hotel six years earlier.

Once inside, the woman scanned the piles of clothes on the floor. Her scowl suggested she was looking at a mess. This observation turned up later in court papers.

The four kids were all at home. “Isaiah was 5. Kevin was 6 going on 7. Their older sister, Sandy, was 15, and Kenny was 18.”

The timing was cruel. Earlier that day the kids learned that someone they loved passed away.

Liz told the worker, “We’re grieving the loss of a family friend and relative.” She didn’t care one bit, recalled Liz. “I’m just doing my job,” the woman retorted.

Four towering male police officers forcibly removed the kids. “There was a bunch of screaming and crying,” said Liz.

When he cracked open the door, four burly male cops stormed in from behind her and pushed their way into the house. The worker announced coldly, “Someone at the school called CPS on you. I’m here to take your kids.”

The police wrestled Liz’ children out the door. “Everyone resisted, especially Sandy,” said Liz. A teenager older and more confident than her little brothers, she actually thought she could escape.

“She gave them a fight. They had her by the arm. She tried to snatch it away. When they tried to coerce Liz’ eldest son, Kenny, into going with them, he informed them they had no right. He was of age.

“These people (from CPS), they are so heartless, cruel and cold. They just took them,” together as a group, said Liz.

CPS had a pattern of snatching all Liz’ offspring at once. She realized later that their actual targets were her two youngest sons, but because her daughter was under 18, they scooped her up in their net.

“I figured the reason (the worker) came is because she was somebody we had dealt with – a familiar face. I guess she figured out, ‘Well, if I was to show up and they knew who I was, they’ll let me in.’ And sure enough, the kids’ dad let her in. He shouldn’t have opened the door,” said Liz. He enabled the cops to violate the Fourth Amendment that prohibits breaking and entering into private homes.

The worker claimed they were missing too much school, but school absence does not qualify as a reason for child removal.

CPS had a pattern of snatching all Liz’ offspring at once. She realized later that their actual targets were her two youngest sons, but because her daughter was under 18, they scooped her up in their net.

Realizing this later, the worker handily bypassed the problem by manufacturing a cover story. “They said our house was messy, and that was the reason why they took the kids,” Liz told me.

It took two full years for CPS to release the children back into Liz’ custody. They were not returned to her until the summer of 2007.

Being stalked

From the moment cops burst into Liz’ rent-paid Tenderloin hotel and seized her three children on a bogus claim that she was homeless, Liz has never again escaped CPS’ clutches. But, even after she moved into her Treasure Island townhouse on their orders that she must become housed, CPS developed a serious appetite for kidnapping Liz Washington’s daughter and sons.

For 15 years, Liz has felt the hot breath of these female workers on the back of her neck, relentlessly dogging her. Like stalkers, they’ve established a habit of dropping in unannounced at her home. In episodes that amount to assaults, these intrusive women, for apparently arbitrary reasons, have masterminded three shocking onslaughts in which they made off with Liz’ children and deposited them in unsafe places with abusive foster parents.

Institutional child abuse

The irony is that, hearing San Francisco was safer for children, Liz moved west to escape Chicagoland gangs. Despite this mother’s careful planning, San Francisco cops and CPS grabbed her kids and placed her daughter in gang-infested Oakland.

One home was in “a really weird neighborhood with a lot of gang-bangers,” said Liz’ daughter Sandy. At first, “I just felt something was OFF! Can you believe (the foster mother) was dealing in drugs … with some street gang? I’m pretty sure the white stuff in a plastic bag was not any kind of detergent or salt. They (made) a big mistake and gave me $20 bucks.” She hightailed it back home on BART.

Next, Sandy was deposited in what appeared to be a brothel. “There was all sorts of girls coming in and out. Some were into sex trafficking. I just felt totally displaced.”

San Francisco cops and CPS grabbed her kids and placed her daughter in gang-infested Oakland.

On that same occasion, CPS installed her two younger brothers with a Bayview woman who they reported was driving drunk.

Shortly after the family moved to the island, the children ended up in Fairfield together with a woman Sandy described as “just mean.” The foster mother encouraged another foster child to copy her habit of heaping verbal abuse on Sandy and her brothers.

“Kenny,” her older brother, “was always standing in for us. If someone would pick on me or mess with Kevin, he would give them trouble on our behalf.”

Tell me about Kenny, I asked.

“Ah!” said Sandy with full-throated affection. “He’s the smooth dude. He’s the guy with the charisma. He makes everyone happy. He’s uplifting and charming and strong. He’s chill, laid-back and fun to be around.”

“And protective? He’s been the man of the family, right?” I asked.

Kenny Washington
Kenny Washington

“Oh, yeah!” Sandy smiled. “He’s like the Big Guy.”

But, young Kenny couldn’t go with Sandy when she was sent to the two group homes – the crack house and the whorehouse.

Fraudulent abductions

The reasons CPS provided for these child abductions seemed capricious and arbitrary.

Liz’ children were first taken on a false charge that the family was homeless. It is against the law to grab kids without homes.

Then, workers complained the kids were not going to school when they were actually enrolled.

An unidentified person reported that Liz’ teenage daughter Sandy was wearing a light summer dress that seemed “see-through.”

CPS had officers take the kids on the concocted allegation that Liz kept a messy house.

CPS and her doctors used the accusation that the boys’ severe upper and lower gastrointestinal problems were caused because their mother wasn’t feeding them large enough helpings of fruits and vegetables. Liz believes drinking polluted Treasure Island water is the actual cause of her sons’ agonizing stomach aches and constipation.

Finally, Child Protective Services manipulated physicians into accusing Liz of denying her boys an inpatient gastrointestinal surgical procedure when she was completely unaware of this plan.

Liz discovered later that these tortured rationalizations camouflaged a sinister hidden agenda that amounted to trafficking in kids.

Why were they getting sick?

Watching her children’s shortness of breath, severe gastrointestinal pain and thyroid problems worsen for many years, this mother’s alarm and confusion grew.

Around 2009, the press began to cover Treasure Island Development Authority’s plans to demolish buildings, rebuild the island and construct high end condos.

In 2010, San Francisco Public Press reporters, in a landmark series, focused only secondarily on the various sites the Navy numbered for contamination cleanup. Their stories highlighted the City’s redevelopment plans. They interviewed several Treasure Island residents.

On June 7, 2011, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, on advice from questionable sources, voted 11-0, approving plans for a 20,000-resident, $1.5 billion redevelopment project on a toxic dumpsite: former Navy base Treasure Island.

During 2012 and 2013, Center for Investigative Reporting journalists Matt Smith and Katharine Mieszkowski published a series of seven pieces exposing Treasure Island radiation levels the Navy had not previously reported.

At one point, Smith and Mieszkowski dug soil samples out of Site 12. An independent lab tested cesium-137 levels substantially higher than the Navy had reported. Contact with these radioisotopes could cause radiation burns.

During that same time, East Bay Express reporter Ashley Bates wrote three pieces, one of which received an award, interviewing California Department of Public Health officials and island residents about radiation and chemical contaminants.

This intense press spotlight inspired the California Department of Public Health to force the Navy to dig deeper to locate and remove radiological toxins. As a result, in 2012, environmental engineers found 600 previously unidentified “hot” objects under lawns and in green areas on Site 12.

These investigative pieces opened residents’ eyes, including Liz’, to the dangers. But, it did not deter U.S. government and City politicians nor the TIDA Board from barreling ahead with their lucrative redevelopment project.

This intense press spotlight inspired the California Department of Public Health to force the Navy to dig deeper to locate and remove radiological toxins.

Liz noticed the chatter began to become “less hush-hush” among Treasure Island residents on the subject of radiation, chemicals and the other three pollutants the Navy left on the island: mold, asbestos and lead.

When the Restoration Advisory and TIDA Boards met, resident attendance swelled. Treasure Islanders protested outside City Hall.

“It was a lot to swallow at the time,” said Liz. “But I kept on going to meetings. And then I was kinda like ‘Hm-m-m? OK.’”

Suddenly, everything clicked. “So that’s why my kids kept getting sick.” She became confirmed that the island – not she – was the culprit.

Today, Liz realizes that if the island were not chemically and radiologically contaminated, Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t have procured $10 million in 2015 Congressional funding for Treasure Island cleanup.

To be continued.

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at carolharvey1111@gmail.com.