Elizabethtown, Kentucky – The first time it happened, on April 1, the young couple thought it must be an April Fool’s joke.
Several Elizabethtown Police officers appeared at the door around 10 p.m. to check on them and their baby — asleep in her crib — following an anonymous report the couple, one of them holding the girl, had engaged in a drunken fight outside.
Corey Chaney, 25, and April Rodgers, 23, who are engaged, were dumbfounded, having spent a quiet evening at home having dinner with friends.
“We asked if it was an April Fool’s joke,” Chaney said. “Then we realized it was serious.”
Even worse, it was the first of a series of such calls — all false and all late at night, repeatedly sending police and state social workers to the couple’s Elizabethtown apartment, disrupting their lives and leaving them panicked that the state might try to take their baby.
“It was all pretty terrifying,” Chaney said. “We couldn’t figure out why anybody would do that.”
But the most astonishing news came when the couple learned that the alleged source of the false reports was one of the state’s own social workers who lived with her fiancé in the apartment below theirs, neighbors they barely knew.
Beth A. Bond, 37, then a social worker in Hardin County with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and her fiancé, Joseph W. Applegate Jr., 42, are charged in Hardin District Court each with six counts of complicity to call in false reports. They were charged May 27 following an investigation by Elizabethtown Police.
Bond and Applegate made the false calls to the cabinet’s social service “intake,” or abuse hotline, between April 1 and May 23, according to court records. Police said it was because of a “verbal dispute” with the other couple, a dispute Chaney and Rodgers deny ever happened.
The only motive they know of is that Bond allegedly told police she found her upstairs neighbors “too loud,” Rodgers said.
Bond, who joined the cabinet in 2013 as a social worker handling child abuse and neglect cases, resigned her state job June 1, according to state personnel records. She could not be reached for comment, and her lawyer, Adam Cart, did not respond to a request for comment.
Applegate could not be reached for comment and did not have a lawyer listed in court records.
Teresa James, the commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, the social service arm of the cabinet that employed Bond, said she was appalled to learn one of her own social workers was charged in the case, saying the alleged actions violate basic standards of social work and constitute a criminal offense.
“I find it very disturbing and very disappointing,” James said.
Cabinet officials said Bond would have faced disciplinary action had she not resigned.
Chaney and Rodgers said they are still reeling from the ordeal that made them the subject of six separate investigations of child abuse and neglect by cabinet social workers — all unsubstantiated. The couple underwent drug tests and repeated scrutiny by social workers and signed multiple “prevention plans” designed to prevent further abuse, even though Chaney and Rodgers knew the reports to be false.
“It took over our lives,” Chaney said.
And they remain shocked it was one of the cabinet’s own social workers charged with making the false reports.
“It’s scary to think that she could do this to someone,” Rodgers said.
But they are most outraged that cabinet officials never seemed to take seriously their concerns that someone was calling in false, anonymous complaints even as a parade of social workers showed up to investigate.
“There is no way to hold a rogue social worker accountable,” Chaney said. “There’s got to be a system in place to protect families. There’s everything in place to protect anonymous callers.”
James said that when cabinet officials learned of the allegations in late May, they cooperated with police.
As for anonymous calls, James said the cabinet relies on such calls to the hotline to learn about and investigate alleged child abuse and can’t ignore calls that meet requirements for investigation. It accepts anonymous calls because callers often are afraid of retaliation, she said, and the cabinet has no way to track down such callers.
Meanwhile, if an allegation of child abuse or neglect appears serious, officials must investigate, she said.
“The cabinet has to go out on every call that comes in that meets the criteria,” she said.
Chaney, who works in his family’s telecommunications business, and Rodgers, who works for a veterinarian, said they have no criminal offenses in their past nor any previous involvement with the social service system.
Lawyer Barry Sullivan, who represents Chaney and Rodgers, said the case represents a massive “waste of resources” by police and social workers. Further, his clients’ ordeal shows a hole in the state social service system when it comes to false, anonymous complaints, he said.
“This could happen to anyone,” Sullivan said. “The bottom line is that there was a social worker allowed to run amok because there’s a system in place to protect anonymous callers.”
Further, Sullivan said, it calls into question the accuracy of Bond’s work on cases of child abuse and neglect she handled while employed by the cabinet.
Cabinet officials said they have reviewed Bond’s cases and turned open ones over to other workers.
Sullivan, who said he has years of experience in family law in Kentucky including cases of alleged abuse and neglect, said officials at the Hardin County social service office brushed him off when he asked them to look into the unusual nature of the calls against the couple. Officials told him they were just following policy and procedure by investigating each call, he said.
Rodgers said the couple pleaded with workers with Child Protective Services to consider whether someone was making false calls.
“We asked CPS, how many calls are you going to take before you realize this isn’t true,” Chaney said. “They said, ‘Oh, we have to respond to every call.’ ”
And the severity of the allegations increased as the calls continued, they said. One call claimed Rodgers was holding the baby upside down over a balcony; another alleged Chaney was violent and high on methamphetamine; and the last claimed he slammed the child into a wall.
Each time police would show up at the apartment, at the request of the cabinet, to find no evidence of the allegations, they said.
“The cops by the third call were apologizing, and by the fourth call they were getting mad,” Chaney said.
Fortunately, he said, police grew suspicious about the calls and began to investigate.
Still, each call triggered a new investigation from a new state social worker with a new round of questions about their personal lives, such as whether they used drugs (no) whether they fought violently (no) or whether they had abused or neglected their child (no). All were closed by the cabinet as unsubstantiated, or unfounded.
But the couple had discerned a pattern to the calls and decided to act.
Each time a case against them was about to be closed as unsubstantiated, a call with new allegations would come into the CPS hotline, triggering a new investigation. Knowing a current case was about to be closed, and anticipating a new hotline call, Chaney and Rodgers took their daughter and left their home to stay with Chaney’s parents.
The couple alerted Elizabethtown police about their plans.
The first night they were away, May 22, a call came into the abuse hotline reporting that Chaney had become violent and thrown the baby against the wall. Another call followed on May 23, alleging a disturbance at the couple’s apartment. Police went to the apartment but found no one home.
A few days later, police charged Bond and Applegate with six misdemeanor offenses involving the false reports.
Rodgers said she wept “tears of joy” at the news after weeks of fearing she might lose custody of her baby over false allegations.
“We were so scared that someone was going to take her away,” Rodgers said.
Chaney said he’s relieved by the arrest but disappointed it’s just a minor offense.
“You can tear someone’s family apart and it’s a misdemeanor,” he said.
Chaney and Rodgers say the ordeal has taken an enormous toll, emotionally and financially.
They had to hire a lawyer and take time off work for repeated meetings with social workers; and, after their neighbors were arrested, they decided to move to avoid any encounters with Bond and Applegate.
“We moved that weekend,” Rodgers said. “It took every single dime we had.”
No one from the cabinet has contacted them to explain or apologize, the couple said.
They decided to go public with their story, they said, to expose what happened.
“We don’t want this stuff swept under the rug,” Rodgers said.
Added Chaney, “I don’t want this to happen to somebody else’s family.”