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Cherokee County social services lawyer guilty of obstruction of justice in cases of “coercive” removal of children from their homes

Cherokee County Courthouse in Murphy.
Lilly Knoepp
Cherokee County Courthouse in Murphy.

Since at least the early 2000s, Cherokee County Department of Social Services used a document courts have since deemed “coercive” and illegal to take children from their parents’ care. This week, the county lawyer who executed those custody and visitation agreements was found guilty of 12 counts of felony obstruction of justice and two counts of misdemeanor obstruction of justice.

Scott Lindsay served as one of the Department of Social Services attorneys for Cherokee County when the out-of-court agreements were used to remove at least 30 children from their homes. In some cases, children were placed in dangerous, unsafe conditions that included abuse and neglect.

Attorney General Josh Stein announced this week the results of the Special Prosecution trial led by Special Prosecution Section head and Special Deputy Attorney General Boz Zellinger.

“Public servants have a responsibility to the people they serve – they have a duty to uphold the law and protect the vulnerable,” said Stein in a press release.

“Scott Lindsay failed to do that and harmed families in Cherokee County, who suffered for years. I thank the jury in Macon County for their verdict. My heart goes out to these families, and I hope this verdict eases their pain.”

Cindy Palmer, who was DSS director in the county while the agreements were used, pleaded guilty to felony obstruction of justice charges in 2021. Palmer, who is married to the now-former sheriff of Cherokee County, received a suspended sentence and 12 months of unsupervised probation.

Former DSS supervisor, David Hughes also pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors related to the agreements in 2021.

The trials of the people involved have asserted that the custody and visitation agreements interfered with parents’ constitutional rights and that the department targeted parents who were often struggling with addiction or poverty.

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation investigated the matter, and Cherokee County District Attorney Ashley Welch referred the prosecution of the case to the Department of Justice.

Lindsay is still an active lawyer, according to NC State Bar membership directory.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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