Kids removed from home over bathtub photos, parents suing

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PEORIA -- A Peoria couple accused of sexual abuse after taking photographs of their young children in the bathtub is fighting back.

It all started when A.J. Demaree took a memory stick to Wal-Mart have some photos printed. Among the 144 photos were eight pictures of the couple's three daughters taken during bath time. A Wal-Mart supervisor turned those nude photos over to Peoria police, reporting them as possible child abuse.

Child Protective Services was notified and removed the girls -- who were 5, 4 and 1 1/2 at the time -- from their home on Aug. 30, 2008. Rather than placing them with other family members, CPS sent the girls to two separate foster homes for nearly three days. The girls were also subjected to invasive medical examinations to determine if they had been sexually abused.

The girls were later released to their maternal grandparents, but the Demarees said they were not allowed to have any contact with them without CPS supervision. The Demarees' attorney says the state even filed a petition to take legal custody of the children.

While an investigation was launched, neither parent was ever charged with anything.

According to a court ruling issued by Judge J. Richard Gama in early October, "It is clear, based on the evidence, that these photographs were taken at these children's bath time. In reaching its decision, the Court also carefully considered the testimony of the parents. The Court found the testimony of these parents to be credible. Based on the totality of the factual circumstances, the Court finds that these children are not at risk for abuse or neglect."

The court ordered the kids be returned to their parents, but the Demarees say it didn't end there.

The state retained legal control of the kids, and the couple's attorney said the legal proceedings continued. ADES filed a Motion for Change of Physical Custody of the Demaree girls in late October, just 20 days after the judge's ruling.

According to the attorney, a decision was not made on that petition until May 21, 2009 -- almost nine months after the girls were first taken from their parents.

Now the Demarees are suing Wal-Mart, the city of Peoria, the state of Arizona and the Arizona attorney general. They believe Wal-Mart overstepped its bounds, saying employees are not trained to determine whether the photos were inappropriate. The couple also claims they were never given access to records accumulated during the investigation, documents they say they had a right to.

A.J. and Lisa Demaree are holding a news conference later today to make a statement about their suit.