A local sheriff's office in Western Kentucky has seized 10 homeschool children from their parents after an allegation was filed claiming that the family's "off-the-grid," homestead lifestyle placed the children in dangerous living conditions.
While Joe Naugler was away from the family's 28-acre rural homestead with eight of his kids last Wednesday, his wife, Nicole Naugler, was at home with the two oldest children when Breckinridge County Sheriff's deputies surrounded the family's makeshift cabin home and demanded that Naugler hand over her kids.
Not wanting to hand over her children to the police, Naugler attempted to drive away from her property and was subsequently pulled over by the police officers. The officers then took the two kids into custody and arrested Naugler, who is five months pregnant, for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Before Naugler was arrested, she was able to call her husband, who was able to catch a ride to the scene of her arrest to recover the car. At this time, sheriff Todd Pate told Naugler that he had until 10 a.m the next morning to turn over the rest of the eight kids to the police, which he did.
Although the Nauglers don't believe they did anything wrong to deserve having their kids removed from their custody, they suspect that an anonymous allegation was filed with the state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services by a neighbor who recently had a falling out with the family. Joe Naugler allegedly threatened the neighbor by asking one of his kids to grab his gun. Naugler was also charged with a "menacing" misdemeanor for the alleged threat, while Nicole Naugler was forced to stay overnight in jail.
"The allegations were that the family was residing in a tent, mother had given birth in a tent, there is no running water or septic, none of the children were enrolled in school and the father threatened the neighbor with a weapon," the police report states. "Sheriff Pate made contact with the family via telephone who spoke with the father who said a search warrant was the only way the children could be spoken with and Mrs. Naugler contacted SSC at this date, at the request of Sheriff Pate, and she too said no one could speak with the children about the report or come back to the property without a search warrant."
Because the Nauglers wouldn't let the police officers or a representative from CHFS speak with their children without a warrant, the parents were deemed to be not cooperative, according to the report. The report added that the parents' lack of cooperation helped lead to the assumption that the homestead's living conditions are not safe for the children.
"Imagine that they take your children and give them to another person, someone who now believes that you are a bad person for the peaceful lifestyle you live. They tell your child that they are safe now, because they are away from you," Joe Naugler wrote on his Facebook page. "They tell the child that this act of violence was required for their protection. Protection from you. You have no idea when you will ever see your child again, and that decision is left up to someone who believes your lifestyle is a threat to your child."
According to a CHFS affidavit, there are two main concerns that the state found with the family's lifestyle. The first was that the family's homestead only has one "shed" and two "tents" that don't have a running water supply. The affidavit also asserts that the children are not registered with the local school board.
Pace Ellsworth, who is a friend of the Naugler family, explained the conditions of the family's makeshift cabin home in a Monday interview with The Christian Post.
"It has walls, floor, metal roof, tarps that cover the walls that don't have siding. There is a tarp that covers the outdoor area so that they can have shade," Ellsworth described. "The cabin is open but can be closed in bad weather but it doesn't stay cold for very long in Western Kentucky. They have a wood stove and they also have a generator, a gas generator for power, and they are getting solar panels shortly."
Ellsworth stated that the allegations that the Naugler homestead is not fit for children is a baseless claim. He added that last Friday, social workers even came to evaluate the livability of the home and they had no major objections except for one minor fix.
"CPS and the CHFS had an inspection on friday morning and they passed off on the cabin and basically every form of their living conditions except for one thing, which was just they have to put a fence around the trash and recycling area so that it was inaccessible to their young children," Ellsworth explained. "That is the only thing that they stated that they are required to do."
The family appeared in court for a child custody hearing on Monday and are being represented by a local attorney. The Naugler attorney is also being assisted by a local affiliate attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association.
HSLDA attorney T.J. Schmidt also feels that the allegations against the Nauglers are weak.
"I know one of the concerns was that their living conditions have a dirt floor. They don't have a dirt floor, they have a wood floor," Schmidt said. "I know that is one of their initial concerns and they don't have running water. They transport their drinking water and things of that nature."
Schmidt added that the investigation is based on a "misperception" of the family's lifestyle and is inspired mostly by the angry neighbor's accusations.
"The fact that the family is very simplistic and live on their 28 acres, I think that was the main concern that social services had. The family is not shy about the fact that they promote their simplistic lifestyle," Schmidt said. "They are very into living off the land, producing their own food. They have goats and chickens and other things but I believe that the report came from a situation where they had a falling out with a neighbor or someone that they know."
A GoFundMe online fundraising page has been established to help support the family. In just over four days, the page has raised nearly $40,000.