Lt. Francis Cavender, a Fayette County Sheriff's Deputy and law enforcement veteran of over forty years, says he is more than happy to welcome guests into his home. A recent early morning visit by a county Board of Education social worker stretched the limits of his hospitality, however.
Cavender refused a search of his home by Fayette County Board of Education social worker Eulene Paulk, who had come to do a check and confirm the residency of Cavender's grandson Adrian Cardona. Cavender says his daughter and grandson have lived at the home with he and his wife since now five-year-old Adrian was born, and an affidavit was signed and filed with the school board affirming Adrian's Fayette County residency.
The basic version of events are clear: Paulk informed Cavender that she had come to do a check of the home to confirm residency. Cavender refused her entry, saying she should have a warrant if she wanted the authority to search his home. Paulk replied that a property owner's affidavit, signed by Cavender's wife, included consent to a home inspection. Cavender again told Paulk to leave his property, and she did so.
After the incident both Paulk and Barbara Serapion, Director of Pupil Personnel Services, submitted complaints against Cavender to Detective Aaron Fenimore with the Sheriff's Office, saying Cavender had been "rude and intimidating" to Paulk. According to Det. Fenimore's investigation summary, Serapion informed of the incident by phone and said that because Cavender was in uniform at the time (preparing to leave for work,) he should be held accountable as a Sheriff's Deputy. The report says that Serapion told Fenimore she "would not make a complaint of this nature on a 'normal citizen,' but since Lt. Cavender was a Sheriff's Deputy she wanted him punished for not being professional."
The summary also says in Fenimore's questioning he found that Cavender had neither cussed nor left the threshold of his door.
The investigation concluded that Cavender had not been acting in his role as a Sheriff's Deputy but as a citizen, and also that the affidavit had not been signed by Lt. Cavender himself but his wife. According to the investigation summary, a past court ruling found "a search is not authorized without all occupants giving consent. Therefore the affidavit is not binding if Lt. Cavender did not give consent," and "the fact that he was in uniform does not mean he has to give up his Fourth Amendment rights or even compel him to have a detailed conversation with the BOE social worker."
In an interview on Thursday Lt. Cavender explained his side of the story. Cavender is a tall and imposing man with a loud voice and a very direct way of speaking. It is not hard to imagine him being intimidating, but he says he never meant to intimidate Paulk. On the other hand, he was not going to accept that the affidavit gave her any authority to search his home and says he told her bluntly to leave three times.
"I am not going to give up my constitutional rights and let somebody in my house," Cavender says. "If you want to come down to my house, that's fine. But, don't sit there and tell me you have the authority to come into my house."
Cavender takes issue with the property owner's affidavit itself, saying the wording of the document is misleading and limits the rights of citizens.
"You're required to fill this out so the child can go to school, right? Ok, well, I'll go along with that if you want me to verify that this child lives there, I understand that," Cavender says, then points to the two crucial lines in the affidavit. One line reads 'I voluntarily consent to allow an employee or representative of the Fayette County School System to visit my property from time to time and inspect my home to verify the information contained in this affidavit,' and the other reads 'I understand that any false statement contained in this affidavit may subject me to prosecution under the criminal laws of the state of Georgia and may subject me to fines or imprisonment as set forth in those criminal laws.' Cavendar says the "voluntary" aspect of the consent is in question and says the document allows the Board of Education to assume guilt and force the guilty party to prove its innocence.
"False swearing on this affidavit is a felony," Cavender says. "Don't come to my house to make me prove my innocence. They're basically telling me I have to prove that my wife is not a liar, that she is not guilty of the felony of false swearing on an affidavit."
He goes on, asking "is it voluntary consent when you tell me that if I don't sign this that my child cannot go to school? And you would be committing a felony keeping him from his education? I have no problem signing any affidavit. I will swear and give you my word the child lives there. But you can't sit there and say if you don't volunteer for this search, I'm not going to let the kid go to school. That is coercion."
Cavender says he hopes any publicity from this incident will educate people about their personal rights.
"My thing is, people should realize the type of crap that's being pulled on them," he says, giving a scenario from his own job as a Sheriff's Deputy as an example. "I pull you over on the side of the road and you give me consent to search. I walk up and I open that door and you can say 'I change my mind.' Consent to search can be withdrawn at any time.
We get our rights taken away from us every day. Here on a local level we hide behind this thing 'it's for the children.' We've gotten to a point in society any more, I guess we accept our rights being trampled. It sounds a bit extreme, but it's a little bit at a time, a little bit at a time," Cavender says.
Cavender also considered it a cheap shot to take the issue to his boss since he was not acting in his duty as a Sheriff's Deputy. He says the complaints lodged against him were likely due to a "personal vendetta."
Referring to the investigation summary, Cavender says "it was said I was punished because I'm not a normal person. As far as I'm concerned there's some indications that there's an agenda going on against me, probably because of my job. Nobody else would have their job called on something like this."
Since the news of the incident has circulated Cavender says he has gotten a lot of positive reaction and support.
"I'm not trying to start any waves or ripples, I only want to protect my rights. If anything that comes out of this that makes just one person aware of the fact that they have rights that can get trampled on, then hey, I'll even take credit for killing Jimmy Hoffa, what the hell. But I won't sign an affidavit to that effect," Cavendar jokes.
The Fayette County Board of Education declined comment for this story.