How a couple’s bath-time photos of their kids led to a 10-year long investigation.

Video via ABC News

In 2008, Lisa and A.J. Demaree took their three daughters on a holiday to San Diego. Among the 144 family photos taken on that trip were eight of their then-five, four and 18-month-old girls playing during ‘bath time’, the Washington Post reports.

“One of the photos is the three of the girls laying down on a towel with their arms wrapped around each other. We thought it was just so cute,” their mother said of the photos in an interview with ABC News in 2009.

But within a day of dropping the camera’s memory card off to be printed at a Walmart, a police detective knocked on their door.

Because to the Walmart employee who came across those photos, they weren’t harmless or cute or playful. They were pornographic.

So local police and social workers launched a full-blown sex abuse investigation into the family and their photos, which they argued depicted the children in provocative positions “with their genitals and bottoms exposed”, the police detective told the Demarees.

The investigation was extensive. Their family home was raided, with seizing computers, phones, undeveloped film and other materials relevant to a child pornography probe sized. The children also underwent a medical exam for signs of abuse, before being placed into emergency protective custody for a month while family and friends were interviewed to determine if the Demarees were child sex offenders.

This action was taken by a social worker without a court order or warrant, but with the consent of her supervisor.

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Image: ABC News/YouTube.

"It was a nightmare, it was unbelievable," Mrs Demaree said through tears. "I was in so much disbelief. I started to hyperventilate. I tried to breathe it out."

Ten years on from their initial contact with police, who eventually declined to press charges, a court has ruled that the Demarees children were taken away from their parents for no good reason.

"The social workers did not have reasonable cause to believe the children were at risk of serious bodily harm or molestation," a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit wrote in a 47-page opinion.

"Therefore, viewing the record most favourably to the Demarees, the defendants acted unconstitutionally in taking the three children away from home without judicial authorisation."

This decision comes four years after the Demarees' case against two Child Protective Services employees for violating the constitution was dismissed in 2014.

"The risk identified by the defendants did not include taking photos of a nude child in an exploitative situation and distributing them, because there was no allegation or indication that A.J. and Lisa had distributed, or were likely in the future to distribute, nude pictures of their children to anyone," the three-judge panel wrote.

"Nor did the identified risk include taking photos of a nude child engaging in sexual conduct, because there was no allegation A.J. and Lisa had ever taken, or were likely to take, photos of their children engaging in sexual conduct."

As a result of the investigation, which found neither parents charged with any crimes, Mrs Demaree was suspended for a year from her job at a school, and the couple's names were temporarily placed on a sex offender registry.

All because of eight photos that could've been included in any family scrapbook or album.

Listen: Mia Freedman and her son, Luca Lavigne discuss the dangers of 'sharenting' below...

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