Category Archives: Drugs

Couple Indicted For Sexually Abusing Two Children And Creating Child Porn

.jpg photo of arrest of couple wanted for child sex abuseVicksburg pair indicted on child abuse, porn charges

GRAND RAPIDS, MI  –  A couple whose home was raided by the FBI last week in Vicksburg are accused of sexually abusing two children and creating child porn.

Virgil Chandler Knowles III and Samantha Jean Batts have each been charged with one count of sexual exploitation of a child.  Knowles has also been charged with one count of distribution of child pornography.

Batts was in federal court Tuesday.  Knowles’ hearing was rescheduled.

The charges stem from a complaint filed in federal court that alleged 47-year-old Knowles and 35-year-old Batts sexually abused two family members, neither older than 10.

Knowles used to be a custodian and maintenance employee at Vicksburg Community Schools, but had not worked there since 2018, a release from the district said.

Vicksburg couple arrested for child sexual abuse

Undercover FBI agents discovered Knowles in a private online chat room, where he admitted he abused the children.  He also told undercover agents that Batts said she wanted to get “something” to make one of the victims sleep, the complaint says.  It says Knowles shared several explicit photos with the agent, some featuring Batts.

FBI was able to locate the couple using Snapchat data and geolocation. Agents raided two homes in Vicksburg on Thursday, leading to the arrests of Knowles and Batts.

SOLD FOR DRUGS, WOMAN DOES EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO HELP TRAFFICKING VICTIMS

.jpg photo of Tonya Stafford and the neighbor who helped her break free from abuser.
Tonya Stafford and the neighbor who helped her break free from her abuser.

Her mother sold her for drugs when she was 14. Now, she spends her life rescuing fellow trafficking victims

DALLAS, TX  –  It took Tonya Stafford years to return to Bradshaw Street in southern Dallas.

When she finally did, about eight years ago, she felt afraid.

“It was a lot of emotions that came back,” she said.  “Because I thought of everything that had happened.”

Stafford lived in two separate houses on this street  –  although “lived” is a generous term.

She survived.  That’s a better way to put it.

Located just feet apart, those Bradshaw Street houses are the first and second homes Stafford lived in with the man who purchased her from her mother when she was 14 years old.  They’re the first two homes in which she was held captive, raped and abused for years.

“I was sold from the projects… the Turner Courts Projects,” Stafford said.

She’d been living their with her siblings, her mother and her mother’s husband.  Stafford’s mother had been in an out of their lives, while living with addiction.  She regained custody of Stafford and her siblings when Stafford was eight years old.  Up until then, they’d been living with their grandmother.

“It wasn’t something that was hidden from us,” Stafford said of her mother’s troubles. “Big Momma always just told us to respect her.  If we saw her walking down the street in South Dallas, we respected our mom.”

Stafford said her mother had started to do better when she regained custody, but the man she married was an addict and abusive.

“He immediately started raping us and molesting us,” Stafford said.  “So, that’s how our life took a turn for the worse.”

When Stafford and her siblings told her mother about the abuse, she said her mother’s husband claimed the children were trying to break them up.  She believed him.

Stafford said the family was also homeless for months at a time and bounced from hotel to hotel.

“He would get a room for them and a room for us,” Stafford said.  “Then he would get a room to take us into.”

Even then, Stafford still had hope.

“I wasn’t pregnant,” she said.  “I was an A student.  I was really smart.  My mentality was to make it out and never come back.”

Eventually, her family ended up at the Turner Courts housing project in southern Dallas, where Stafford said she and her siblings were allowed to freely come and go as they pleased, as long as they were home by dark.

She said she remembered she’d hang out with a neighbor, a women in her early 20s who was married and had kids.  Around that time, Stafford also remembered, she started noticing the man who’d become her abuser hanging around the neighborhood.

“I remember seeing him but not really paying attention cause I was playing with [my neighbor’s’] kids,” Stafford said.  “I didn’t know he had already started inquiring about us. Who was I?  ‘Who’s her momma?  What does that look like?’  They told him, ‘Her mom’s on drugs, and they don’t really care about them.’  He found his prey.  I was his prey.”

One night, when she was 13, Stafford said she was at her neighbor’s house, drinking what she thought was soda.  The man was there too.  Once she’d had a bit of what she later realized were wine coolers, she said she didn’t feel good.  She remembered the man telling her she couldn’t go home drunk.

She said he raped her that night.

“I got up,  I put my clothes on,  I went back to our apartment,” Stafford said.  “I didn’t say anything.”

A few weeks later, Stafford started feeling sick  –  and quickly realized she was pregnant.

“My daughter was born in 1988 in Mesquite Community Hospital,” she said.

Stafford was 14.  The father of her new baby was more than 10 years older.

Court documents provided to WFAA showed that Tonya was interviewed by a case worker who was investigating her mother and stepfather for child abuse involving another sibling.  The report detailed that Tonya was pregnant and that the father of her child was substantially older than she was.  The case worker noted that she asked Tonya if her mother had anything to do with what she referred to as her “relationship” with an older man, but never probed into any questions about abuse or the situation being troublesome.

“I knew then that we weren’t going to be saved,” Stafford said.

A few months after her daughter was born, Stafford said she was playing outside with other kids and had come back in to her house for some water when she noticed her belongings and her baby’s things had been packed up and placed by the door.

“She [her mother] said, ‘You got to go,'” Stafford said.  “I asked why: ‘Did I do something wrong?  Did I not clean up good enough?  What did I do?’  She just said again,  ‘You got to go.’  She pointed outside, and I saw his car waiting.  So, I took a deep breath, and I got in the car.”

Stafford said she went to live with with her abuser in his grandmother’s house  –  one of the homes on Bradshaw Street  –  where she was repeatedly raped and beaten.  After a year, she said they moved a few houses down on the same street.  A couple of years later, they moved to Pleasant Grove.

Stafford said she’d continuously tried calling her mother during this time, but never got an answer.  Eventually, she learned that her mother had changed phone numbers.  While she lived on Bradshaw Street, Stafford was just a few blocks from her family and the school she would have attended had she been able to leave the house.

“I really only left to go to church,” Stafford said.

She said her abuser took her to church every Sunday and Wednesday.

“I remember telling someone he was raping me, and they told me not to say that,” Stafford said.  “The first lady told me I should be glad someone bought me.”

Stafford said she lived with her abuser for 10 years.  During that stretch, she gave birth to two more children of his children.  She said no one at any of the hospitals ever questioned their situation.

“I don’t think they wanted to get involved,” Stafford said.

She was 24 when her life changed.  She has her neighbor to thank for that.

“She was the nosey neighbor,” Stafford said.  “She’d seen something.  She said something. And she did something.”

Stafford said her neighbor had noticed abuse in the home, and had spoken to her about it.
“Our cue was, if it gets bad, throw something out the window  –  or just come out and she’ll call the police,” Stafford said.

On the day she was rescued, Stafford said the abuse was particularly bad.

“He was angry,” Stafford said of her abuser.  “He was angry.  He just kept saying, I’m going to kill you.'”

Stafford said she’d gone to the bathroom, flushed the toilet and threw some things out of the window.  She said she tried to climb out of the window, too, but her abuser heard her, kicked down to the door, pulled her back into the house and threw her into the hallway.
“I asked him if I could go put my kids up, and I could come back and he could kill me,” Stafford said. “He said no, and he started choking me unconscious.  And that’s all I remembered.  I woke up.  My neighbor was kneeling next to me, and she was crying.”

Stafford said her neighbor heard the commotion and called the police.  By the time officers arrived, her abuser had run away.  Stafford and her children were taken to a shelter for domestic violence survivors in Irving.

“I got to be safe, and then I started therapy,” Stafford said.  “I love therapy.”

She still goes to therapy every Tuesday.

“It’s the first time I couldn’t lie,” Stafford said.  “I had to be honest about everything.   My kids got therapy too.  I think that’s ultimately what saved me.  I had never just been around a bunch of women.”

These women affirmed Stafford’s beauty, value and purpose.

When she finally was able to take her attacker to court,  Stafford said the judge apologized to her for a healthcare system and an education system that “failed” her.

“Then he said, “And I’m sorry, I have to fail you too,'” Stafford said.  “The statute of limitations had been reached.”

She was able to get a protection order  –  one that’s still in place  –  because of the domestic violence, but her attacker was never charged for the sexual abuse.  In fact, he was granted visitation with her children.

Stafford’s story is a hard one to hear, but it laid the foundation for the life-saving work she does now.

In 2014, Stafford started It’s Going to Be Okay Inc, an organization that helps rescue, house and heal survivors of human trafficking.  She now operates four safe houses for survivors across Dallas-Fort Worth.

“We’re providing direct services to human trafficking victims of all races and colors, but particularly Black girls,” Stafford said.

These are girls, Stafford said, that often go missing without extensive media coverage or resources devoted to finding them.

They’re girls like her.

Her story, Stafford said, is not entirely the same as the cases she deals with now.  But the foundations of trauma and abuse are the same.

“When you’re dealing with past trauma, it effects your post-trauma,” Stafford said.  “It’s how [these girls] are so susceptible to trafficking.  It’s the cycle of trauma, the generational trauma.”

Stafford’s work has been recognized around the country.  She works with local, state and federal law enforcement to help rescue trafficking victims and offer services to help them rebuild their lives.

She was recently recognized by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for her efforts, and even received an honorary doctorate for her work.

“When I come across girls who look like me  –  the forgotten girls  –  and they say, ‘Ms. Tonya, thank you for coming, and thank you for providing what probably wouldn’t have been provided,’ that is my why,” Stafford said.

So, now, when Stafford finds herself on Bradshaw Street, she sees survival.

“I survived for them,” she said.  “I survived for me.  I survived for my children.  And not only am I surviving, I’m thriving.”

The Last Days Of A 5-Year-Old

.jpg photo of 5-year-old Boy, who had skin breakdown or bedsores, and was tied down, or was so weak or malnourished that he was unable to move at the end of his life.
5-year-old Elijah Lewis suffered a level of abuse that went far beyond what they typically see, “It would fall into the category of torture, really.”

Medical experts say Elijah Lewis appears to have been ‘tortured’

Autopsy raises new questions about texts sent by New Hampshire child’s mother

The sores were something you’d see on someone living in a derelict nursing home — or someone held in restraints.  The malnourishment hinted at weeks, if not months, without adequate food.  And then there was the trauma to the head.

The final days of 5-year-old Elijah Lewis’s short life remain shrouded in mystery, but medical experts say the recent autopsy findings alone suggest the shaggy-haired little boy from Merrimack, N.H., suffered a level of abuse that went far beyond what they typically see.

“It’s more than just . . .  minor medical neglect,” said Alice W. Newton, medical director of the Child Protection Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.  “It would fall into the category of torture, really.”

The autopsy results also raise new questions about text messages sent by the boy’s mother, Danielle Dauphinais, 35, who is being held without bail in New Hampshire along with her boyfriend, Joseph Stapf, 30.  In the January texts sent to a friend and obtained by the Globe, Dauphinais said she argued with Stapf’s mother for giving Elijah too much food, saying “this child will eat till he pukes.”   Stapf’s mother, according to Dauphinais’s text, said it was “child abuse” to withhold food from a child.

Five-year-old Elijah Lewis had fentanyl in his system and died from violence and neglect, autopsy finds

Reached Monday, Dauphinais’s attorney, Jaye Rancourt, declined to comment on the messages, saying that “without verification that this is actually a text message from my client,  I can’t really respond.  This could be a complete fabrication.”

The texts match a detailed description of the messages given by the person who originally received them.

Questions about the circumstances of Elijah’s death have only grown since his body was discovered in the woods of Abington, Mass., on Oct. 23, following a 10-day search that included law enforcement agencies from at least five states.  Since then, authorities have released little in the way of details as they continue to investigate.  Meanwhile, relatives and people who lived near the child’s home in Merrimack say they seldom saw the boy in the months leading up to his disappearance.

The Massachusetts medical examiner’s office last month ruled the boy’s death a homicide, determining the cause to be “violence and neglect, including facial and scalp injuries, acute fentanyl intoxication, malnourishment and pressure ulcers.”  Pressure ulcers, more commonly referred to as bedsores, are typically found in bedridden people unable to change position.

But neither Dauphinais nor Stapf has been charged with murder. Instead, they are being held on charges of child endangerment and witness tampering related to their alleged attempts to mislead investigators trying to determine the boy’s whereabouts in October. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Mom accused of encouraging people to lie about whereabouts of missing 5-year-old N.H. boy, prosecutors say

It remains unclear how involved New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families was with the boy prior to his disappearance.  The agency has declined to comment on the case, though authorities have said that DCYF initially reported the boy missing to law enforcement on Oct. 14, and Dauphinais told a friend last June that she’d been in contact with the agency.

Texts sent by Dauphinais to another friend and obtained by the Globe make it clear that she had serious concerns about her son, including the amount he ate, at least nine months before the boy was discovered missing.

In a text to a friend on Jan. 7, Dauphinais complained that Stapf’s mother, Joanne — with whom the couple shared a home — was feeding the boy against her wishes.  Dauphinais said Joanne Stapf would also “baby him and love on him” even when Elijah acted up.
“I made Elijah a decent plate of food and she insisted on giving him seconds,” Dauphinais wrote in a January text.  “I told her no because this child will eat till he pukes and then eat some more. I also told her that he’s having cake after so there is no need for seconds.”
“She said I was wrong and that was child abuse,”  Dauphinais continued.  “She said that she’s an Italian grandma and that she considers this child abuse in her family. Like wtf!”

The 5-year-old boy was found dead and his mother jailed. ‘What the hell was happening in that home?’

According to two physicians who spoke with the Globe, both of whom specialize in cases of child abuse or neglect, the details outlined in the autopsy report paint a particularly grim picture.  Though neither is involved with the case or privy to case files, both described the autopsy findings to be extreme, even within the realm of neglect cases.

“This is not like an everyday thing,” said Dr. Suzanne Haney, a Nebraska-based child abuse pediatrician who serves as the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Child Abuse and Neglect. “This extreme of a case, fortunately, is very rare.”

Both doctors described the bedsores, in particular, as highly irregular in a developmentally normal child.  The painful, circular lesions are almost never seen in young, physically mobile patients, leading them to believe that Elijah could have been restrained in some way prior to his death.

“Skin breakdown or bedsores is not something you’d ever see in a healthy 5-year-old,” said Newton.  “That, to me, speaks to being tied down . . . or [being] so weak or malnourished that he was unable to move at the end of his life.”

Added Haney, “If you combine malnourishment and pressure ulcers, I’m thinking he was either restrained or his malnourishment was to the point where . . . he was unconscious or semiconscious for a period of time.”

Either condition would’ve been a red flag to doctors, said Newton — but it’s unclear whether Dauphinais ever took Elijah to see a physician in New Hampshire.

Born in Arizona in 2016, the boy spent much of his early life in the custody of his father following his parents’ contentious 2017 divorce.  In divorce paperwork, Timothy Lewis accused Dauphinais of being “violent and impulsive” and having a “history of domestic violence and substance abuse.”  A decree approved by the court blocked Dauphinais from spending time with her son.

Last May, however, for unclear reasons, Elijah arrived in New Hampshire to live with Dauphinais and her boyfriend, Stapf.

Though initially excited by her son’s arrival, Dauphinais, two friends said, soon became exasperated by what she described as the boy’s myriad behavioral issues.  In texts to a friend last summer, Dauphinais likened her son to a serial killer, saying she felt no connection to the child and that she wanted him “gone.”

‘I want him gone.’ Elijah Lewis’s mother messaged a friend just months before his mysterious death

One friend, Michelle O’Brien, who has known Dauphinais since both were teenagers, told the Globe she’d provided the name of a pediatrician to Dauphinais, but did not know whether she ever followed up on it.

The office of New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella, which is handling the case, has declined to release records of previous police visits to the home that Dauphinais and Stapf shared, though neighbors said police were a common presence at the residence, which backs up to a quiet lake.

New Hampshire Representative Kimberly Rice, who chairs the House committee on children and family law, acknowledged that the state’s child welfare agency has suffered from staffing issues that have left it hamstrung.

“I don’t think they’re doing a bad job at DCYF,” said Rice.  “We have positions that need to be filled that are funded, but the people aren’t there, and if the people aren’t there, I don’t know how you continue to hold an agency accountable when you can’t get the positions filled.”

Investigators pledge to find justice for 5-year-old boy after body found buried in Abington woods

As the criminal case moves forward, meanwhile, Moira O’Neill, director of the New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate, said her office would be opening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Elijah’s death.

Appointed by New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu in 2018, O’Neill provides oversight of the state’s child protection services, as well as “holding systems accountable,” according to the state website.

But with a small office currently engaged in other cases, she cautioned that the process could take up to a year to complete.

“If what’s reported in the newspapers is correct,” O’Neill said, “it does sound as though this was a preventable death.”

TX Attorney General’s Office Assisted U.S. Marshals Roundup Of 38 Violent Fugitives

.jpg photo of TX Attorney General LogoOperation ‘Wash Out’ Results in 38 Arrested for Gang-Related Offenses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 20, 2021

AUSTIN, TX  –  The Office of the Attorney General assisted in an operation that resulted in the arrest of 38 fugitives wanted for gang-related offenses.

In Bexar County, the Austin Fugitive Apprehension Unit assisted the United States Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force’s warrant initiative, named Operation Wash Out, from September 20-27.

These efforts focused on members of the most violent gangs in the greater San Antonio metropolitan area. As a result of this warrant initiative, the following were arrested – including one of Texas’s Top 10 Most Wanted:

  • Moses Calderon – Parole Violation for Murder with a Deadly Weapon and Assault Bodily Injury.  Member of Hermanos Pistoleros Gang.  Texas Top 10 Most Wanted.
  • Steven Acevedo – Assault Family Violence. Member of Tango Orejon Gang.
  • Samantha Acosta –Possession of Controlled Substance.
  • John Anthony Arroyo – Probation Violation for Smuggling Aliens and Stolen Vehicle.
  • Ruben Benavides – Parole Violation for Aggravated Assault Against Public Servant and 2 counts of Assault Bodily Injury.  Member of Klik Gang.
  • Nicholas Blanco – Racketeering and Murder.
  • Ricky Ohara Coleman – Parole Violation for Assault Bodily Injury Family Violence. Member of Wheatley Court Gang.
  • Jonathan Duque – Assault Family Violence.
  • Brenna Farley – 2 counts of Aggravated Assault with Deadly Weapon.
  • Rogelio Gloria Flores – Probation Violation for Manufacturing/Delivery of Cocaine. Mexican Mafia Gang Member.
  • Arturo Garza, Jr. – Aggravated Assault with Deadly Weapon. Member of Texas Mexican Mafia Gang.
  • Ceasar Andrew Gomez – Probation Violation for Amphetamine Possession. Texas Syndicate Gang Member.
  • Adrian Michael Gonzales – Assault Family Violence Strangulation.
  • Monte Joseph Govan – Parole Violation for Aggravated Robbery, Unlawful Restraint and Aggravated Assault with Deadly Weapon.
  • Lane Everett Grinage – Felon in Possession of Firearm.
  • David Anthony Hernandez – Probation Violation for Dangerous Drugs and Probation Violation for Smuggling.
  • Larry Guerrero Hernandez – Parole Violation for Unauthorized Use of Vehicle and Assault Bodily Injury. Member of Mexican Mafia Gang.
  • Linda Flor Ibarra – Aggravated Robbery.
  • Rolando Lopez – Probation Violation for Smuggling Aliens. Taiza Gang Member.
  • Rene Arnold Martinez – Tampering with Evidence and Assault Family Violence. Member of Texas Mexican Mafia Gang.
  • Rafael Resendez – Possession of Controlled Substance.
  • Nathaniel Xavier Ramirez – Probation Revocation for Evading Arrest and Detention with Vehicle.  Member of West Side Varrios Gang.
  • Humberto Ramos – Possession of Dangerous Drugs.  Member of Hermanos Pistoleros Gang.
  • Michael Roberson – Parole Violation for Possession with Intent to Deliver and Failure to Appear regarding a 2nd DWI.  Member of the Bloods Gang.
  • Ruben Rocha – Assault Public Servant.
  • Marc Andrew Rodriguez – Assault Family Violence.  Member of Tango Orejon Gang.
  • Guzman Carrizales Sambrano – Parole Violation for Homicide and Possession of a Controlled Substance in Penal Institution.
  • Jeremiah Sambrano – Failure to Appear Assault and Escape from Custody.
  • Spurgeon Williams – Probation Violation for Cocaine.  Member of East Terrace Crips Gang.
  • Matthew Alexander Woosley – Felon in Possession of Firearm.  Member of Tango Orejon Gang.
  • Tyson William Yetts – Parole Violation for Assault Family Member.
  • David Zepeda – Parole Violation for Murder.  Member of Mexican Mafia Gang.

CO Man Pleads Guilty To Child Abuse

.jpg photo of colorado man whose son was found encased in concrete
Leland Pankey, 40, pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human body.

Father of Denver boy found encased in
concrete pleads guilty to Child Abuse;
murder charge dropped

DENVER, CO  –  The father of a 7-year-old Denver boy found encased in concrete in 2018 has pleaded guilty to a child abuse charge in the case, in exchange for prosecutors dropping the murder charge against him.

Leland Pankey, 40, was charged with murder in Caden McWilliams’ death in May.  In a hearing on Thursday, he pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human body.

The murder charge was dropped in the deal.  Pankey now faces up to 72 years in prison.

“This agreement provides justice for Caden while ensuring that Mr. Pankey will serve a significant amount of time behind bars,” Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said in a news release Thursday.  “This is one of the most horrific cases ever handled by the Denver DA’s Office and we were acutely concerned about re-traumatizing Caden’s family as well as the jury, judge and everyone else involved should this case proceed to trial.”

Pankey is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 28.

The body of McWilliams was found encased in concrete in a storage unit in the 5000 block of East Evans Avenue in Denver on Dec. 23, 2018.

McWilliams’ mother, Elisha Pankey, also pleaded guilty in August to one count of child abuse resulting in death.

The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner ruled in a report in March that Caden had been malnourished and had cocaine metabolite and methamphetamine in his system.  The boy also had numerous injuries to his head, torso and extremities, according to the autopsy.  He may have suffered from asphyxia, dehydration or hyperthermia, but that couldn’t be confirmed, the autopsy said.

In an interview with police in March, Elisha Pankey told investigators that Leland Pankey abused Caden while they were living in an extended-stay hotel, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.  The couple and their two children had moved into the hotel in May 2018, and Leland Pankey watched the children while Elisha Pankey went to work, she told investigators.

Elisha Pankey said Caden died in July 2018 after his father kept him in a dog kennel, the affidavit said.  A woman who had been in the Arapahoe County Jail with Elisha Pankey in December said Pankey told her that she believed her son suffocated in the dog kennel.

Leland Pankey kept Caden in the kennel overnight – with blankets on top of it – and the boy cried out that he was hot and thirsty, Elisha Pankey told her fellow inmate, according to the affidavit.

On the day Caden died, his mother and father bought Quikrete, trash bags and water, drove Caden’s body to the storage unit on Evans Avenue, and mixed the concrete and poured it into the kennel, the affidavit said.

The boy’s body wasn’t discovered until December, when officers responded to a domestic violence call involving the Pankeys.

Police learned that the couple had two children, and Elisha Pankey told officers that the children were with their father.  When police contacted Leland Pankey, he said one child was in daycare, but he avoided answering questions about Caden, eventually telling officers the boy was with his mother, the affidavit said.

When officers interviewed a woman whose name was redacted in the affidavit, she told police that Leland Pankey had lost his son and that Pankey said her family could have their storage “because it had too many memories,” the affidavit said.

Investigators obtained a search warrant for the Pankeys’ storage unit and found Caden’s remains inside.