Special Education Teacher at Miami School Facing Child Abuse, Neglect Charges
MIAMI, FL – A special education teacher at a Miami elementary school is facing charges after police said she punched a student and shoved another.
Graciela Reyes-Marino, a teacher at Auburndale Elementary, was arrested Thursday on aggravated child abuse and child neglect charges, an arrest report said.
The report said earlier this month a boy in Reyes-Marino’s class had been crying and screaming when she allegedly grabbed him by the wrist and shoved him into a bathroom corridor.
She then closed the doors behind the boy, leaving him alone in a confined area for 3-4 seconds until he started screaming louder, the report said. She then opened the door and walked him to his desk.
During a separate incident, a student who was looking under his desk had been asked to stop multiple times by Reyes-Marino before she punched him on his upper back area with a closed fist, the report said.
“[Reyes-Marino] forcefully lifted [the victim] from the ground, proceeded to kick him in the leg and punch him with a closed fist on his upper back area prior to sitting him down,” the report said.
The report said Reyes-Marino denied punching the boy and said she propped the door open for the other student in the corridor.
Reyes-Marino, 60, was booked into jail and later released on bond.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools officials said Reyes-Marino had been employed by the district for about eight years but will be fired.
“Miami-Dade County Public Schools is deeply disturbed about the serious allegations made against the employee. Conduct such as the one she is accused of will not be tolerated,” the district said in a statement. “As soon as the allegations surfaced, the individual was reassigned away from the school setting pending the outcome of an investigation by the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department. As a result of this week’s arrest, her employment will be terminated and she will be precluded from seeking future work with the District.”
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.
Seymour father, stepmother face neglect
charges, accused of locking kids in room,
limiting bathroom access
SEYMOUR. WI – The parents of children who told police they weren’t allowed to leave their bedroom for hours at a time or use the bathroom more than three times a day were charged with felony neglect.
The children, a 12-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl, who lived in a house with their father, stepmother and siblings in Seymour, also said they weren’t fed anything other than peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in Outagamie County Circuit Court.
The windows in their bedroom were screwed shut and the door was equipped with an alarm that went off if it was opened, and the rest of the house was monitored by security cameras, the complaint says, and both children were punished if they tried to leave.
Gregory Hietpas, 33, and Elizabeth Hietpas, 33, both of Seymour, are each charged with two counts of chronic neglect of a child, a felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and five years of extended supervision.
A police officer for the Seymour Police Department spoke with both children at school. The 12-year-old boy was “very soft spoken” and “appeared very tired and sounded depressed” as he spoke, the complaint says.
The boy told the officer he and his sister share a bedroom, where he is forced to sleep on the floor without a blanket or pillow and is only allowed to use the bathroom three times a day.
“If he has to use the bathroom more than that, he has to go inside his bedroom,” sometimes “in a bucket or on the floor,” the complaint says. He also told the officer he is only given five minutes to take a bath and the door to the bathroom has to stay open.
The other children in the house are allowed out of their rooms and can leave the house, but he and his older sister are forced to stay in their bedroom, “unless they need to take the dogs outside or do chores,” the complaint says.
The boy described an incident in which he left his bedroom and “walked around the city,” the complaint says, and when he was found and returned home, his father, Gregory Hietpas, “screamed at him, hit him and threw him across the room.”
He also described how his stepmother, Elizabeth Hietpas, used the clock on the oven to time the five minutes given to him and his sister to make and eat their meals.
“When asked the last time he was given something other than a peanut butter sandwich to eat, he could not remember,” the complaint says.
The girl later told an interviewer at a child advocacy center that the alarm was placed on the door because they would sneak out and take food from the refrigerator, which she said her parents considered stealing, the complaint says.
When he was punished, the boy said he was forced to carry a weight over his head “and is not allowed to let it rest on his head or chest” and “if he lowered it, he has to start over,” the complaint says. His sister described an incident in which the boy dropped a weight on his head and injured himself.
Both children also described being forced to write sentences hundreds of times as punishment for not listening to their parents.
The girl, who was also interviewed at school, told the officer that she and her brother are not allowed around the other children because “her parents think they are bad influences,” the complaint says.
The girl also said “there are days that she does not feel safe going home,” the complaint says, and that her father “hurts her when he is mad or frustrated.” She also described days on weekends when she and her brother were forced to stand in their bedroom from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.
When a police officer visited the house on Dec. 4, 2018, he found at least two large loaves of bread and large container of peanut butter, and saw the alarm attached to the bedroom door, the complaint says.
The officer asked whether the boy was able to use the bathroom at night, the complaint says, and Elizabeth Hietpas told him “no, not right now,” and explained that the boy runs off and “we don’t know what else to do.”
When asked why they hadn’t told anyone what was happening, the girl said “they were afraid of getting in trouble,” the complaint says, adding that “it is never good at home” and “it is painful to have to deal with it all of the time.”
The boy told the interviewer that when other people are around, his parents will be nice to him and his sister and “act like nothing is going on.”
When Elizabeth Hietpas was interviewed by police, she denied the two children weren’t allowed to use the bathroom when they wanted, the complaint says. She also claimed they had stopped using weights as a punishment after the boy hurt himself. But when asked about her honesty during the interview, Hietpas said she didn’t want talk more about the issues and accused an officer of “backing her into a corner.”
Gregory Hietpas told police that the boy and girl were forced to sleep in the same room because the two children would intentionally go to the bathroom in their pants, the complaint says, so they decided to put them in the same bedroom “so only one room was destroyed and not the whole house.”
Hietpas said both children could go to the bathroom whenever they wanted during the day, but not at night, when the alarm on their door is activated, the complaint says.
He also told police that when things started to “go south” at his house, he began to “tune things out and found things to do to get out of the house.”
His wife, Sini Mathews, quickly left the courthouse without commenting on the sentence. Originally charged with child abandonment, the registered nurse had her case dismissed earlier this year by prosecutors who said they couldn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
Before his capital murder trial was to begin Monday, Mathews pleaded guilty to a lesser charge: injury to a child by omission. On Wednesday, he said he accepted whatever decision the jury came to for his punishment, even if it were a life sentence.
“I’m more than happy to take it,” he said Wednesday morning.
Life is precisely what prosecutors advocated for in closing arguments. They argued that Mathews built a public persona of a good father, but ultimately failed to protect Sherin.
Fine accused Mathews of killing the girl and said the father acted out of anger because she wouldn’t finish the milk a doctor had prescribed for her nutrition. The father wanted to exert power over the girl, Fine said.
“He is a liar,” Fine said. “He had to be in control.”
Rafael De La Garza, Mathews’ attorney, defended his client against the murder accusation. He argued prosecutors couldn’t prove Mathews committed murder, otherwise he would have stood trial on that charge.
De La Garza contends that, by pleading guilty, Mathews was accepting responsibility for Sherin’s death, the result of his inaction when the child began to choke. The attorney fought against the perception that Mathews didn’t care about Sherin, and said his client will live with the consequences of her death for the rest of his life.
“You can see from the videos, you can see from the photos that they loved and adored Sherin,” De La Garza told the jury.
Photos and home videos played for the jury during the trial weren’t enough for Fine, however. He argued that Mathews showed his true colors with his behavior after Sherin’s death.
“Great guys and great dads, they don’t stick their daughters in trash bags and dump them in sewage drains,” Fine said.
A day before prosecutors and the defense rested their case Wednesday, Mathews took the witness stand Tuesday to describe the night the toddler died.
He told jurors that Sherin choked while drinking milk in the family’s garage but he didn’t call for emergency help or alert his wife — a registered nurse — because he was scared Child Protective Services would get involved.
Crippled by fear, Mathews testified, he put the girl’s body in a culvert, where it was found about two weeks later.
“I could not absorb what had happened. I could not believe that in a very quick time my child had gone from me,” Mathews said Tuesday. “I was really, really paralyzed.”
Mathews took the witness stand again Wednesday morning, when Fine grilled him on multiple inconsistencies between the account he told police and his testimony Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Mathews told the jury he brought the girl into the garage to see a new lawnmower to calm her down so she could drink her milk, and that he had played piano to pass the time — two things Fine said he never told police. Mathews also testified that he gave Sherin CPR, which Fine said also deviated from what he told police.
OMAHA, NE – A Macy, Nebraska, husband and wife have pleaded not guilty to locking a 10-year-old foster son in a basement storage room.
Krista Parker entered her plea Monday in U.S. District Court in Omaha to federal and state charges of kidnapping, child abuse/neglect and false imprisonment. Charles Parker pleaded not guilty to the same charges Thursday.
Trial dates have not been set.
According to court documents, authorities on Sept. 15 were called to the Parker home about a report of a boy locked in a storage room.
Officers found the boy locked in the dark, windowless room, amid trash, a few toys and human feces. The room stunk of urine and feces, court documents said.
Krista Parker was found passed out upstairs, and a preliminary breath test showed her blood-alcohol content at 0.126 percent.
Parker confessed to locking the boy in the room a few hours earlier, court documents said, but denied confining the special-needs boy, who had been in her foster care for nine months, in the room previously.
Charles Parker told officers he was unaware that his wife had confined their son in the room that night, but he said that they occasionally locked the boy in the room for several hours and maybe for a night one time, court documents said.
The boy told a forensic interviewer that the storage room was his bedroom and that he slept on the floor because he did not have a bed.