By Chuck Johnston and Darran Simon
(CNN) — They were regularly locked in a closet with a deadbolt for so long that they urinated on themselves among the clothes and boxes. They had never attended school even though they were teenagers with special needs. One child with Down syndrome was found wearing a dirty diaper in the home in Richmond, Texas.
Their diet included rice and beans three times a day, a man who lived in the home told CNN- affiliate KPRC.
These are the conditions that Texas authorities said they found seven malnourished adopted teenagers living in in Richmond, 31 miles southwest of Houston. The five boys and two girls range in age from 14 to 16, officials said.
“I cannot think of a more deplorable situation than what we have learned in this case,” Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy E. Nehls said in a news release. “These people are taking advantage of a lousy situation at the expense of children who cannot fend for themselves. It is absolutely heartbreaking.”
The children were removed from the home on November 23 after the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office investigated a case they had received from the state Child Protective Services Division, Tiffani Butler, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, told CNN on Tuesday.
On Monday, the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office arrested Allen Richardson, 78, and Paula Sinclair, 54, the teenagers’ adopted mother, in connection with the investigation into physical abuse at Richardson’s home, where Sinclair lived with her children.
Sinclair, who has a Houston address, and Richardson, the Richmond resident also known as “Coach,” face charges of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony; and injury to a child/bodily injury, a third-degree felony, authorities said.
Authorities said the seven teens were locked in the closet, roughly 5-feet by 8-feet in size, when Sinclair needed to take Richardson to the hospital.
A judge on Tuesday granted a mediated settlement agreement allowing Child Protective Services to maintain temporary custody of the children, who have been in state custody since they were removed from the home, Butler said.
Deadbolt locks on the doors
Authorities said the children were also struck with a wooden paddle, causing injury.
“Doorknobs on the main door and closet door had been removed and replaced with deadbolt locks opened only by a key … the children were left in there, living altogether,” Julie Johnson, with the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, told CNN affiliate KTRK in Houston.
Johnson said, “The carpet was being pulled up, the metal tacks were exposed, clutter everywhere, soiled laundry.”
The children, who have been hospitalized since being removed from the home, are recovering, Butler said.
Sinclair and Richardson are being held in the Fort Bend County Jail, officials said.
Richmond attorney Corinna Steele, who represents Sinclair in the civil custody case, declined to comment Tuesday.
It was not immediately clear if either Sinclair or Richardson had attorneys in their criminal cases.
Sinclair received up to $540 in monthly subsidies for each special-needs child, Butler said.
Sinclair’s husband, who didn’t live in the home where the children were found, has not been charged, Fort Bend authorities said.
One adopted child died in 2011
Butler said Sinclair was initially a foster parent for the seven children before adopting them with her husband between April 2003 and October 2004. The couple also adopted an eighth child — a 7-year-old special-needs boy — who died in January 2011, Butler said.
Butler said the CPS policy is to do background checks on potential foster parents, along with home studies. The children also live with the prospective parent for at least six months before a judge finalizes the adoption, Butler said.
She said CPS does not maintain contact with adoptive families once the adoption is granted, unless there is a complaint of abuse or neglect.
In January 2011, the agency investigated the child’s death, Butler said. “The children were not removed from the home at the time,” she said.
Fort Bend County Sheriff’s spokesperson Caitilin Espinosa said a doctor determined that the 7-year-old died from natural causes.
Espinosa said the death occurred at a home where Sinclair previously lived. Sinclair and the children moved to Richardson’s home about two years ago, Espinosa said.
The relationship between Sinclair and Richardson is unclear. Neither is cooperating with authorities, Espinosa said.
The next time CPS was alerted to the family was on November 22, when the agency received a tip, said Butler, who declined to reveal more information. A case worker visited that day and the agency contacted Fort Bend authorities, she said.
The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office said it received a case for a follow-up investigation on November 23.
Authorities said one room in the home smelled of urine and feces and the children wore shabby clothes.
Fed beans and rice three times a day
Sinclair also operated a group home for adults at the house and three men lived downstairs in the home, authorities said.
One resident, David Willard, told CNN affiliate KPRC the adults and the children were not allowed to interact.
Willard also described the home as a “prison.”
“I have never been upstairs,” Willard said. “I have never been upstairs in five months. Of course, I was told not to speak to anybody here.”
Willard said the children had to eat the beans and rice they were fed three times a day in their rooms.
“They’d go to the bottom of the stairs, the kids would wait and Coach would bring them a tray with beans and rice, three times a day. That’s how they were fed,” he said.
Butler said state officials want to keep the children together.
“It’s definitely a situation that we wouldn’t want to see any child in, especially children that we’ve taken care of before,” Butler said, KPRC reported. “That’s something, unfortunately, that we see sometimes.”
Butler added: “We want them in a better situation.”
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