A local couple accused of locking a 12-year old girl in a basement faces a judge for the first time on Monday and heard new allegations of abuse leveled against them.
The criminal investigation is a horror story that has prompted a review at Butler County Children Services. The girl's father Shawn Blackston and stepmother Joanna Blackston are charged with kidnapping and child endangering. Local 12 News Reporter Deborah Dixon broke this story. She was in court today and has the latest on the case.
An anonymous complaint led police to the basement of a home in Middletown on July 3rd. Officers found a malnourished, pale and dirty child with old scars, bruises and a horror story to tell.
On Monday, Shawn and Joanna Blackston sat at a table together but barely glanced at one another. Joanna is out of jail on bond-Shawn is not.
Detective Fred Schuemake testified to the condition of Shawn's 12 year daughter, who was found in the couple's basement, behind a door that had been deadbolted. He says she had dark circles under her eyes, her hair was "strikingly short", her clothing and skin were dirty and she had a "concerned" look on her face. The girl told Detective Schuemake that she was in the basement for punishment, but she wasn't sure exactly what she'd done.
Shawn Blackston told police that the girl had threatened the other children in the house. She had a bed without sheets and a bulb on a string for her only light. "If she wanted to use restroom, she had to get parents attention to let her out to go to restroom."
The girl hadn't brushed her teeth in six months-she says the Blackston's took her toothbrush away when she used it to try and pick the lock on the door. She also claims she was duct taped and forced to do "disgusting things" like eating peanut butter until she vomited-and then was forced to eat her own vomit.
The detective also testified about a freezer and refrigerator in the home which was full of food. When the girl was found in the basement on July 3rd, she'd been there for three weeks. "They had been feeding her cereal in the morning. She said she hadn't had anything to drink but milk from the cereal to drink for several days."
According to a complaint, when the girl was found in the basement, her ribs were showing. She had scars on her back, arms and legs from what she said was previous abuse. She said her stepmother put duct tape over her eyes and mouth and bound her wrists behind her back.
Dixon spoke last week with the guardian ad litum for the girl's 15 year old sister, who is another of Joanna's stepchildren. She was charged with domestic violence earlier this year. Attorney Randy Turner said there were all sorts of red flags that something was wrong at the Blackston family home. "For Christmas all the other kids got presents; she was made to watch them open them as a punishment."
The 15 year old also mentioned being put in the basement as punishment. And she had a strange reaction when officials told her she couldn't go home after questioning. "Most kids want to get out of detention. She was gleeful when I told her she was going to be locked up a while longer."
Back in February, Turner asked the court to order Butler County Children Services to investigate the home. It did. The agency's conclusion: "It was appropriate , nothing to do about it, wasn't going to file a complaint. That's where I had to do something unusual, I had to file a complaint myself. Children Services normally does it, I did it myself. I've had to do that a couple of times this past year."
The court agreed the teen should not go back to that home. And she hasn't. Turner can't help but wonder if a better investigation in February could have prevented what was found in this basement last week. "I have no way of knowing if a better investigation would have prevented it, of course I'm concerned."
The case now goes to a Grand Jury. Meanwhile, all six children belonging to the Blackson's are now in foster care, including the 12-year-old from the basement. She is reportedly eating very well.
Last Thursday afternoon, after our first report aired, Butler County Children's Services released this brief statement to Local 12 on the phone, "There has been staffed placed on administrative leave pending review to ensure policy and procedures were followed." They will not say how many people were placed on leave or when this happened.