By SANDRA McANANY
Coon Rapids, Minn., and formerly of Norwalk
Over the years we have heard of horrific child abuse cases across the country involving foster or adopted children and wondered how the system could fail the children involved. How could any parent(s) be so cruel and inhumane to their young victims? How can these victims ever have justice for the cases to offset the abuse?
In Arizona, we had the case of Machalle Hobson, who used her seven adopted children in a YouTube series, “Fantastic Adventures,” and allegedly beat, assaulted and pepper sprayed her kids. She died of natural causes before the case was resolved.
Janet and Ramon Barreto were another abusive couple who fled Mississippi and were arrested in Oregon in 2014 after a five-year search. A 2-year-old adopted daughter died in their care, and the six other adopted children from Guatemala were beaten and submersed in water. Janet was sentenced to 25 years in prison and died in custody shortly after sentencing. Ramon was sentenced to 18 years and is currently incarcerated. Janet’s 17-year-old biological daughter, Marianna, also was convicted of manslaughter and served time in the case.
In Florida, we have the open case of Patricia Hyler, who allegedly abused her four adopted children and severely beat her adopted teen son for two years with a dog chain, cut him, hosed him down naked in the front yard and chipped his teeth with pliers. The adoptive father was not charged.
Monroe County unfortunately also has a shocking abuse case that is still open. In 2018, Amy and Travis Headrick were charged with nine felonies, including second-degree recklessly endangering safety, child abuse while intentionally causing harm, neglecting a child and false imprisonment. One of their four adopted children was kept in a horse trough with metal fencing over it, secured with industrial-strength zip ties. Amy reportedly told investigators, “I don’t consider it a cage; it’s more of a glorified crib.” Another child was kept in a locked cage. A Freedom of Information Act request by News 8 found out that there had been 20 reports of child abuse, child neglect and false imprisonment dating as far back as 2009. It took nine long years for the children to finally receive help from the system designed to protect abused children.
A plea bargain reduced the felonies to two counts of child neglect and one count of false imprisonment. The DA stated that the plea agreement is fair based on multiple factors and, per court documents, agreed to cap his recommended prison sentence to three years of initial confinement, followed by eight years of supervision. Sentencing is scheduled for July 7, 2020, when Judge Ziegler will have an opportunity to exceed this recommendation for the abused children. One unique factor for this case was a pre-sentence investigation report filed with the court has been sealed.
At this point in time, there may not be a way to make a difference for the outcome of this case, other than a symbolic effort, but there are ways to try.
A lady from Viroqua organized a petition on change.org asking Judge Ziegler to refuse the plea deal and give Travis and Amy Headrick a substantial prison sentence to make it clear that Monroe County does not allow people to torture disabled children for money. Over 675 individuals have signed the petition so far. It’s at www.change.org/p/monroe-county-wisconsin-judge-ziegler-justice-for-the-children-kept-in-cages.
Due to Covid-19, the Justice for the Children Kept in Cages Facebook page is not calling for any rallies on July 7, 2020, the day of sentencing, but there is a call to action on that page to contact the Wisconsin Attorney General about this case, asking for tougher laws and mandatory minimum sentences for future child abuse cases like this one. If you are interested in contacting Attorney General Josh Kaul, the office is (608) 266-1221, or a post can be left on the Attorney General Office Facebook page at www.facebook.com/WisconsinAttorneyGeneral
Finally, if you see a child being abused that you know, please call your local police department and county human services department to make a report. Although it took years of reports for this case to make a difference, an individual made that last police report that finally got the system to help these kids.