Entries in Abuse (11)


Parents Allegedly Held Son Captive 4 Years, Sent Him on Bus to LA

Paulding County Sheriff's Office(DALLAS, Ga.) -- Emaciated and alone, Mitch Comer didn't even know his home address or what Georgia town he was from when last week, at the age of 18, he was discovered by a security guard at a Los Angeles bus station.

Joe Gonzalez, a security guard at the Greyhound station in downtown L.A., came upon Comer looking frightened and perplexed last Tuesday. After speaking to him for a bit, Gonzalez learned that the teen had arrived alone after a cross-country journey he was sent on by his stepfather.

Alarmed by what he was told by the frail teen, Gonzalez, a former police sergeant, notified the LAPD, who questioned Mitch.

"The story we got was that the stepfather took the kid to the bus depot, said 'Here's $200, here's a list of the homeless shelters in Los Angeles, you're a man now, and don't come back,'" LAPD Commander Andrew Smith told WABC.

Police soon learned from the frail teenager that his solo cross-country journey was just part of what the Paulding county sheriff's office in Dallas, Ga., where Mitch grew up, is calling "a severe case of child abuse and neglect."

Mitch told officers that his parents, Paul Comer, 48, and Sheila Comer, 39, had taken him out of school in the 8th grade and kept him locked in a bedroom for four years. According to Dick Donovan, the district attorney in Dallas, Paul Comer drove Mitch to a bus stop in Mississippi on his 18th birthday.

On Friday, police cars were parked outside the Georgia home where the young man said he was held captive by his stepfather and mother for most of his teenage years.

"We don't have any reason to believe that he's lying, based on his appearance, the stories he's told and the interview with his mom and dad," Ashley Henson, who's with the Paulding County Sheriff's Department, told ABC News.

Henson said that when he was found, Mitch, who is 5 foot 3 inches tall, weighted 87 pounds.

"He knew he had come from Paulding county, and what his name was. My understanding is that his father confessed, and said, 'Yes, I gave him a list of shelters and $200 and sent him to LA," Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan told ABC News.

The FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation have now joined the investigation into what went on at the Comers' home.

John White, who has lived next door to the Comers since April, told ABC News that he rarely saw the couple, and that he was surprised to hear that there was a teenager living in the house. He said that he rarely saw the couple's girls.

"I'd see the girls in the yard, in the back yard riding their bikes. Never out of the yard, always in the back. They tried to socialize with the kids next door, but she told me the father wouldn't let them play," White said.

The girls, who Donovan said are 11 and 12, are now in the custody of the Paulding County Division of Family & Children Services.

According to Donovan, Mitch is the adopted son of Paul Comer, though Henson said the sheriff's office has yet to see any documentation that Mitch had actually been adopted by his stepfather.

Authorities said that once he was discovered by Gonzalez, Mitch spent a day at Exodus Recovery Center in L.A. and nearly a week in a local group home in L.A. This week, detectives and representatives from the Paulding County D.A.'s office flew to Los Angeles to retrieve Mitch. He arrived back Thursday, according to Henson, and now remains in Paulding County.

Paul and Sheila Comer are in custody after being arrested at their home in Dallas, an upscale Georgia suburb, after they were tracked down by authorities through their in-home business. They are now facing six counts of cruelty to children and one count of false imprisonment, and are being held without bond.

The Paulding County Sheriff's Office said that this is still an active case, and there may be more charges pending in the future.

A preliminary hearing and the hearing for their bond will be held on Oct. 4.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Tennessee Walking Horse Show Will Inspect for Abuse of Horses

ABC News(SHELBYVILLE, Tenn.) -- As the world's largest Tennessee Walking Horse competition kicked off Wednesday in Shelbyville, Tenn., there will be unprecedented inspections of the horses to check for signs of the abuse that has brought much recent scrutiny to the sport.

The intensified inspections come in the wake of an ABC News Nightline investigation that highlighted undercover video shot by the Humane Society of the United States showing one of the sport's leading trainers beating horses with sticks and electric cattle prods and applying painful chemicals to the horses' ankles as part of a training program to encourage the high-stepping gait that wins awards.

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The investigation, which aired in May, found that large numbers of the famed Walking Horses have been subjected to "soring," the application of caustic chemicals to their legs to make them raise their feet higher, as well as other forms of abuse. "Soring" is banned by the federal Horse Protection Act.

Organizers of the sport's biggest show, called the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, announced that every horse in this year's competition will be tested by USDA veterinarians for "soring" chemicals or numbing agents. In addition, a "five point inspection process" means that the veterinarians will take X-rays of the horses' hooves, manually test them for soreness, employ thermal imaging to check for inflammation, and watch their gait in the practice arena. The results of the tests will be made public, and a zero-tolerance policy means any positive results will see the horse and its trainer removed from the competition immediately.

"I think it's imperative that we do it," Stephen Mullins, president of the SHOW Horse Industry Organization, told ABC Nashville affiliate WKRN. "We have to do it to ensure the world grand championship has grand champions and winners that are completely compliant with the Horse Protection Act."

Leaders of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry maintain that brutality is rare and that trainers do not have to cheat to win championships, which can add millions of dollars to the value of horses.

But a random inspection by the agents of the Department of Agriculture at last year's Celebration found that 52 of 52 horses tested positive for some sort of foreign substance around front hooves, either to cause pain or to hide it.

Following the ABC News investigation, Pepsi canceled its sponsorship of the competition and the sport came under intense criticism, with calls to clean up an industry in which insiders say illegal, abusive training techniques have long been prevalent.

Jackie McConnell, the Hall of Fame trainer caught on the Humane Society footage beating and abusing horses with his stable hands at a farm outside Memphis, pleaded guilty to one federal count of conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act and is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 10. He could have faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of probation as part of a plea deal. He has also been suspended from the sport for life and expelled from the Hall of Fame.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Accused Tennessee Show Horse Abuser Pleads Guilty

ABC News(CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.) -- One of the leading trainers in the famed Tennessee Walking Horse industry admitted Tuesday that he abused horses under his care to enhance their performance, the latest step in a case that has renewed controversy over the treatment of animals in the sport.

Jackie McConnell, 60, pleaded guilty to one federal count related to the conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, a week after an ABC News Nightline investigation aired undercover video made by the Humane Society of the United States that showed McConnell and his employees beating horses with wooden sticks and shocking them with electric cattle prods.

In another scene, McConnell oversees his employees as they apply caustic chemicals to the ankles of the horses and then wrap them with plastic wrap so the chemicals eat into the skin.

The alleged torture was apparently employed to make the horses produce the high-stepping gait that wins championships in the Tennessee Walking Horse world.

"That creates intense pain and then the ankles are wrapped with large metal chains so the horses flinch, or raise their feet even higher," said Keith Dane of the Humane Society.

In addition, the application of the harmful chemicals, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee said McConnell also "took steps to camouflage the damage to the horses by instructing others to apply magic markers and other masking devices to the horses' legs prior to inspection."

He had been charged with 52 counts in violation of the Horse Protection Act, but pleaded guilty to only one in a plea agreement with prosecutors. Two of his stable hands, John Mays and Joseph Abernathy, also pleaded guilty to one count and face up to one year in prison and a $3,000 fine. Another employee and co-defendant, Jeff Dockery, has yet to enter a plea.

McConnell faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced in September.

Last week, ABC News approached McConnell outside his home about the abuse allegations, but he declined to comment.

After the undercover video made by the Humane Society came to light, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General and FBI then followed up with their own investigation at McConnell's farm in Collierville, Tennessee, and at a temporary stable closer to the location of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration exhibition in Shelbyville.

Last week, ABC News found all but one horse had been removed from McConnell's Collierville stable.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Ex-Marine Gets 15 Years in Jail for Beating Wife in Judge's Chambers

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A Florida ex-marine who broke his wife's nose and jaw in a judge's chambers was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday afternoon.

In April 2011, Paul Gonzalez, 29, became enraged when Judge Ronald Rothschild ordered him to pay child support for the couple's two young children. He viciously beat his wife, Catie Scott-Gonzalez, in front of the judge at the Broward County Courthouse.

Gonzalez was accused of beating his wife, inflicting a fractured jaw, a broken nose, bruised, black eyes, bloody lips and other injuries.

At his sentencing on Friday, his lawyers filed a motion of downward departure, which essentially meant leniency, partially because, they argued, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after his stint in the military.

A doctor testified that Gonzalez has mental health issues. His sister, Danielle Gonzalez, acknowledged the issues were present since childhood.

"Paul was very hyper. I remember having several altercations with Paul as his older sister," she said, according to ABC News affiliate WPLG-TV.

"The two things that triggered him the most were the child support and custody," Scott-Gonzalez, 23, told after the beating. "He advised the judge that he thought child support was unconstitutional."

When Rothschild reprimanded Gonzalez, telling him he'd go to jail if he didn't pay child support, he erupted, Scott-Gonzalez said.

Scott-Gonzalez's mother, Doreen Scott, was outside of the chambers waiting for her daughter to wrap up the proceedings when she heard the tussle.

"We heard banging and screaming and then as I started to run in, all of these bailiffs came from elevators with canine dogs. I just said, 'where is my daughter?'" Scott said.

Her daughter was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. The first blow to her head had knocked her unconscious. Bailiffs had to taser Gonzalez twice to subdue him.

The Ft. Lauderdale woman spent three days in the hospital with a broken nose, fractured cheekbone and broken jaw.

She was so badly beaten that her children, Isabella, 2, and Nathaniel, 3, didn't recognize their mother.

Scott-Gonzalez's vision was so blurred that she had to withdraw from her college classes because she was unable to study for her upcoming finals, she said.

"I still have constant headaches. My equilibrium is off. I still need assistance walking," Scott-Gonzalez said on April 20, 2011.

Scott-Gonzalez's mother, who is a nurse, tended to her battered daughter on the floor of the judge's chambers.

"She's healing surface-wise, but she is not emotionally healing. She's waking up in the middle of the night crying," she said.

Scott-Gonzalez said that wasn't the first time her four-year marriage turned violent. She filed for a restraining order twice, but was denied both times. When she separated from her husband in 2010 and moved in with her mother, she started carrying a taser to protect herself.

"Going through a metal detector [at the courthouse], I assumed I was in good hands, that I was being protected, that something like this wouldn't happen," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Desperate Facebook Plea Saves Woman, Boy Held Captive for Days

Comstock/Thinkstock(SANDY, Utah) -- A Utah woman and her 17-month-old son are safe after allegedly being held captive and abused for days by her ex-boyfriend.

Troy Critchfield, 33, has been charged with kidnapping, sodomy, and child abuse after allegedly taking the woman's phone and holding her hostage. But the woman was able to sneak a laptop into a closet and post an urgent message for help on Facebook, perhaps saving the pair from further terror.

“He had had her locked up in the house without any communication for the past four-to-five days, where he had been assaulting her physically as well as sexually," Sandy City Police Sgt. John Arnold told ABC News Radio on Sunday, adding, "this was all being done in the presence of their kids.”

Friends and family alerted police after seeing the woman’s desperate plea for help, a note that said she and her son would be dead by Christmas.

“It is a very good thing that people were paying attention and were able to make contact with us,” Arnold said.

“Sometimes social media's been very helpful in trying to get information out, and in this situation it was good for her to be able to get information out to family and friends.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Couple Allegedly Kidnaps Man to Force Him to Grant Jewish Divorce

Comstock/Thinkstock(TRENTON, N.J.) -- A middle-aged Jewish couple has been charged with luring an Israeli man to their suburban New Jersey home and allegedly holding him hostage until he agreed to grant his wife a religious divorce.

David and Judy Wax, 49 and 47, were scheduled to appear in federal court in Trenton on Monday, face up to life in prison for kidnapping if convicted.

According to the criminal complaint, the Waxes convinced the victim, known only by his initials, Y.M.B, to come to their Lakewood home in the early morning hours of Oct. 17, 2010 to discuss the Talmud. After he arrived, two unidentified males jumped him in a second-floor bedroom, punching him in the face.

After the attackers allegedly handcuffed, bound and blindfolded the victim, the victim said that he heard them say he had to grant his wife a divorce without receiving custody of the children. The victim said that David Wax then picked the victim's head off the floor, allowing him to see under the blindfold. Wax was wearing a white cowboy hat. "Do you like my hat?" asked Wax, before allegedly kicking the victim in the ribs.

The victim was also allegedly shown a body bag and told "that if he did not comply, he would be buried alive in the Pocono Mountains," according to the complaint. The Poconos are a popular resort area in Eastern Pennsylvania. Wax allegedly laid the body bag on the victim and said, "For you to get used to the size."

The victim and his ex-wife had been engaged in a contested divorce in Rabbinical court in Israel. The victim had moved to the United States, where he continued to refuse to give his wife a "get," a divorce under Orthodox Jewish law. A "get "would permit her to remarry.

According to the alleged victim, he was held hostage for several hours and threatened with harm if he didn't verbally consent to the "get." The victim said that he consented to the divorce within the first half hour of his captivity, but was forced to consent to the divorce again and again in both English and Hebrew. He was also told that his father in Israel had to pay $100,000 to his ex-wife.

At 3:00 a.m., David Wax and the victim allegedly went by taxi to an ATM to attempt to withdraw money.

According to the complaint, the taxi driver told the men that a car was following the taxi. Wax said he was aware of the car. He allegedly told the victim that he had an "Italian team" in the following car who would take victim to the Poconos and bury him alive. Wax also allegedly called the victim's father in Israel and threatened him with a "special gift...called a your head" if he didn't cooperate. He also said that others had wanted to give the victim "to mice in the mountains to eat him," but that the son had been spared because he agreed to the divorce.

According to the complaint, Judy Wax then drove the victim to his cousin's house in Brooklyn, New York and dropped him off.

Mitchell Ansell, attorney for David Wax, said that his client is not guilty and has always maintained his innocence. "He has no history of violence or criminal behavior, and he is the father of eight children. We're confident that when all the facts are made public that he will be cleared of these charges and his good and honorable name will be restored."

An attorney for Judy Wax did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Woman Charged for Cutting Off Husband's Penis Could Face Life in Jail

ABC News(GARDEN GROVE, Calif.) -- The California woman accused of cutting off her husband's penis now faces formal charges that could land her in jail for life.

The Orange County District Attorney's office on Wednesday charged Catherine Kieu Becker, 48, with two felony counts -- torture and aggravated mayhem -- with sentence enhancement for causing great bodily injury, said Susan Schroeder, the D.A.'s chief of staff.

Becker received a court-appointed attorney, police said. Her arraignment was postponed until July 22, and she will also have a bail hearing at her next court appearance.

She faces a maximum sentence of life in prison with parole, and is currently being held in the Orange County Jail without bail.

After Becker, a real estate broker, laced her 60-year-old husband's dinner with an unknown drug, he lay down believing something was wrong with the food, said Lt. Jeff Nightengale of Garden Grove, Calif. police.

Her husband then woke up tied to the bed as Becker cut off his penis with a knife, Nightengale told ABC News on Tuesday. She threw the genitalia in the garbage disposal and turned the disposal on.

Her husband filed for divorce in May, citing "irreconcilable differences." Nightengale said Becker was "upset" about the divorce, but could not confirm why she wanted to cut off her husband's manhood. The couple has no children.

After cutting off his penis, Becker eventually called 911 to ask for medical assistance. When firefighters and police arrived on scene, Becker told officials that her husband "deserved it," said Nightengale.

Police found the man, who remains unidentified, tied to the bed and "bleeding profusely."

Her husband was rushed to University of California at Irvine Medical Center for treatment.

"He is in amazingly good spirits considering what happened," said Nightengale on Wednesday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wife Chops Off Husband's Penis, Throws It in Garbage Disposal

ABC News(GARDEN GROVE, Calif.) -- Catherine Kieu Becker, 48, is under arrest for chopping off her husband's penis and tossing it in the garbage disposal.

After she laced her husband's food with an unknown drug or poison, he lay down, believing something was wrong with the food, according to police reports. Her husband then woke up tied to the bed as Becker cut off his penis with a knife. She then threw the genitalia in the garbage disposal and turned the disposal on, Lt. Jeff Nightengale of Garden Grove, Calif., police said.

Nightengale said the couple is going through a divorce, but could not confirm why Becker wanted to cut off her husband's manhood.

Becker eventually called 911, asking for medical assistance. When firefighters and police arrived on scene, Becker told officials that her husband "deserved it," said Nightengale. Police found the man, who remains unidentified, tied to the bed and "bleeding profusely." Becker was arrested on several charges, including aggravated mayhem, false imprisonment and assault with a deadly weapon.

Her husband was rushed to University of California at Irvine Medical Center for treatment.

"He is in stable condition, but we have no details about the surgery," said Nightengale.

"Police were able to recover portions of the penis from the garbage disposal," Nightengale noted, but it is unclear how much or whether doctors will be able to reattach them.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Fourteen Men Facing Charges in Texas Gang Rape of 11-Year-Old Girl

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(LIBERTY, Texas) -- A group of fourteen defendants accused of sexual crimes against an 11-year old Texas girl appeared in court Wednesday, facing a series of sexual assault charges. Fourteen men, along with five juveniles, are being charged for crimes that occurred late last year.

Four of the accused face charges of continuous sexual abuse of a child, while the majority of the men have been charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child.

Cleveland police began investigating the case in December of last year after cell phone video showing the alleged sex attack started circulating among students at Cleveland schools, according to court documents. The video shows the girl engaged in sexual acts with several men.

The girl told authorities that the weekend after Thanksgiving she was asked if she wanted to ride around with three of the defendants in the case. The girl, described as a straight-A student by those who know her, rode with the young men to a blue house with white trim, according to court documents.

As the night unfolded, numerous men came to the house and later an abandoned trailer to have sex with the girl, according to court documents.

The video surfaced because some of the girl's attackers used their cell phones to take photographs and to film the assaults.

The girl, who has not been identified because she is a minor and the alleged victim of a sex crime, said that she was told by the men that they "would have some girls 'beat her up' or she would not be taken back to her residence" if she didn't have sex with them, according to court documents.

When a relative of one of the defendants was heard returning to the blue house, the group hurriedly moved to an abandoned trailer. The girl left behind her bra and panties, according to the court documents.

Most of the men who face charges are free on bond. One of the accused men, Marcus Porchia, 26, has been implicated in another unrelated case for sexual assault.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Iowa Pig Farm Filmed, Accused of Animal Abuse

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- The images are graphically clear: Small piglets being hurled to a concrete floor; large, fully grown sows gnawing the bars on their tiny cages; pigs with open sores lying untended on the ground; piglets squealing as their tails are cut off without benefit of anesthetic; and workers tossing live piglets back and forth and describing them as "bouncy."

All were among the images on undercover video just released by the animal rights nonprofit Mercy for Animals, capturing production at Iowa Select Farms, the state's largest pig farm, and prompting some retailers to suspend purchases of pork from the company.

Gaining access as employees, "our investigators go in as eyes and ears for the public," said Nathan Runkle, executive director of Chicago-based Mercy for Animals. "They give their real names and real Social Security numbers and they shoot the video with a small undercover camera. Part of our message is there is not a single federal law that provides protection to factory animals. What we need are stricter, stronger laws."

Runkle said the video was shot between April and June and that the facility was selected at random. "We did not have insider information about abuse...but we found these kind of ugly practices rampant at this facility," he said of the allegations.

Runkle conceded that some of what he describes as abuse is "standard industry practice" in the pork industry. For instance, gestation crates are widespread within the pig farming industry. Sows spend most of their lives in a tiny space where they can't lie down or turn around, producing litter after litter of piglets until they die.

Seven states have already banned gestation crates, but Iowa Select Farms continues to use them. "If anyone subjected dogs or cats to this kind of treatment, they would be arrested," Runkle said.

Iowa Select Farms is the fourth-largest pork producer in the nation. It supplies pork to JBS Swift (Swift Pork Co.), which, in turn, sells products to some of the biggest retailers in the nation such as Costco, Safeway and Kroger.

Safeway issued a statement Tuesday calling the images "disturbing" and said it had immediately halted purchases from JBS Swift while a thorough investigation is conducted into the operation of Swift's supplier, Iowa Select Farms.

Likewise, Kroger said it was "concerned" and had asked JBS Swift to "suspend supplying product to Kroger from the facility that is shown in the video."

Craig Wilson, a vice president at Costco Wholesale, called the images "terrible" but said the company had no plans to suspend shipments of pork from Swift, preferring instead to "give them [Iowa Select Farms] an opportunity to knock it off and make things right."

For its part, Iowa Select Farms posted a statement from the company veterinarian, Dr. Howard Hill, on its website. "Iowa Select has a long-standing commitment to animal welfare....We have already initiated an investigation into the portions of the video that show unacceptable animal handling by a few employees."

This is not the first hidden camera investigation launched by Mercy for Animals and it won't be the last, Runkle said.

"Most of this abuse takes place in secret and the animals are left to pay the hidden price," he said of the allegations. "As a civilized society, it is our moral obligation to do something about it. Profit should not be an excuse for animal cruelty."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio