Police: Parents Forced Malnourished Teen To Sleep In Locked Cage

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Date: 2005-03-09

Police: Parents Forced Malnourished Teen To Sleep In Locked Cage

POSTED: 12:10 pm EST March 9, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A lawyer for the adoptive parents of a 17-year-old boy who weighed 49 pounds when child welfare workers found him in an East Arlington home in January says the couple is not necessarily responsible.

Wilson and Brenda Sullivan were each ordered held on $200,003 bond after being formally charged of felony child neglect Wednesday morning.

"Just because a child is alleged to have a certain condition doesn't mean his parents are responsible for it," said Lee Lockett, the parents' attorney, said the hearing. "We don't have all the facts yet. My clients are adamantly denying all the allegations at this point."

The police report said the boy suffered from starvation and psychosocial dwarfism -- a lack of physical and emotional growth caused by abuse.

Employees from the Department of Children and Families went to the Sullivan's home Jan. 10 after receiving an anonymous tip that the teen was wearing a diaper and appearing developmentally delayed, a police report said. The boy was less than 4 feet 6 inches tall and weighed only as much as a normal 6½-year-old, the Sullivan's arrest report said.

Chief Steve Weintraub of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said the parents told investigators that the boy was forced to sleep in a criblike cage with a wooden lid kept shut with chains and a lock because he had behavioral problems and was overeating at night. The crib was the size of a twin bed with locks that prevented its sides from being lowered.

The teen and four other children, including two adopted 10-year-olds who also had physical or mental disabilities, were taken from the home and placed in protective custody in January.

The Sullivans, who moved into a home in East Arlington from Akron, Ohio, in October, have no prior record in Jacksonville.

Weintraub would not say if the younger children were abused, but the DCF issued a statement saying the condition of the three children was a concern. The boy has gained 27 pounds and grown a half-inch in two months.

"We were disgusted and outraged by the condition of the children at that time," the statement said.

Weintraub said the boy has been with the family 10 years and according to an evaluation at the Children's Crisis Center the youth was suffering from starvation and psychosocial dwarfism.

The condition is sometimes called "garbage can syndrome," the child can hoard food, gorge and vomit. Children with the condition have stunted growth and do not respond to growth hormones their body produces. The condition usually reverses when they are placed in a secure environment, according to information from the Children's Hospital of Denver.

Wilson Sullivan's sister, Ordrianne Sullivan, moved to Jacksonville a week ago from Akron, Ohio, to help her brother and sister-in-law through what she called "blatantly wrong accusations." She claims the boy was born with this condition.

"They're painting a picture of my family as monsters, and they're not, they truly are not," she said.

The Sullivan's next court appearance was scheduled for March 30.

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