Did Florida Fail Abused Children?

Date: 2005-02-14

Did Florida Fail Abused Children?

Bill O'Reilly
Fox News Channel

O'REILLY: In the "Factor Follow-Up" segment tonight, last week we reported a terrible story about a Florida couple, John and Linda Dollar, who allegedly abused five of their adopted children. They've been arrested and charged. If convicted, they could get 30 years.

The state of Florida was supposed to oversee the situation, but apparently once again, Florida failed.

Joining us now from Tampa are attorneys Bo Samargya and Bill Grant, who are representing 25-year-old Shanda Rae Shelton, who was also adopted by the Dollars and now wants to adopt the children. There are seven in play here: five abused, two others, herself.

All right. Mr. Grant, speaking with you, how horrendous was the abuse allegedly perpetuated on these five kids?

BILL GRANT, LITIGATION ATTORNEY: Well, the level of nutritional and food deprivation and sleep deprivation and mental and psychological abuse that went on with these children is -- is beyond belief.

We represent Shanda Rae Shelton, who's seeking immediate visitation with her brothers and sisters. She has known these children since -- since they joined the family. She is the oldest. She was adopted as a 4-year- old infant.

On January 27, the state of Florida came in and took her brothers and sisters out of the home, thank God. And then they met with her on February 1 when she brought them some clothes for the children and told her that they would think a visit would be possible. They'll get back to her.

Here we are tonight on February 14, and still no call from DCF, Department of Children and Families, and this sister is in complete agony. She doesn't know how her brothers and sisters are doing. They're calling her secretly, telling them that she wants to see them, that they want to come and stay with her.

O'REILLY: OK. GRANT: We've made contact and we're not having any luck, Bill.

O'REILLY: Well, we'll change that. But I want to get to the national audience this whole scenario. Shanda Rae was adopted by the Dollars. But she wasn't abused, correct?

GRANT: I would disagree with that.

O'REILLY: Well, you tell me. I don't know.

GRANT: Well, I'm telling you, Bill, that our client was abused by John and Linda Dollar.

O'REILLY: So she was abused. This was an itinerant family. I guess they moved from state to state. They picked up kids along the way.

And Counselor Samargya, the state of Florida was supposed to oversee this because these kids were home schooled and if you're home schooled, the state then has a responsibility to come in and make sure everything is OK. Is that correct?

BO SAMARGYA, LITIGATION ATTORNEY: That's correct, Bill. And part of the problem, I think, lies in the original -- most of these children were adopted in the Hillsborough area in the late to mid 1990's.

You're right. They were all home schooled. That was part of the controlling nature of the parents, and the abuse that was going on was limited by the parents by keeping them home schooled. Nobody was able... O'REILLY: OK. So the state never came in to make sure these kids were getting an education? They never -- go ahead.

GRANT: Remember, in 1995, Bill, that the Department of Children and Families were involved and actually cleared the parents after they admittedly saying that they thought the excessive -- or excuse me, corporal punishment was appropriate on their young ones.

O'REILLY: All right. So these people already had a rap sheet. But here's what I'm not getting. If you've got seven kids being home schooled, the state of Florida has an obligation to monitor how those children are doing. Isn't that the law?

GRANT: Well, unfortunately it's not, Bill. Once the adoption in Florida is done, the DCF people don't have any more contacts. Shanda was adopted in Indiana. One of the babies were adopted out of California.

O'REILLY: No, no, no. But you're missing my point, counselor. I know that the DCF doesn't monitor foster children once they're adopted. They should, but they don't. But the educational authorities in the state of Florida are supposed to oversee the home schooling, are they not?

GRANT: They are supposed to register, that's correct. In this case, they did not register in Citrus County.

Now, Bill, there was a school out of Hillsborough County in Tampa that actually sent an e-mail and confirmed that, while they were in Hillsborough County last year, that they were concerned these children were malnourished.

Now, I don't understand why that school didn't notify DCF or law enforcement, because all school officials are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse.

O'REILLY: Well, they probably did, but it's so chaotic down in Florida, as you guys know. DCF, I mean, every week we have another horrendous thing.

So basically you have five children out of the seven that were being starved, systematically starved, beaten. I understand a pliers were involved and stuff like that? Is that true?

SAMARGYA: Yes, Bill, that's the allegations. Our client was not living in the home when that took place, but she did witness the malnourishment. She would sneak her brothers and sisters food when she could.

And also, Bill, she also witnessed how they'd be told to sleep in the closets. That was a form of punishment. You had to stay in the closet for hours or days.

O'REILLY: And now -- and now your client, Shanda Rae Shelton, wants to adopt these children for herself. She's 21 years -- 25 years old. And DCF is not cooperating?

GRANT: Well, no, no, Bill. She doesn't want to adopt them. You don't have to adopt your brothers and sisters. OK? In this particular scenario... O'REILLY: All right. But she wants to have custody of them, make sure they're OK.

GRANT: She -- we're moving towards that way. The beauty of this is Gary Bartell and Jo Ann Bartell (ph), our -- one of our local county commissioners, began this concept of a trust fund to raise money.

And Bo, my partner, has put this trust fund together. We've already raised thousands of dollars. It's called the Dollar Children Trust. You can deposit at any SunTrust Bank.

But the beauty of this is she's -- she's got her own family. She's got a small daughter and a husband. And yes, they want to provide for their brothers and sisters.

O'REILLY: All right. Well, we're going to make sure -- we're going to make sure that Florida children services cooperate with you. You let us know if they don't. We try to get these kids into a stable situation.

And you've got to check -- you've got to find out what happened here and why the state educational authorities didn't check up on these kids.

Counselors, thanks very much.

GRANT: Yes. O'REILLY: We'll check back with you in a few days.

Ahead on "The Factor," some interesting stats about marriage in the USA, and the effect children have on married couples.

And later on the broadcast, Newt Gingrich on alleged torture at Guantanamo Bay. Right back.

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