Date: 1988-10-21

Miami Herald, The (FL)

A couple accused of working four adopted children morning and night and not feeding them properly was in custody Thursday after being charged with child abuse.

"Medical records showed that they had bruises and scars," sheriff's Cpl. Sammy Peavy said of the two boys and two girls adopted under a program that provides a subsidy. "They are all very thin."

Harold Johnson, 43, and his wife Sherry, 40, who live north of Pensacola, were arrested Wednesday and charged with four counts each of aggravated child abuse. Each was held on $50,000 bond.

The four children, ranging in age from 8 to 13, were placed in a foster home in the wake of a six-day investigation that began when one of the children ran away.

"We got testimony from neighbors that had seen the kids work roughly from daylight to dark . . . like slaves," Peavy said.

Although the couple denied the accusations, Peavy said the investigation uncovered a pattern of beatings, malnutrition and intimidation inflicted on the children over the past two years.

Peavy said the children claimed they had to defecate and urinate in holes they dug in the back yard, slept on the floor and had to bathe on the back porch with a bucket and garden hose. He said they claimed they ate bread and blackeyed peas, and did not eat inside with the rest of the family but outside on the porch.

He said the Johnsons have children of their own, but they "are well taken care of."

Chuck Bates, Health and Rehabilitative Services deputy district administrator, said the four children were adopted under a 10-year-old "subsidized adoption" program, which differs
from regular adoption because the state provides money.

Peavy said the couple received "approximately $700 to $800 a month" to care for them.


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