Daughters fight to see their siblings in alleged torture case
The two eldest daughters of a couple accused of torturing some of their adopted children are taking on state social workers over what attorneys described Tuesday as efforts to intimidate the young women and keep them from reuniting with their traumatized siblings.
Shanda Shelton, 25, and her sister, a 17-year-old known publicly only as "A.D.," are seeking court permission to visit their six younger siblings and for Shelton to take custody of A.D.
But attorneys William Grant and Bo Samargya said the social service agency was attempting to thwart the young women's efforts to be together and to keep Shelton out of the custody case involving her siblings.
"This has become a very confrontational situation, and it does not have to be," Grant said.
Shelton and A.D. are the eldest adopted children of John and Linda Dollar, who were each formally charged Tuesday with five counts of aggravated child abuse.
Detectives allege the couple tortured five of their children, punishing them with such horrific methods as pulling out fingernails and toenails with pliers and shocking them with a cattle prod or a stun gun.
Three of the Dollars' children were also found to be severely malnourished, including a 16-year-old boy who weighed less than 60 pounds and 14-year-old twin boys who each weighed less than 40 pounds.
Authorities said the abuse went unreported for years because the Dollars kept their children isolated from others.
The Dollars are being held without bail in the Citrus County Jail. Their attorney has entered written pleas of not guilty for them.
"We're going to take whatever action necessary to guarantee the safety and well being of these children. They are currently safe, gaining weight and being cared for and nurtured," said Bill Spann, DCF's chief of staff. "While I can't speak to the motives of the attorneys, our motives are clear, and it's the best welfare of the children."
Separate from the criminal case against the Dollars is the now heated court fight over the future custody of their children.
Shelton, 25, left home three years ago and has said she too was abused by her parents. She hired Grant and Samargya last month to represent her, and A.D. sought to be represented by the attorneys as well last week.
DCF has moved to block Shelton's contact with her siblings, telling a judge last month that Shelton participated in some of the abuse. Court documents also said one of the younger children told detectives that his 17-year-old sister tied him up with plastic ties.
Grant and Samargya said they believe the agency is trying to intimidate both Shelton and her sister because they play a central role in the case: they were not among the five children who were tortured and they are old enough to be important witnesses against their parents.
The attorneys said even if investigators are concerned that some of the children will put pressure on others to change their stories or not cooperate, DCF has methods of allowing visitation to make sure that doesn't happen, such as supervising the visits.
What's paramount, though, is that the children need to see each other after their traumatic experiences.
"The department is isolating these kids from each other and doing the same thing they accuse the Dollars of doing in (terms) of isolation and control," Samargya said.
Grant said because the children grew up not being allowed to interact with others - not even being allowed to attend public school - they are unaccustomed to being with anyone other than their siblings.
The seven children are now spread out among four foster homes.
The ordeal has been very hard on A.D., Grant said.
"She's hurt she can't see her brothers and sisters," he said. "Her mother and father are accused of horrible crimes, which she believes.
"Think of the trauma - and she's isolated by herself. It's almost unimaginable."