Vancouver abuse arrests followed 9 investigations

Date: 2011-10-20
Source: Seattle Times

Vancouver abuse arrests followed 9 investigations
Washington state authorities have arrested the parents of 16-year-old twins who said they were held in an alarm-rigged room without electricity, given meager rations and beaten for stealing food

VANCOUVER, Wash. —
Washington state authorities have arrested the parents of 16-year-old twins who said they were held in an alarm-rigged room without electricity, given meager rations and beaten for stealing food.

Authorities had investigated the household on eight previous occasions, but had taken no action against the couple. A note from one of the twins, slipped to an authority figure on Oct. 5, led to a ninth investigation and the accusations against Jeffrey and Sandra Weller, a state spokeswoman said.

"Unfortunately, when we previously investigated, the children denied the abuse or the withholding of food," Sherry Hill, spokeswoman for the Children's Administration in the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, told The Oregonian ( http://bit.ly/qEhlpn).

Six children have been removed from the household, and the couple is to be arraigned next week on assault, imprisonment and mistreatment charges. The arrests were reported Tuesday by The Columbian.

In court documents, police said the twins were isolated from family members and restricted from touching their parents or siblings.

The interior doorknob of their bedroom was removed, the window was locked and an alarm was set up to go off if they tried to leave the room, the documents said. The twins, who were home schooled, said they were only permitted to leave their room for chores and occasionally to eat.

The pair described being forced to "steal" food in the house where cabinets and the refrigerator were secured with locks and chains.

If caught, "both are made to lie on the kitchen floor with no pants or underwear covering them and are struck on their buttock region repeatedly with a wooden stick, often making them bleed," the court documents said. Their stepfather administered weekly beatings while their mother watched, the teens told police.

Child welfare workers interviewed the twins on Oct. 7 and then removed them from the home, along with 14- and 12-year-old sons from Jeffrey Weller's earlier marriage, a 10-year-old son from Sandra Weller's first marriage and a 4-year-old boy from the Weller union. The twins were adopted as toddlers in California by Sandra Weller and her first husband,

Officers were called to the home three times this year, said police spokeswoman Kim Kapp, most recently on Oct. 5, when an adult reported an assault by one of the younger boys against the youngest child. That case was referred to juvenile authorities, Kapp said.

Neighbors told The Oregonian they suspected something was wrong in the house, describing late-night shouting matches between Jeffrey, 41, and Sandra, 48, and saying they figured the children had stolen large containers of yogurt from one family's refrigerator and ripe tomatoes from another's garden.

"It's heart-breaking," said 24-year-old Yelena Makhanov, who lives across a cul-de-sac from the Wellers. "I feel guilty that this was going on 30 feet away from our front door."

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