Women who were arrested in child abuse case were scheduled to be married

Date: 2014-03-21

Salinas: One of two women arrested is former correctional officer


One of two women accused of starving, chaining and abusing three children in Monterey County is a former correctional officer, while the other was a businesswoman and counselor at clinics in California and New Mexico, according to their online professional profiles and court filings.

Sheriff's deputies rescued three children from the couple's residence on Russell Road north of Salinas on March 14, citing horrific conditions and an "emaciated" 8-year-old girl who looked like "a concentration camp" victim, said Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller.

Also taken from the home were two boys, ages 3 and 5.

Miller said Eraca Dawn Craig, 31, and Christian Jessica Deanda, 44, are accused of felony child cruelty, false imprisonment and other charges.

Deputies conducted a welfare check at the house after the children didn't show up for an unspecified appointment, detectives said.

They found the children, who were home-schooled, living in squalid conditions and "fairly dire straits," Miller said.

The girl was the most abused, deputies said, though all three had bruises and other marks and appeared to be malnourished.

Officers said they found signs the girl had been chained to the wall and said she may have been held in a closet. Investigators believe she was shackled at times at the ankle and at other times by a collar around her neck.

One deputy reported the girl was chained "to keep her from obtaining food."

Miller said it appeared she had "hardly eaten for months."

The girl and the 5-year-old boy were legally adopted children, he said, while the 3-year-old boy is the biological son of one of the women, who are domestic partners.

The rescued 8-year-old was immediately hospitalized for about five days, Miller said, and appeared to be "very traumatized."

The children were placed in foster homes.

"It seems that the little girl was the major target of this abuse," he said. "It was a particularly heinous case."

He said there were indications the women were preparing to leave the area soon.

Detectives said moving boxes were packed and the women told them they were planning to move to the Fresno area.

Miller said when children are rescued from terrifying conditions, they are not usually "jumping up and down in joy. They may have forgotten what joy is like."

Law enforcement officers' description of the grim scenario stands in contrast to the women's online business profiles.

Posting as Cristian Deanda-Craig on LinkedIn.Com, Deanda wrote about her cactus nursery in New Mexico: "I am currently in a place that makes me happy both personally and professionally. I left me (sic) job to be home with my kids. I loved gardening and soon found myself selling flowers to neighbors. So my partner and I started our business — the best decision ever! I enjoy watching my kids grow and my flowers!"

Under previous jobs, she lists work as an HIV prevention case manager at John XXIII AIDS Ministry in Salinas from 2001-04, and later as a psychosocial therapy manager at Valencia Counseling Services in Estancia, N.M.

Deanda was a program manager at a transitional housing facility for men in Gallup, N.M., according to the profile.

Public records show she lived in Castroville and Salinas as well as New Mexico.

Deanda and Craig were scheduled to be married March 29, according to an online gift registry.

Craig, whose profile is listed under Eraca Craig-Deanda, earned a degree in auto mechanics management from Hartnell College in 2013, according to the site.

Before that, she was a detention officer at the Navajo County, Ariz., sheriff's office in 2005-06 and a corrections officer at a New Mexico corrections facility from December 2006 to May 2010.

More recently, her occupation was listed as auto mechanic.

Records show she left New Mexico in May 2010, moving to the Russell Road address in Salinas.

Soon after moving back to Salinas, Craig filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Almost immediately, she began defaulting on agreed-upon monthly payments, federal court records show. The case was ultimately thrown out for failure to pay two days before her arrest.

Craig earned about $36,000 a year as a New Mexico correctional officer, according to her filing, but was receiving unemployment assistance and food stamps in Salinas at the time of her bankruptcy petition.

The children were listed as her dependent sons and daughter in the filing, which was made when her youngest son was 6 months old.

Neither woman appears to have a criminal record in Monterey County.

Asked why his office delayed announcing the arrests, Miller said officials were investigating the case and wanted to wait until after the women were charged by the District Attorney's Office and arraigned in court.

They were arraigned in Monterey County Court on Tuesday and are being held at Monterey County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail each, although Miller said late Friday officers were in court asking for the bail amounts to be raised.

Deanda and Craig are scheduled for a preliminary hearing on March 28.


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