Nessel charges two couples, including former state employee, with 36 child abuse charges
Lansing — Attorney General Dana Nessel charged two Lansing area couples Monday with 36 criminal child abuse charges, months after other similar charges against the foster and adoption families were dismissed.
The DeWitt couples are being charged in relation to eight of the 30 children who have been in their charge since 2007. Nessel alleged the couples' collected more than $1 million tax free through the adoption subsidy program.
Those charged include Joel Brown, a former child advocate for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services who faces five criminal charges; his wife Tammy Brown, who faces three criminal charges; Jerry Flore, who faces 11 criminal charges; and Tamal Flore, who faces 17 criminal charges. Nessel indicated the charges encompassed only those not time-barred by a six-year statute of limitations on abuse charges
"The state believes that the Browns and Flores conspired together to adopt dozens of children who were removed from previously abusive biological homes and subjected them to prolonged, routine, and systemic mental and physical abuse under the guise of discipline and all for personal financial gain," Nessel said.
The charges differ between the four individuals in degree, but each of those charged faces at least one count of first degree child abuse, which carries a penalty of up to life in prison.
Nessel alleged Joel Brown used his experience with the state to "circumvent detection of the ongoing child abuse in his own home and that of the Flores." She said it was clear the children were "coached" and the investigation "compromised."
The Browns and Flores have until Friday to turn themselves in.
David Carter, an attorney for the Flores, criticized the renewal of charges against his clients.
"I think it's a witch hunt," Carter said. "They're taking a second bite of the apple and trying to resurrect a case that never should've been brought."
Previous charges brought by the Clinton County prosecutor's office against the Browns and Flores were dismissed. The Flores' case was dismissed after the Clinton County prosecutor in April said more investigation was needed. The Browns' case was dismissed by Clinton County Circuit Court Judge Michael Clarizio in June 2022 after the judge determined there wasn't enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial.
Under the Clinton County charges, the Browns were accused of sending their then 7-year-old adopted daughter to live with the Flores, where prosecutors said the Browns knew she was spanked and restrained.
Both the Browns and Flores denied any abuse or knowledge of any abuse.
Nessel took over the investigation earlier this year after being approached by the Clinton County sheriff for help. Nessel noted Monday that Clinton County has a much smaller staff when it comes to child abuse investigations and prosecutions.
"We cannot deny that the initial investigation needed more work and the initial CPS investigation could have had better documentation and more accurate notes," Nessel said. "Those CPS summaries of early interviews were copied into the police reports, making those reports not completely factually accurate, as well."
The Attorney General's office took extra steps to confirm the reports and conduct additional interviews and reviewed additional evidence, Nessel said.
The attorney general said a conflict wall was constructed between prosecutors in her office and the assistant attorneys general who represent the Department of Health and Human Services. When asked whether that indicated there was an investigation into the employees who handled the case, Nessel said it's not certain where the investigation might lead and it's best to have that conflict wall in place.
Nessel said her investigation came to some of the same conclusions as the initial investigation led by Clinton County, and said the allegations were "heinous and egregious."
Nessel said the case highlights changes the state needs to make concerning child abuse laws, including a longer statute of limitations on child abuse charges, an adequate charge for someone attempting to tamper with child witnesses in a child abuse investigation and regulations surrounding homeschooling of children in order to provide the state ways to check on their welfare.
Nessel argued there also should be changes to the adoption subsidies program to ensure accountability and oversight of funding so that it is being used on the child.