August 23, 2014

Elyria
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Mother arrested with 7 kids in squalor is no stranger to authorities

ELYRIA — Lorain County Children Services’ involvement with Erica Perez, the pregnant Lorain mother whose seven children were found living in filth last week, dates back at least to 2001.

Perez

Perez’s sister, Monica Perez, complained to Lorain police on Sept. 30, 2001, that her sister had left her 1-year-old son with family and disappeared. A note at the top of the report says, “Fax Copy to Lorain County Children Services.’’

At the time of Perez’s arrest, the agency said it had been involved in the case only since January.

The 12-year-old was not among the seven children found at Perez’s home on Long Avenue on July 5 when police were sent there to calm a neighborhood disturbance. Police found the children, ranging in age from 1 to 9, living in a garbage-filled, fly-infested home that had only a single crib-sized mattress in it for the children to sleep on.

Perez, 28, was charged with seven counts of child endangering and police say she was intoxicated when they arrested her.

Monica Perez and another sister, Jessica Lopez, took temporary custody of at least some of the children, and Lopez already had been caring for the 12-year-old, according to police.

Six caseworkers, all highly rated

Children Services spokeswoman Patti-Jo Burtnett said caseworkers had visited Perez’s home June 20. She said the home had not been in as bad a shape during that visit as when police found it a little more than two weeks later.

Police said they were sent to the home because Perez was standing in front of a neighbor’s home, screaming that its occupants stole her phone. The neighbors said her phone hadn’t been stolen and that Perez, who is four months pregnant, was drunk — a regular occurrence, they said.

Police said at that time, they found “numerous flying and crawling insects” in the home, and the bath tub contained approximately “3 inches of standing dirty water in it.’’ Police also said empty liquor bottles, beer cans and garbage were strewn about the home, which contained very little food in it.

Her 1-year-old reportedly had suffered a seizure earlier in the day, and hospital personnel who treated him after police sought help said the boy was covered with feces, peanut butter and dirt. Authorities estimated the boy had been wearing the same diaper for as long as four days.

A LifeCare medic who arrived at the scene for the boy told police she had contacted Children Services herself about Perez, and that she’d written a letter to the agency, too.

Another child in the home told police that his mother generally only calls an ambulance once a week for the 1-year-old, even though he suffers seizures up to three times a day. Mercy Regional Medical Center, the nearest hospital and emergency room, declined to say whether it had contacted Children Services or if it had treated the boy.

After Erica Perez’s arrest, Burtnett said Children Services is reviewing the management of the case. Children Services Director Gary Crow refused a request for an interview.

Burtnett has declined to name the caseworker who visited the home on June 20, and she also wouldn’t release the report of that visit or any other reports documenting the agency’s interaction with Perez over the years, citing confidentiality agreements.

But earlier this week, she did release the personnel files of six caseworkers who have worked with Perez, and she said it is not abnormal to have six employees working on one case.

Debbie McDermott, Stephen Silva, Tara Hubrins-Lett, Nancy Griffiths, Anne Rucker and Stacey Schmidt all have worked with Perez, according to Burtnett.

According to their personnel files, all six employees have rated highly during annual reviews, each receiving the highest rating of “meets expectation.”

In 2005, however, Stacey Schmidt was suspended for failing to observe a supervisor’s instructions and for unsatisfactory work.

Schmidt failed to submit accurate reports on several occasions, according to Lorain County Children Services documents. Schmidt appealed her suspension with the State Personnel Board of Review in April of 2005, but Burtnett could not provide the results of that appeal. During that time, Schmidt continued to receive “meets expectation” reviews.

Schmidt remains an employee of Children Services and has not received any disciplinary action since 2005.

‘A long, long history’ with police

Erica Perez’s trouble didn’t begin with the police visit July 5.

Court documents show that in 1998 and 1999, Perez spent time as a juvenile in the detention home for domestic violence, violations of parole and general disobedience.

She also has had criminal problems since reaching adulthood, according to Lorain police Lt. Mark Carpentiere.

“She’s had a long, long history with us,” he said.

Carpentiere said police records show Perez has been involved or has been charged with theft, disorderly conduct, burglary and domestic violence. Lorain Municipal Court records show that in January of this year, she was convicted of driving without child restraint seats in the vehicle.

According to the 2001 police report filed by her sister, Erica Perez was living in a homeless shelter while her then 1-year-old son was staying with family. Monica Perez contacted police after Erica Perez left the shelter and failed to contact any family members.

That report notes that Erica Perez’s mother, Jeannette Sierra, contacted Children Services about taking custody of the boy, but she told police that she needed a police report to get Children Services involved.

In that same report, Monica Perez said she had seen her sister mistreat the boy a few days before she disappeared. The mistreatment was not explained.

That boy, whom police said already was staying with Perez’s sister, Jessica Lopez, at the time of the July 5 incident, faces a truancy complaint alleging he missed 24 days from the Lorain Preparatory Academy in 2011 and 2012, according to court records.

Lorain Municipal Court records show that Lopez was found guilty of disorderly conduct persisting in 2001 after initially being charged with domestic violence. Monica Perez had an assault conviction in 2007 and a domestic violence conviction in 2000, according to court records.

Monica Perez declined to comment when contacted Wednesday, and Lopez did not return messages.

Burtnett said the agency takes into account past convictions when deciding where to place children.

“The children are in the care of relatives, and yes, we think that they are safe there,” she said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.

Read the report from the July 5 incident:

Read the report from 2001: