December 22, 2014

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Documents show mother Erica Perez has a long history with county Children Services

LORAIN — Lorain County Children Services took custody of Erica Perez’s children for four months in 2008, court records show.

Perez

In an affidavit filed Friday with Lorain County Juvenile Court, Children Services caseworker Stephen Silva outlined the agency’s history with Perez, who was arrested July 5 on seven counts of child endangering after her children were found living in filth by police.

The affidavit, filed in connection with motions for temporary custody of Perez’s eight children to be granted to Children Services, says that on Jan. 17, 2008, the children were declared neglected and Children Services took custody. In April of that year, Children Services deemed Perez again able to provide for the children, and the children were returned to her care.

That custody action was taken after several reports made against Perez in 2007 that are documented in Silva’s affidavit.

On Nov. 5, 2007, a report was made that Perez was asked to leave a shelter in which she was living and was living in a van with her children. The children reportedly were filthy, Silva said the complaint alleged.

Children Services learned at that time that in October 2007, Perez had taken two of her children to her mother, Jeanette Sierra, and that she had taken three others to their paternal grandmother, Esther Wyatt, who has told The Chronicle-Telegram that she has complained about Perez’s care of the children to Children Services and who has said she would like to raise them.

The affidavit documents no interaction with Erica Perez from 2008 until Jan. 30 of this year, when one of her children was accused of alleged sexual activity with other children in the home. According to the affidavit, the three children in question were split up and sent to stay with relatives.

But that was not all Children Services was concerned about at that time.

“LCCS has concern regarding mother’s ability to provide for the children’s basic needs,’’ Silva wrote. “Mother’s home has little furniture and the children sleep on mattresses on the floor because they have no beds,’’ he wrote. Later, he added: “LCCS has learned that (female child) has gone to school with feces on her clothes … LCCS has also learned that (female child) and (female child) have gone to school with urine-soaked clothes.’’

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Chain of events

After Perez’s arrest on July 5, Patti-Jo Burtnett, spokeswoman for Children Services, said the home obviously had deteriorated since the last visit June 20 by a caseworker.

But caseworkers were concerned about the home before that, as Silva notes in the affidavit. He says that on April 3, Children Services went into the home and “it was filthy,’’ and “there was very little food in the home.’’

Police sent to the home July 5 found it to be fly-infested and filthy and noted that there was only a single, crib-sized mattress in the house and little food. The children were dirty, and the 1-year-old apparently had suffered a seizure that day. Hospital officials later said he was covered in feces and peanut butter. His diaper, authorities said, appeared to have had been on him for roughly four days, and he had a rash on his thigh as a result.

Silva said Perez left the children alone Feb. 2 without adult supervision, and that there was a lit candle in the house at the time.

The affidavit says at the time of the April 3 visit by a caseworker, two of the children were at home during the day when they should have been in school because suspensions that had been handed down on them for chronic fighting and absenteeism had ended.

“On that same day, LCCS saw (female child) and (female child) wearing filthy clothes and smelled of urine,’’ Silva wrote.

Silva also said that five of Perez’s eight children — seven were in the home when police showed up July 5 — are school-aged, and that two of them missed at least 26 days of schools for the 2011-12 school year and that two others are chronically late.

Silva said that Perez said she cannot get the children to school because her car wasn’t working and that she couldn’t walk them to school.

Burtnett declined to comment about the affidavit Wednesday, as did Children Services Director Gary Crow.

Custody concerns

Rayshaun Powell, the father of three of Perez’s children, said he is concerned for the well-being of his children, who reportedly are with family members while Children Services arranges to move them to Florida to live with Jeannette Sierra.

Powell, who is married to Perez but is in the Lorain County Jail awaiting trial on a rape charge, said he believes Perez has mental health issues that prevent her from properly caring for the children.

Powell said his mother has attempted to gain custody of his three children with Perez, but Children Services told him that the children would be living with Sierra.

Powell said he feels that his mother would be a better fit for the children. He said he is also concerned about the children’s temporary placement with Monica Perez, Erica Perez’s sister.

According to court documents, Monica Perez has convictions for domestic violence and assault.

But Silva, in a letter to Powell, told Powell that his children were safe in Monica Perez’s care.

According to the affidavit, at least one of the relative placements was not appropriate for the children, but it offers no elaboration.

“The fathers have made no contact with LCCS or shown no interest in providing care for the children,” Silva wrote.

Powell said that isn’t exactly the case — he said he contacted Children Services officials to convince them to give his children to his mother.

Travis Wyatt, the father of three of Perez’s other children, has also contacted Children Services seeking custody, according to his mother, Esther Wyatt. Esther Wyatt said she contacted Children Services in 2005 or 2006 when her grandchildren came to her smelling like urine and said that their mother did not cook dinner for them.

Esther Wyatt said her son was denied a recommendation for custody because of his criminal record. He has convictions for domestic violence, violation of a temporary protection order, resisting arrest, obstructing official business and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

In addition to the pending rape charge, Powell was convicted of domestic violence in 2001 and he was accused of burning Perez with an iron in 2002. He told police he was playing with Perez when he accidentally burned her on the arm, according to police reports.

He also has been convicted of other charges as well, including another domestic violence case in 2000.

The affidavit lists two other fathers for Perez’s other children. They are:

  • Al Johnson of Elyria, who suffers from schizophrenia and was deemed unfit to care for the child.
  • Henry Maldonado, who is incarcerated at Marion Correctional Institution for aggravated murder, tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse. Maldonado was convicted of killing former girlfriend Virginia Velez in 1999 by strangling her and then dragging her into the woods behind a duplex on Chelsea Avenue where he tried to burn her body. Velez was 15 at the time, and Maldonado was 19.

A witness, Tyrone Price, told the court that Maldonado killed Velez because “she messed up his life” with Perez, who he was dating and who gave birth to his son five months before the trial. Perez, then 17, testified at the trial that her relationship with Maldonado changed when she caught him cheating on her with Velez.

Police said Perez is four months pregnant, but Powell said he does not know who the father is and he said Perez doesn’t either.

New examination

Lorain County Children Services Board met Wednesday — the same day pictures of Perez’s home that were taken by police were published in The Chronicle-Telegram.

The board promised to examine the Perez case in a statement it released after a lengthy executive session.

“The board recognizes that children are regrettably sometimes put into harmful situations as a result of abuse or neglect. The Children Services Board takes its oversight role very seriously and holds the administration accountable for the agency’s actions,” the statement said. “We are committed to ensuring the internal investigation is conducted to address the case that has been recently reported. We have confidence in the steps that the administration has taken to date and we will continue to monitor its progress.”

Prior to the meeting, board member Toni Shanahan said the Children Services Board does not have the authority to hire or fire any workers, just to oversee Crow, its director.

Shanahan said Crow is responsible for handling the internal investigation, which Children Services said it was conducting following Perez’s arrest, and the board has no oversight into the investigation. She added that Children Services does not provide the board with information on specific cases, citing confidentiality agreements.

Shanahan said the board would intervene should they feel that Crow is not fulfilling his obligations, but she said she feels that he is not at fault for the management of Perez’s case.

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

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