DA Dean Flippo and Police Chief Kelly McMillin update press on the torture murders of two Salinas children
UPDATE WITH INFO ON FUND FOR SURVIVING CHILD
Salinas Police Officers Assoc. Launches Fundraising Campaign for Child Abuse Victims
Salinas, CA — The Salinas Police Officers Association today announced the launch of a fundraising campaign for the three children who suffered severe abuse while in the custody of Tami Huntsman and Huntsman’s 17-year-old male companion. Officers have started donating to the account and invite members of the public to join in.
Huntsman and the young man were arrested on Friday, Dec. 11 in Quincy, California, after a nine-year-old girl was discovered suffering from serious injuries. On Monday, two other children who had been in their care were found dead in a storage unit in Redding, California.
The nine-year-old girl is being treated in a hospital and is in protective custody.
The SPOA has set up an account for the victims at the Central Coast Federal Credit Union in Seaside, California. The organization is consulting with charitable giving experts to ensure that funds raised will be used in the most beneficial way for the surviving girl and the two deceased children.
“This is the worst case of child abuse we’ve ever seen,” said Officer Jeff Munoz, an SPOA board member. “We know there are a lot of people who feel like we do, and want to do what they can to reduce at least some of the suffering.”
People who want to contribute can do so by check, cash or bank transfer, to the “SPOA Victims Fund.” The SPOA hopes to be able to set up an online donation form, and will announce that when it’s available.
Checks can be mailed to:
Central Coast Federal Credit Union
4242 Gigling Rd.
Seaside, CA 93955-6300
Donors can also make a deposit in person at the Salinas Police Department at 222 Lincoln Ave., Salinas, or any of the four Central Coast Federal Credit Union locations in Seaside, Salinas, Soledad and King City.
The Salinas Police Officers Association is the union representing Salinas Police officers.
ORIGINAL STORY STARTS HERE
HOLES IN THE SAFETY NET WERE TOO BIG FOR THESE BABIES
Early in my previous life as a police reporter, I learned that the interests of the media and law enforcement diverge rather dramatically in the wake of a big crime, one such as the recent horrendous murders of two Salinas children.
A wise police lieutenant explained it well. He said “you guys,” meaning reporters, want to know why something happened. What was the motive? What were the bad guys thinking? Did they plan this thing or did it just happen? How do they know each other? And, often, could this have been prevented? The police, on the other hand, are most likely overwhelmed with figuring out what happened and won’t worry about the why or the what ifs until much later, if ever.
Reporters want to tell a story. The cops want to arrest and convict somebody. Sometimes the agendas overlap but not by design.
The divergence was clear Thursday as Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin and Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo held a news conference to update the press on what is beginning to be known, if only for the sake of simplicity, as the Tami Huntsman murder case.
McMillin provided a timeline in an attempt to shorthand what is turning out to be a remarkably complicated, multi-jurisdictional case that resulted in the deaths of two little battered children and the near death of a third. For law enforcement’s initial purposes, it started Dec. 11, a week ago, when a sheriff’s deputy in the Northern California foothill community of Quincy discovered a 9-year-old girl, believed to be Huntsman’s niece, who had been abused and neglected to the point that she weighed just 40 pounds.
Though signs of abuse had alarmed neighbors and relatives for months or longer, discovery of the emaciated girl required some solid police work by a young deputy, said McMillin.
Huntsman, 39, and her 17-year-old boyfriend, Gonzalo Curiel, were arrested that day in Quincy. They had been living in Salinas until days before their arrests. Two days later, acting on a tip from Salinas, authorities found the abused bodies of two other children, 3-year-old Delylah Tara and 6-year-old Shaun Tara, in a Redding storage locker. They are believed to be a niece and nephew of Huntsman. Some information has come out about the condition of their bodies. You don’t want to know. The 17-year-old boyfriend apparently told the cops where to look.
There are other children. Twelve-year-old twins, probably Huntman’s by an ex-husband, a hip hop BMX bike guy, and there’s probably an older one as well. Detectives are using pencil to draw the family tree. Erasures are likely.
The main bit of news arising from Thursday’s news conference was that the autopsy Wednesday in Redding concluded that the cause of death was a “pattern of abuse” that had occurred over more than a few days, apparently starting in Salinas. Flippo also announced that his office plans to charge Huntsman and Curiel with murder with special circumstances, including multiple murder and torture, that could qualify them for the death penalty. Other charges are likely as well. Authorities in the other counties have turned over the prosecution to Flippo.
Beyond that, there was not a lot of information though there were a lot of questions from reporters. In some cases, the chief and the DA knew the answers but couldn’t provide them for fear of messing up the investigation. In other cases, they simply didn’t know. The two dead children are believed to have been from San Bernardino, where their mother was killed in a traffic accident. According to press accounts, their father handed them over to Huntsman for safekeeping when he went to prison. Are the dead children siblings? Maybe, said the chief. Is the 9-year-old girl their sister? Hard to say. When people go to prison, who decides where their children go? No one seemed to have that answer Thursday.
In all, the Salinas Police Department has about a dozen detectives on the case and the DA’s Office has about the same number of investigators. Add in the investigators from Plumas and Shasta counties and there are more than 30 investigators assigned. Most of their reports haven’t been written yet. At this point there probably is no one person who knows most of what the investigators have turned up.
Want to know more? Go to Facebook. Apparently there’s quite a bit about this case there and some of it might even be accurate.
Twice, Salinas police officers had gone to Huntman’s Fremont Avenue apartment to check on the children’s welfare. Once everything seemed fine. The other time no one was home. Four times, case workers from Monterey County Child Protective Services went to the home. Details of those visits aren’t available because records of CPS are confidential. When investigators went to the apartment after the bodies were found, they found it hard to believe people could have been living in such conditions, Flippo said. He didn’t elaborate.
The Sacramento Bee reported late Thursday that Tami Huntsman’s mother, Joy, said she had called CPS several times to report unsafe living conditions at her daughter’s apartment, near her own apartment. She referred to her daughter as a “monster.”
Will the DA’s Office investigate whether CPS should have done more? Huntsman was prosecuted a decade ago in Santa Cruz County for child neglect. Obviously authorities should have taken the kids away from her at some point but did the authorities ever have the evidence needed to do so? Macmillan said some of the complaints were anonymous so authorities had no where to turn when an abuse or negligence case didn’t pan out instantly.
Will the DA’s Office investigate whether CPS should have done more? That’s not our role, said Flippo, clearly not eager to wade not wade too deeply into the world of CPS workers, a world where damned if you do, damned if you don’t is the daily reality. At times like these, the confidentiality of CPS work is called into question but ultimately it is decided that putting it under a spotlight could do as much harm as good. It may be time to reconsider that conclusion.
In any event, will anyone in a position of authority ever be able to assure the public that someone has patched the cracks that these babies slipped through? McMillin didn’t have an answer to that, though he did say that his office would share all the appropriate information with CPS officials for that purpose.
One fellow at the news conference, the one who spent his previous life as a police reporter, pressed this concern to the point that the real reporters in the room started giving him funny looks. Isn’t anyone going to try to find out how the system failed these children, he asked. It wasn’t the system, McMillin said. It was Huntsman.
“Can you describe the injuries in any detail?” someone else asked.
McMillin has been a cop for 30 years or so and had never seen anything like this.
“It was terrible,” he said. I didn’t get the whole comment, but Ana Ceballos over at the Weekly did: “This is certainly, in my 32-year law enforcement career, the most egregious child abuse-homicide case I’ve ever seen.”
By the way, the Salinas Police Officers Association will be taking up a collection for the benefit of the 9-year-old. We’ll let you know the details as soon as they’re available.