News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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December 14, 2012

DCS trying to quash Vigo search warrants

TERRE HAUTE — A state department is trying to stop Vigo County criminal investigators from using search warrants to obtain records on two former foster parents who face multiple allegations of neglect and abuse toward children in their care.

As the investigation continues into allegations of neglect against Larry and Nikki Russell, the Indiana Department of Child Services has been served with warrants requesting records on the Russells and any children who may have been placed in their care.

“We are basically continuing the investigation to determine if there are other occurrences of abuse or other possible victims of abuse,” Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt told the Tribune-Star on Thursday.

However, Elizabeth Lewis, an attorney for the Vigo County DCS, filed a motion on Wednesday challenging the warrants and asking that they be recalled. An alternative suggested in the motion was to allow DCS to first provide the requested documents to the judge for confidential review.

Attorney Lewis’ involvement in the case has caused the original judge in the case, Michael Lewis, her brother, to recuse himself. On Tuesday, Judge Lewis transferred the Russell cases to Judge John Roach in Vigo Superior Court 1 after determining that a conflict of interest existed. Elizabeth Lewis filed her challenge to the warrant in Roach’s court on Wednesday.

Modesitt said search and seizure warrants are the “most expeditious” way to obtain pertinent records.

A warrants requested Monday by Detective Travis Chesshir of the Terre Haute Police Department would compel DCS to provide “any and all documents” — such as applications, background checks, caseworker reports, home visit reports, substantiated and unsubstantiated reports and investigatory notes, home studies, electronic mail and other documents and records — related to the couple or any child placed in their care and custody.

Those records requested on the children include advocate, guardian and child-in-need-of-services reports, adoption records and other documents related to the four foster children adopted by the Russells, or any other child placed in their care.

Modesitt said the warrant was not intended as an attack on DCS, but was intended to get more evidence to support the current criminal charges filed against the Russells and look for other possible victims.

The warrants were served on Monday at the Vigo County office of DCS. Judge Lewis ordered the warrants sealed that same day.

After taking over the case, Judge Roach set a Jan. 25 hearing on the request by Elizabeth Lewis of DCS to recall the warrant.

DCS spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland told the Tribune-Star on Thursday that DCS will comply with the warrant request, according to what is allowed by law. She said the motion filed by DCS attorney Lewis to quash the warrants is standard procedure so that DCS is “on the record” as complying with state and federal confidentiality laws.

The Russells were arrested Nov. 23 after one of their adopted children escaped the family’s North 12th Street home and sought help for his siblings. Police described the 17-year-old boy as underweight, having dried blood on his face and bearing visible signs of ligature marks on his arms where he had been tied to an object.

The teen told police that he and two brothers had been locked in a bedroom with no access to food, water or bathroom facilities. The teen told police that he and another brother had been tied with rope to their beds, had their mouths stuffed with socks and covered with duct tape, and had been beaten and tortured.

After serving a search warrant at the home, police collected evidence and discovered holes and tunnels, allegedly created by the boys and used to escape their room to get food and water and access to the bathroom.

Both Larry and Nikki Russell remain in the Vigo County Jail with bail set at $100,000 cash only.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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