Local couple faces troubling child abuse charges
Routine mental abuse, torture detailed
by Greg Marsten
Leader staff writer
CENTURIA – An initial court appearance has now been set for the Centuria couple accused of troubling mental child abuse against their three children, allegedly at their hands for the last eight years.
Polk County District Attorney Dan Steffen recently filed five felony charges each against Shannon Draves, 30, and Christopher Dietrich, 37, of Centuria, the mother and father who allegedly committed routine mental and physical abuse against their three young children, ages 11, 9 and 5. (Due to privacy concerns, none of the children's genders will be mentioned.)
The details behind the charges reveal a seemingly living nightmare of anguish, punishment and mental abuse of the children, so much that it has left them with major emotional scars, even behaving like animals: barking, growling and rocking back-and-forth at length, with the youngest child rarely speaking.
The children have been in protective foster care for the past year, shortly after the allegations first surfaced and the investigation began. It is during that care that some of the disturbing effects of the alleged abuse came to light, as well as some of the corresponding stories between the victims.
"It's one of those cases where if the allegations prove true, it's very, very troubling," Steffen said, noting that with the children out of the home, their safety is now assured, and the case can move ahead with a solid investigation.
"It's not an easy case, by any means. You have kids saying things against parents ... and lots of allegations," Steffen said. "Knowing they're protected now helps."
Draves and Dietrich are charged with three counts each of felony causing mental harm to a child - party to a crime, and two felony charges each of physical abuse of a child. If convicted on all five counts, they each face over 49 years in prison and almost $100,000 in fines.
Appearance dates had been unclear until last Thursday, May 23, when the two received court appointed attorneys and filed motions to share the extensive background and discovery on the case. Judge Molly GaleWyrick and the attorneys set June 10 as the initial appearance date, when the two will first officially face the charges in court.
The couple remains free without bond, which Steffen said they will likely have set at their initial appearance in the coming weeks.
According to the criminal complaint, the abusive behavior goes back to at least August 2005 and includes statements from the children that one of them would be locked in their room only in underwear, for several days at a time - "Continually," another sibling said - possibly without lights, having to ask permission to go to the bathroom and fed maybe two slices of bread per day, apparently because the child had stole something, possibly food, with threats of going to juvenile detention if they didn't follow orders.
One child even told of them being fed in their rooms with dirty cups and plates, on "time-outs" all day long. The children tell a tale of being disciplined by having buckets of cold water dumped on their heads, being forced to take off their pants to dry the water. The allegations include tales of slaps so hard that "handprints would come," leading even to runaway attempts for two of the children, to a relative's house.
There are tales of violence between the couple, where one parent almost runs the other over with a van and throwing of bottles. They would allegedly leave graphic adult videos playing and have sex under a blanket in the same room as the children.
Mental health reports
The criminal complaint also includes details of the interviews, allegations and mental team evaluations that compared one child's treatment akin to that of "a person in a concentration camp," with the child being forced to stand for hours at a time with hands on their head, until numb, literally falling asleep during the punishment it became so routine.
All three of the children displayed behavior that one child called "being a bonker," because they would all rock back and forth, hitting their heads on things, even while riding in the car. The evaluators noted that all three children "scream and growl," and that one even climbs on the toilet and "squats on it like an animal." They attribute the rocking, animal behavior and growling as a coping mechanism.
The development of all the children was of obvious concern, and it was noted that they have become so accustomed to the punishing treatment that they would accept the alleged abuse, and all three would routinely tear the sheets from their beds and sleep on just the bare mattresses; one child even chewing all the buttons of the mattress.
The complaint also details a time line of previous incidents with one or both parents, including a 2005 incident with Draves, where the children are left in an unlocked vehicle on a 90-degree day. The report also details numerous domestic violence incidents, and other interventions, such as in 2011, when the children ran away, walking over three miles to the home of a relatives, without Draves or Dietrich even knowing they were gone.
One chilling account details when the parents would fight between themselves, how the children would call "red alert," and know to leave to another part of the house or outside, less they become involved or further injured as collateral damage.
One doctor is quoted as saying "... the children have suffered significant emotional abuse due to the sadistic and psychologically cruel nature of their parents actions."
The charges detail enough that doctors pushed to make sure neither parent had any contact with any of the children during recent months as the case is assembled.
Court records indicate several domestic abuse incidents involving both parties, including one 2007 conviction for Dietrich, and one pending case from last year. Draves has had several criminal incidents on her record, including a dismissed battery charge in 2004 and again in 2005, with a plea deal resulting on a conviction last summer on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge against Draves, with a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest dismissed.
Ironically, the judge who will hear the cases against the couple, GaleWyrick, also presided over a paternity suit between the couple over the lineage of the middle child in 2004, with Dietrich ruled the father.