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Terre Haute probes delay in abuse case

– Terre Haute’s police chief said he is reviewing how officers handled a domestic battery case involving parents who’ve since been charged with restraining children to beds with duct tape and rope and depriving them of food and water.

Officers went to the home of Larry and Nikki Russell in May and took Larry Russell into custody and confiscated a handgun, but didn’t follow city policy and contact the state Department of Child Services, the Indianapolis Star reported Friday.

The Russells each face felony child neglect charges, filed after police say a 17-year-old boy escaped from their home last month. They are accused of abusing four adopted children, ages 10 to 17, by restraining them in a locked room with boarded-up windows, depriving them of food and water and not allowing them to use the bathroom.

Police Chief John Plasse said he didn’t know why child welfare workers weren’t notified as called for under a domestic violence protocol signed by Vigo County law enforcement officials last summer. The policy includes contacting DCS when firearms are found in a home where domestic violence is alleged and children are present.

“I remember signing that,” Plasse said of the policy. “We will have to look into why that wasn’t followed.”

DCS spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said state law mandates the agency can intervene with adopted children only if both parents are arrested or if the agency receives a report of child abuse or neglect.

Larry Russell’s May arrest was on a domestic battery charge that prosecutors later deferred. McFarland said without a call from police, the agency wouldn’t have been able to evaluate the home.

“DCS has to rely on all the eyes and the ears of the community,” McFarland said.

A Vigo County judge has entered not guilty pleas for the Russells on the child neglect charges. The Associated Press left a telephone message Friday seeking comment from defense attorney Matthew Daley.

Julie Randall, president of the Hendricks County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she believed the police officers failed the children.

“Had the system responded correctly, child abuse could have been prevented or ended six months ago,” she said. “The system designed to protect our most vulnerable has failed. These children will be forever affected by this abuse.”

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