Nessel hopes child abuse case will spark changes in law

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks during a news conference, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, outside of the Genesee County Sheriff's Office in Flint. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)

By Michigan Advance

December 6, 2023

BY ANNA LIZ NICHOLS, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

The Michigan Attorney General’s office announced Monday that more than 30 criminal charges were filed against two Clinton County couples: Joel and Tammy Brown and Jerry and Tamal Flore, for organizing to adopt dozens of children from previously abusive homes for financial gain only to subject them to more physical and mental abuse.

“The allegations in this matter are heinous and egregious,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said during a news conference Monday, outlining some of the reports from the children, some of whom are adults now, including being beaten with a wooden oar.

“Abusive behavior by any parents, adoptive or biological, is unacceptable. It will not and cannot be tolerated. Our investigation has also highlighted just how much the law in these areas really needs to be amended to combat these types of crimes, which is likely much more prevalent in our state than any would care to admit,” Nessel said.

Both couples had been prosecuted before for child abuse, but the cases were dismissed.

Jerry and Tamal Flore were each originally charged in 2021 with two counts of first-degree child abuse and three counts of second-degree child abuse, according to Clinton County Court records. Both are felonies that can carry decades of imprisonment. In the case of first-degree child abuse, it can carry a life sentence.

According to the Lansing State Journal, which covered the prosecutions of both couples in prior years, the Flores’ were paid $562,696 from the state from 2007 until the criminal case for fostering several children. Police at the time reported the Flores’ threw the children down the stairs, beat them with a wooden oar, and withheld meals among other forms of punishment. Some of the children reported being placed in a 4 by 4-foot square made of tape in the family’s kitchen where they could spend anywhere from a day to several months, not being allowed to talk except asking permission to use the bathroom.

Children told police during the investigation that sometimes they would be beaten until they passed out, with Tamal often being the more violent of the pair with other children having to intervene as she would lose control of herself.

The case was dismissed in April of this year, with the Lansing State Journal reporting that Clinton County Prosecutor Tony Spagnuolo said there was further investigation happening.

Joel and Tammy Brown, family friends of the Flores’, were charged each with one count of first-degree child abuse, according to Clinton County Court records. They weren’t charged for harming any of their children but rather willfully subjecting their adopted daughter to abuse by placing her in the Flores’ home, according to the Lansing State Journal. The Brown’s daughter was one of the children from which the Flores’ child abuse charges stemmed.

Joel Brown is a former Child Protective Services employee, whom Nessel said he used to hide abuse in the Flores’ house and his own.

“It is clear that many of the child witnesses in this matter were coached and that the investigation was compromised. However, there is no real criminal statute that exists to prevent this from happening,” Nessel said. “The child protection law does not directly address this issue and the witness tampering or obstruction of justice charges are simply inadequate. Either the Criminal Code or the child protection laws to be revised to eliminate the ability of an abuser to manipulate a child in this way.”

A Clinton County Circuit Court judge dismissed the case against the Browns, determining there wasn’t sufficient evidence to proceed.

More than 30 children have been adopted or fostered by the Browns and Flores, Nessel said during a Monday news conference. Evidence for a new criminal prosecution for reports where the statute of limitations hasn’t expired has been collected and 10 individuals, adults and children, who were under the couples’ care have offered their narratives of abuse to the Attorney General’s Office.

Tammy Brown faces three charges of 1st and 3rd degree child abuse and failure to report child abuse while her husband Joel faces five charges of the same nature.

Jerry Flore faces 11 charges, including seven potential life sentences pertaining to first-degree child abuse and Tamal faces 17 charges, including the seven potential life sentences as well as other child abuse-related felonies.

As these criminal prosecutions proceed, there’s a lot the state needs to learn here, Nessel said, lamenting that the CPS investigations could have been better at documenting the reports of abuse.

Nessel added that the statute of limitations on child abuse is too short, with criminal charges needing to be filed within six years of the offense under Michigan law.

“The significant problem with this is that the victims are children and thus unlikely to report significant abuse until they are free from their abusers,” she said, adding that she’d like to see the amount of time victims have to report to at least match third-degree criminal sexual conduct, providing the child a 15-year window or until their 28th birthday.

Nessel said she’s already having conversations with individual lawmakers to conceive policies that would give children more power to report the violence they might have faced when they are ready to do so.

“This should not be a partisan issue, protecting children who’ve been subjected to child abuse, it certainly should not be a partisan issue and I don’t think it will be,” Nessel said. “I have every confidence that moving forward we’re going to be able to utilize this case as awful and terrible and tragic as it is, but hopefully the good that will come of it is that we’ll be able to make some of these significant changes in the law to better protect children.”

READ MORE: Nessel joins lawsuit against Meta for harming kids’ mental health

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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