Arrest Of Joshua Tree Homeless Couple For Child Abuse Was Over-Reaction, Says Public Defender

Apr 19, 2018

The Panico/Kirk family was found living in a makeshift shelter in a remote area of Joshua Tree.
Credit Jeff Hollett/Flickr

Now to the case of the Joshua Tree couple arrested for child abuse after the family was found living in a makeshift shelter in the high desert.  The public defender assigned to the case believes local law enforcement was reacting to the Turpin child captivity and torture case in Perris a few months ago when they made the arrest.  KVCR's Benajmin Purper has more.

Elizabeth Crabtree is the public defender assigned to Mona Kirk, the mother of the family. Crabtree has been living and practicing in Joshua Tree for four years – and she says she’s never seen a case like this before.

“I've never seen a case like this. I've never seen a case where someone's been arrested for their living situation.”

Crabtree says that in the past, these kinds of situations would be dealt with by the county’s Children and Family Services department, or CFS. But that was before January’s “House of Horrors” case in Perris, where 13 children were tortured and shackled to beds. Crabtree suspects that case led local police to over-react when they came across the Joshua Tree family.

”I think local law enforcement reacted to our case in Joshua Tree under the guise of it being the same as the case in Perris," Crabtree said. "And this isn't the case in Perris, and it should've been handled through CFS or through the Sheriff's Department offering them services as opposed to it being blown up as something it's not.”

The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department says the children were living in unsuitable and unsafe conditions, and that the parents’ failure to access resources available to them constitutes negligence.

Daniel Panico and Mona Kirk now have a house that was bought for them through an online GoFundMe account. Crabtree says that may influence the district attorney’s decision on whether or not to proceed with criminal charges.

“The district attorney could decide just not to go forward with the case, or could decide to leave it in CFS's hands. And just have the dependency court play out its' course, and then dump the criminal case. I think that's what should happen.”

The parents’ next court date is the 25th.