When Kennewick police responded to a missing persons call about a 12-year-old, they found the child had fled after alleged abuse by his grandparents and an uncle.
All three of the adults are now in jail after the children told investigators their grandmother beat them, forced them to eat Carolina Reaper hot peppers and burned them with a hot knife while the men allegedly held them down, according to court documents.
The four children have been living with the grandparents, Reva Gonzalez, 51, and Ernesto Garcia-Uribe, 38, since their mother lost custody, according to court documents.
Gonzalez and Garcia-Uribe are also accused of abusing one of their own children in addition to the grandchildren.
The five children range in age from 8 to 14.
Their uncle, Carlos Daniel Mendoza, 20, allegedly held the children down during at least once while Gonzalez abused them, according to the documents. His attorney told Court Commissioner Megan Whitmire on Monday he has not been living with the grandparents, and Mendoza did not know why he was arrested.
Gonzalez and Mendoza are each being held on suspicion of one count of second-degree assault of a child and one count of second-degree assault. Each of the charges carries a sentencing range of up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Garcia-Uribe is being held on suspicion of one count of third-degree assault of a child, which has a sentencing range of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Prosecutors argued for a higher bail for all three based on the severity of the alleged abuse and potential danger to the children.
“These children have previously been punished after disclosing abuse, I absolutely think high bail is appropriate,” said a Benton County deputy prosecutor.
Gonzalez’s bail was set at $100,000. Garcia-Uribe’s bail was also set at $100,000.
Whitmire agreed to a slightly lower bail for Mendoza because he is not considered a “principle actor,” and has been living with a mentor and studying at Columbia Basin College.
Attorney Patrick McBurney appeared on Mendoza’s behalf, but said he would not be representing him because Mendoza has been staying with McBurney’s father.
McBurney and his father Pat McBurney Sr. are both former Tri-Cities school board candidates. The elder has a history of mentoring teens.
McBurney told Whitmire that Mendoza was not aware of why he was being held. Mendoza wept when he heard the allegations against him.
Whitmire agreed to set Mendoza’s bail at $50,000, rather than the $100,000 requested by prosecutors.
All three were ordered not to contact the children or any other children.
During the investigation into the missing 12-year-old, investigators discovered the girl had fled “due to reported continuous and ongoing child abuse” that began as early as 2016, according to court documents.
Two witnesses provided statements that the child had told them of several instances of abuse that were consistent with statements made by the 12-year-old when she was interviewed on Nov. 16.
The girl told investigators Gonzalez “likes to kick us, and one time she burned me” and described an incident last spring in which the children were abused after not selling enough balloons at a flea market.
The child said Gonzalez was mad because they didn’t make enough money because it was raining. She allegedly forced three of the kids to eat Carolina Reaper peppers, then had Mendoza hold them down while she heated up a knife and then burned the four oldest children with it. The children had scars consistent with the described burns, according to court documents.
Gonzalez allegedly told the children that the scars were meant to be a “reminder to listen next time,” according to the documents.
After an incident involving a boy on Nov. 1, Gonzalez allegedly beat the 12-year-old girl with a paddle, hitting her repeatedly while Garcia-Uribe held her down. The injury was still apparent to investigators during the interview.