PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - A 34-year-old Palm Beach Gardens man has been charged with sexually abusing his girlfriend's 5-year-old daughter in a case that also involved three young boys who were often left dirty and unbathed, police say.
The little girl told police of nights spent alone in her darkened room, the door locked from outside. One of her brothers told detectives his sister wasn't allowed out to eat dinner or use the bathroom.
Ryan Agnew was charged Thursday with molesting the girl and with four counts of child neglect, one for each of the children who lived with Agnew and his 32-year-old girlfriend.
Palm Beach Gardens police also arrested the woman on child neglect charges and charges that she allowed her live-in boyfriend to abuse her daughter. The Sun Sentinel is not identifying the mother to protect the privacy of the children.
Elisa Cramer, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Children & Families, said a baby that had been in the couple's care has been placed in a foster home and that three other older children have been put in the care of a relative. The other children removed from the couple are boys, 9, 6 and 1.
"For the children's safety, the Department of Children and Families placed the baby in a licensed foster home and placed the older children with a relative," Cramer said in an email. "The Department and our child welfare partners will work together to provide services to help ensure the children are healthy and safe."
Howard Talenfeld, a children's rights attorney in Broward and Palm Beach counties, said this is just one case of many plaguing South Florida.
"This is a very sad situation that we see occur repeatedly in the county," Talenfeld said. "It's very sick."
On May 24, a tipster called the Department of Children & Families' abuse hotline and reported that one of the boys living with Agnew was "very dirty, hungry and tired."
"He has weeks of dirt caked in his finger and toe nails and he smells awful," the caller said, according to a police report. "He does not take baths at home …These issues have been going on for a year."
A DCF investigator visited the couple's home and discovered filthy living conditions. The investigator ordered them to clean up the house.
The investigator asked both Agnew and the mother to take a drug test, and they refused, saying it would violate their civil rights.
The next day, the girl visited her biological father in Lake Park and told her father's girlfriend that Agnew had touched her. She was afraid to tell anyone else.
The girl called them "bad touches."
Palm Beach Gardens police opened an investigation on May 31, after a second DCF report. During an interview with the Palm Beach County Child Protection Team, the girl told the same story: Agnew had touched her.
She also told stories about being spanked with a spatula, and nights spent alone in her locked room.
According to the police report, a teacher at the girl's preschool kept notes that outlined instances in which the child appeared to be bruised or dirty or both.
The first note in August 2011 said the girl came to school with a "big black and blue eye which was very swollen." The child's leg was also wrapped up in a bandage.
Nine days later, on Sept. 8, the teacher took the bandage off the girl's leg because it hadn't been changed. The teacher noted that the child's hair was "very dirty" and that she had body odor.
The next day, the girl told the teacher that her head hurt. The teacher pulled back her hair to reveal bruises and a huge cut on the left side of her head. Asked what had happened, the child said she didn't know.
Over the course of the next few months, the teacher continued to take notes of the child's disheveled condition.
On Oct. 18, 2011, the child showed up at school with Agnew and with what the teacher described as a "big fat upper left lip which was black, scratches on her neck and bruises on her waist."
"[Agnew] pointed it out before I could say anything," the teacher wrote. "He said she tripped over her feet."
Later, when the girl showed up with a black eye, she told the teacher she tripped over her Barbie dolls.
It's unclear whether the teacher — who was not identified by police — ever reported what she saw to authorities.
On June 12, the detective spoke with the mother. She said Agnew was a good person who loved her kids. She said he never changed the girl's diaper or bathed her, because "he didn't want to be accused of anything."
When she talked about her daughter, she talked about how she lies.
The detective confronted the mother with the girl's allegations of sexual abuse, and the mother denied any possibility of that. The detective asked the mother if she was calling her daughter a liar.
"Yes I am," the mother said.
On Facebook, the mother claimed she and Agnew are innocent and she blamed her daughter for making "false accusations" against Agnew.
She appears to plead her case in a June 28 post on a Facebook page that appears to be hers.
"Everyone should read this,
is happens all the time, and the damage down pemenantly, I just recently lost my 5 year old daughter because she made false accusations against my fiance and because I believe in him so much they said I was unfit for not believing her," the mother wrote.
"She has been removed from my custody and the police said they have 5-7 years to investigate!!!!!!"
The mother also issued a message to her daughter in her June 28 post.
"MOMMY LOVES AND MISSES YOU MORE THAN THE WORLD ITSELF," the mother wrote.
On the Facebook page, friends voiced their support for the mother. Her most recent post, dated July 7, mentions mixed martial arts.
On Agnew's Facebook page, his profile mentions that he is an army veteran who helped coach football at Palm Beach Gardens High School before joining a mixed martial arts academy called Team N.P.B. Black Belt Champions as an instructor. He says on his profile that despite being told by military doctors that he would never walk again, he went on to win a gold medal, three silver and one bronze at North American Grappling Association tournaments.
In a June 26 post, Agnew suggested the past few weeks had been challenging.
"Reflecting on the past several weeks has been quite mentally exhausting, on and off the mat," he wrote.