Michael Winter, USA TODAY
The FBI on Tuesday arrested three Ohio residents for allegedly imprisoning and abusing a mentally disabled mother and her young daughter for more than two years.
The woman was coerced to do housework in an apartment in Ashland, south of Cleveland, where they were held between May 2011 and October 2012, the U.S. attorney for northern Ohio said.
The victims were beaten, denied food, forced to sleep on the floor and threatened with dogs, snakes and a gun, an FBI agent reported. They slept in a padlocked room, where the child was kept during the day.
The suspects allegedly invited the victims to live with them, then kept the woman's monthly government assistance payments. The trio also allegedly injured her at least three times and then took the painkillers she was given at the hospital.
Jessica L. Hunt, 31, was charged with forced labor for allegedly helping to enslave a disabled woman and her young daughter for two years in Ashland, Ohio, south of Cleveland.(Photo: Justice Department/AP)
Jordie L. Callahan, 26, Jessica L. Hunt, 31, and Daniel J. Brown, 33, were charged with forced labor. Callahan was also charged with tampering with a witness.
A fourth suspect has been charged, but authorities have not identified the person, WKYC reported.
"We are yet again reminded that modern-day slavery exists all around us," said U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach.
The case emerged six weeks after a Cleveland man was charged with imprisoning three women in his home for about a decade. Ariel Castro, 52, pleaded not guilty to hundreds of charges last week.
The Ashland case unfolded after the mother, identified only as S.E., was arrested for trying to steal a candy bar and asked to be taken to jail. When police went to the apartment to investigate, Callahan accused the mother of child abuse.
"The officers that took that complaint detected that there was other issues aside from the shoplifting," Ashland Police Chief David Marcelli told CNN.
Officers had had "numerous involvements" with the suspects, he added, "and in the course of interviewing her, they discovered the rest of these facts slowly."
Dettelbach provided some of the details from the FBI agent's affidavit:
Callahan and Hunt forced S.E. to clean the house, do laundry, walk to the store to do their shopping and care for their numerous pit bulls and reptiles. S.E. was timed when she went to the store and was not allowed to bring her child with her, according to the affidavit.
Callahan and Hunt beat S.E. and her child, threatened their lives, denied them food and threatened them with the pit bulls and reptiles, according to the affidavit.
At various points, Callahan threatened S.E. with a gun. S.E. and her child initially were forced to sleep on a cement floor in the basement with no mattress. Later they were moved to a room upstairs, again with no bed or mattress. The child was kept in the room all day and at night the room was padlocked to keep S.E. and her child from escaping, according to the affidavit.
S.E. and her child were only allowed to eat canned food or what was left over after Callahan, Hunt and Hunt's children ate. S.E. was not allowed to feed fruit or vegetables to her child, but Callahan and Hunt ordered S.E. to feed fruit and vegetables to the iguana that freely roamed in their bedroom. On another occasion, S.E. said her child had not eaten all day, but Callahan got a plate of food and gave it to a dog rather than letting them eat, according to the affidavit.
Callahan and Hunt also repeatedly taunted and threatened S.E. and B.E. with injury from the couple's snakes, including a poisonous coral snake, a ball python and a Burmese python that weighed 130 pounds, according to the affidavit.
Prosecutors said Callahan and Hunt, whose four sons also lived int the two-bedroom apartment, also forced the woman to hit her child, which they recorded on a cellphone to use against her if she went to police.
"These defendants violated the victim's most basic civil right, freedom, by exploiting her most basic instinct, the protection of her child," said Special Agent Stephen Anthony, who runs the FBI's Cleveland office.
The investigation is continuing.
Authorities said the woman, who suffered a brain injury when she was a teenager, and her 6-year-old daughter have been "relatively well" since they were freed.