Over a months-long battle to regain custody of their children, Army Major John Jackson and his wife, Carolyn, accused DYFS of prejudice against their religion and home schooling. Today, both are in U.S. District Court in Newark after federal authorities charged them with breaking the youngsters’ bones, denying them medical attention, withholding water, and force-feeding them hot sauce, among other horrific acts.
UPDATE: A federal judge this afternoon released the Jacksons on $250,000 bail each.
DYFS took the children away in April 2010, two years after a 2-year-old son died of a seizure and was cremated. The couple served as foster parents to several medically at-risk children while living in Oklahoma and adopted the boy, who was born with birth defects and a drug addiction.
A two-year-old girl later on was brought to Morristown Memorial Hospital, where authorities determined she’d suffered “medical neglect, malnourishment and salt poisoning,” as well as evidence of what once had been a fractured wrist.
Three natural children and two adopted ones were soon taken away.
The Jacksons accused the DYFS of “kidnapping” the youngsters, holding them hostage and brainwashing them without allowing an independent assessment by U.S. Army investigators or the ability for the purportedly devoute Christian family to pray together.
Although evidence existed to exonerate them, the couple claimed, DYFS ignored it — for no other reason, they said, than to make money for putting the children in foster care.
As a result, they said, the children are being turned against God — and against them.
Federal agents see things much differently.
They arrested Carolyn Jackson at her Mount Holly home on Tuesday after a federal grand jury returned a 17-count indictment against her and her husband, who surrendered this morning.
A bail hearing for the couple was being held today in U.S. District Court in Newark.
All told, Carolyn Jackson, 35 and 37-year-old John E. Jackson, formerly of the Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County, are charged with one count of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child, 13 counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and three counts of assault.
Because the children were believed abused on the base, the case falls under federal jurisdiction.
“Carolyn and John Jackson are charged with unimaginable cruelty to children they were trusted to protect,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said. “The crimes alleged should not happen to any child, anywhere, and it is deeply disturbing that they would happen on a military installation.
According to the indictment, on file in U.S. District Court in Newark, the abuse continued for five years before DYFS intervened.
In that time, it says, the Jacksons “told their three biological children not to report the physical assaults to others, saying that the punishments and disciplinary techniques were justified, as they were ‘training’ the adopted children how to behave.
“After John Jackson was informed by a family friend that one of the children had revealed the abuse in the Jackson household, John Jackson reported the breach to Carolyn Jackson, who retaliated against that child with multiple beatings with a belt.
“The Jacksons physically assaulted their children with various objects, causing two children to sustain fractured bones for which the Jacksons failed to seek prompt medical attention,” the government alleges.
“They also withheld proper medical care for their adopted children, withheld sufficient nourishment and food for two of their children, withheld adequate water from two of their children, and, at times, prohibited them from drinking water altogether.
“The Jacksons even punished an adopted child they caught sneaking food or water and required one of their biological children to prevent that child from drinking out of sinks and toilets.
“As another form of punishment, Carolyn and John Jackson forced two of the children to consume food intended to cause them pain and suffering, variously including red pepper flakes, hot sauce, and raw onion,” federal authorities say in the indictment. “They also caused one child to ingest excessive sodium or sodium-laden substances while being deprived of water, leading to a life-threatening condition.”
Fishman credited special agents of the FBI with the investigation leading to the arrests, and thanked thanked the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Melissa L. Jampol and Elizabeth M. Harris of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark.