South St. Paul Woman Allegedly Tied Children to Basement Pole, Withheld Food

South St. Paul Woman Allegedly Tied Children to Basement Pole, Withheld Food Photo: South St. Paul Police, file

February 13, 2018 06:14 AM

A South St. Paul woman accused of tying her grandnephew and his brother to a pole in her basement, physically and verbally abusing them, and withholding food from them, was charged at the beginning of this month.

According to a criminal complaint, 53-year-old Flor Estella Gallegos has been charged with false imprisonment of a child, a felony, and malicious punishment of a child, a gross misdemeanor.

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The South St. Paul Police Department received a report Jan. 20, 2015, that an 11-year-old boy went without eating for a weekend. The boy's school had filed past reports about the boy being hungry and wanting more food, according to the complaint. Authorities asked the boy about the report, and he denied telling anyone he wasn't being fed at home.

Upon further investigation, officers learned the boy was in the care of his grand-aunt, identified as Gallegos, and grand-uncle—the boy's legal guardians at the time.

Then, on Feb. 13, 2017, a school staff member contacted the police department to report the boy, then 13, had undergone physical abuse. According to the staff member, the boy's older brother had reported their grand-aunt, Gallegos, had assaulted the boy. The brother told the staff member Gallegos had struck the boy several times in the face because he had gotten into trouble at school, the complaint states. Gallegos reportedly kept the boy home from school because the bruising was so noticeable, according to the complaint.

The staff member learned Gallegos allegedly kept the two boys locked in their rooms and withheld food from them "as a form of punishment when they get into trouble," according to the complaint.

An officer and social worker who went to Gallegos' home to speak with the boys observed bruising on the side of one of the boys' faces. At first, the boy denied being struck by Gallegos but then admitted to officers later Gallegos had struck him in the face at least five times. He also admitted Gallegos had locked him in his room and withheld food previously, as punishment.

In November that same year, authorities spoke with the older brother, who confirmed he and his younger brother were often tied to a pole in the basement overnight or to the furniture in their bedrooms. He said the maltreatment had started when each boy was approximately 5 years old.

When authorities spoke with Gallegos, she admitted to withholding food from the boys and to tying them up in the basement or their rooms, sometimes overnight.

A witness told investigators that because the boys would be locked in a room, it would smell like urine because Gallegos would not allow them to leave the room to use the bathroom.

The children were removed from Gallegos' home and a formal child protection petition was filed by the Dakota County Attorney's Office.

The attorney's office received a criminal referral in December 2017 and the attorney's office requested follow-up investigation. Criminal charges were officially filed Feb. 1, 2018, and a termination of parental rights petition was filed the following day.

According to a spokesperson with the Dakota County Attorney's Office, there had been reports dating back to 2009 of maltreatment of children in Gallegos' house. However, the spokesperson said those reports were unable to be substantiated after investigations were conducted or the investigations revealed insufficient evidence needed to proceed with legal action. The investigation into the Nov. 21, 2017, incident was the first in which corroborating and sufficient evidence regarding abuse was presented, the spokesperson said.

"The allegations that have been made in the criminal complaints and juvenile court petitions filed in this matter are very disturbing," County Attorney James Backstrom said in a statement to KSTP. "Our goal in these cases is to hold accountable those individuals who may have violated the criminal law and to protect the safety and wellbeing of these children both now and on an ongoing basis. We will work closely with both the South St. Paul Police Department and Dakota County Child Protection in the pursuit of these goals."

Gallegos is expected to make her first court appearance March 19.

Credits

Rebecca Omastiak

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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