A Lawrence police officer testified Friday morning that he saw an Illinois woman with a baseball bat, two rolls of duct tape and two tarps inside a shopping cart as two of her young children were found bound and blindfolded in June outside in a Lawrence Walmart’s parking lot.
Officer James Miller’s testimony at Friday’s preliminary hearing for two suburban Chicago parents who face child abuse and child endangerment charges provided a few more details on a case that has received national attention.
“It’s not your typical (call) you would hear on the radio,” Miller’s partner, Officer Charles Stewart, testified about why he drove to Walmart that morning without being dispatched there initially.
Adolfo Gomez Jr., 52, and his wife, Deborah Gomez, 44, both of Northlake, Ill., each face two child abuse counts for alleged inhumane corporal punishment after Lawrence police found two of their children, ages 5 and 7, bound by their hands and feet and blindfolded late in the morning June 13 near the family’s vehicle.
It was in the parking lot outside Walmart, 550 Congressional Drive. Police have said the family was traveling from Illinois to see a relative in Arizona before their Chevrolet Suburban broke down on Interstate 70, causing the couple and their five children to stop in Lawrence two days before a Walmart customer called officers when she saw a blindfolded child sitting outside the Suburban.
They face five aggravated child endangerment charges as well because older children, ages 12, 13 and 15, and the two younger children were traveling with the family while they were apparently living in the vehicle. Adolfo Gomez faces an obstruction charge because he’s accused of resisting officers.
Miller and Stewart in more than two hours of testimony talked about several aspects of the incident from arriving in the parking lot unsure about what was happening to a physical confrontation with Adolfo Gomez to helping free the two young children who were tied up sitting on cardboard at different ends of the Suburban, which had no license plates.
Miller said as he drove up to the store as the responding officer he saw who he later learned was Deborah Gomez walking toward an entrance to the store, but he became occupied with Adolfo Gomez when he saw him near the vehicle with two children blindfolded and bound. A supervisor, once Adolfo Gomez was detained, asked Miller to photograph the items Deborah Gomez had in her shopping cart inside, but the items in the cart were not mentioned again.
Miller did say he took the 7-year-old girl to his patrol car to cut ties from her hands and legs, when she told him she requested to be bound.
“She said she was hitting her brothers and sisters and that she asked to be blindfolded and tied up,” Miller said.
Stewart testified that the 5-year-old boy — who had a soiled diaper and no shoes when officers found him — told him that Adolfo Gomez had instructed him about the blindfold.
“He said he wasn’t supposed to take off his bindings. He said his dad told him that,” Stewart said.
Police said Adolfo Gomez was disobeying officers’ orders to exit the vehicle and that “he was loudly either reciting religious sayings or possibly praying,” Stewart said.
“I didn’t know what his intentions were,” Stewart said. “I couldn’t tell if he had any weapons. In my mind this child had possibly been abducted, and I was concerned that Mr. Gomez might flee or possibly injure the child or myself or my partner.”
Police used a Taser twice to subdue Gomez because the first time one of the prongs missed his body. Officers eventually pulled him from the vehicle. The three older children were scared and appeared to be praying with the 7-year-old girl inside the vehicle as police tried to subdue Adolfo Gomez.
The officers also testified about the conditions inside the Suburban, saying they thought they saw bottles of urine and a cooler full of urine in and around the vehicle along with food and water.
Lisa Wilcox, a police evidence technician, said most of the vehicle’s windows were covered with cloth and other items, so it was difficult to see inside. The vehicle smelled of a combination of a portable toilet and a Dumpster, she said, because of the amount of rotting food, trash and other items inside, including apparent bottles of urine and containers for soiled diapers.
Officers said they found a pocket knife in the vehicle and a loose razor blade on the ground outside the vehicle, but there was no evidence the blades were used on the children.
Hearing to resume Tuesday
The five children have been placed in protective custody, and Adolfo and Deborah Gomez have been ordered to pay child support, according to court records. Both parents remain in jail, held on $50,000 bond.
Defense attorneys Angela Keck and Elbridge Griffy during cross-examination of the officers mostly asked detailed questions about the locations of items inside the car and tried to point out the children had no physical injuries.
Keck, who represents Deborah Gomez, has also argued at an earlier hearing that Adolfo Gomez was the culprit in the case and that Deborah Gomez was acting to protect her children.
Prosecutors will continue presenting witnesses in the hearing on Tuesday morning. After hearing the evidence, District Judge Paula Martin will make a decision about whether the couple should face a trial.