Neighbors: Reports about abuse of 4 boys went unchecked by Denver Human Services

Parents in court Tuesday on child abuse charges

DENVER - Neighbors say they filed multiple reports about possible child abuse in a Denver apartment, but Denver  Human Services didn't follow up on all of them.

Four malnourished boys, ages 2, 4, 5 and 6, were found living in unsanitary conditions on Sept. 29.

The children could only speak in grunts and were not toilet trained, according to investigators. They appeared to be all the same size and the same developmental age, a police officer noted. They slept in uncovered mattresses in a back room covered in feces and flies, the officer wrote in the arrest affidavit.

CALL7 Investigators have learned that two calls made to the DHS hotline about the children in February 2012 and July 2013 were never investigated by the department. This, despite the family's history of child abuse and child negligence charges dating back to 2006. 

An affidavit from a 2006 case indicates the children were playing outside and witnesses had to get out of their cars and move them out of the street. Officers were called and found no adults in the apartment where the children lived.

"Investigating officers contacted a neighboring apartment resident and learned that a male upstairs had been babysitting the children by listening to a sound monitor hooked up to the children's downstairs unit."

The document goes on to describe the dirty, insect-plagued conditions the children lived in.

"A check of the children's apartment revealed trash everywhere, rotten food in the pans, on the floors and in the sink."

CALL7 Investigators have confirmed that the supervisor of the hotline at the time of both calls left DHS in the past few weeks to take another job. Her boss, Allan Pollack, the former child welfare director, was allowed to resign in September because of issues unrelated to this case.

Sources familiar with the family situation say officials at DHS are now trying to determine why there was no follow up to the hotline calls.

7NEWS has photos and police reports from an April 2012 complaint that was referred to DHS.

In the April 2012 police report, the responding Denver police officer says broken glass was found on the floor of the children's rooms. The officer also described seeing a stained, uncovered mattress during that visit.

The visit was prompted by reports of children seen hanging from a first-floor window.

But CALL7 Investigators have learned that DHS noted the April complaint was "unfounded" even though police filed charges and Wayne Sperling, 66, pled guilty to one charge of wrongs to minor in that case.

It wasn't his first conviction.

Sperling and Lorinda Bailey, 35, faced three charges of misdemeanor child abuse in 2006. They pleaded guilty to those charges and had to take parenting classes, according to court records.

Then, in 2009, the couple pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child abuse again, police said.

Bailey told police she lost custody of three children at that time, but two young children were left in the home with Bailey, who was pregnant at the time.

David Littman works across the street from the home and told 7NEWS he called DHS several times, including this summer while Sperling was still on probation for the 2012 charge.

"It's very concerning that this has gone on as long as it has ... We have made several calls," Littman said. "The fact that the conditions were reported as so deplorable suggests that social services failed to follow up."

Another neighbor, Kristine Schafer, described the children as "filthy."

"One night we brought the kids down to our place for three hours and we completely scrubbed them from head to toe. We fed them all kinds of protein. They were actually being kids for a while," Schafer said.

"They couldn't speak. They didn't know their letters, their colors, their alphabet, they knew nothing," Schafer said.

Schafer told 7NEWS that she called Child Protective Services in July, and after making a lengthy report, she didn't see anything happen.

"They didn't take action like we thought that would. We thought that they would come out immediately given all the information that we gave them that night," Schafer said.

Police records show officers have responded to the home four times in the past.

It was a trip to the hospital in September that finally raised the red flag.

Bailey took the youngest, a 2-year-old, to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital to be treated for a cut on his forehead on Sept. 29. An emergency room doctor said the child had a suspicious injury and was non-verbal, unwashed, and smelled like cigarette smoke.

That prompted a welfare check by police, who noted the apartment was covered in cat feces and filled with flies hovering on every surface. Investigators stated that the stench of a decomposing animal and cat urine was "unbearable."

Sperling told police that the boys have their own language to communicate. He said that he mops the floor frequently but with four boys, it's hard to keep the house clean and the five cats refuse to use the litterbox.

Sperling and Bailey were each charged with four counts of felony child abuse.

They were given $5,000 bond each. Bailey has bonded out but Sperling remains behind bars.

Both appeared in court Tuesday to hear the charges against them. 7NEWS tried to question Bailey when she left the courthouse but she responded, "Leave me alone. I want a smoke."

None of the kids were in school or day care and had no records of doctors visits. Sperling said that he was their primary caretaker and has applied to start home-schooling the oldest boy.

Bailey has said Sperling is legally blind, unemployed and cannot drive.

Both parents are due back in court on Oct. 29 for a preliminary hearing.

The four children have been removed from the home and placed in protective custody.