Past cases put spotlight on Bexar County child abuse

Blue Ribbon Task Force formed after death of Jovonie Ochoa

SAN ANTONIOJovonie Ochoa 

Even though the Christmas 2003 death of Jovonie Ochoa led to the creation of the Blue Ribbon Task Force to combat child abuse, several other cases since then have scarred the Bexar County community.

Ochoa, who weighed just 16 pounds when he died, was systematically starved by family members over several months in his grandmother's West Side home.

"They had a big argument about whether or not they should actually call an ambulance or whether they should just get rid of the body," said Bexar County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Al Damiani, a detective at the time assigned to investigate Ochoa's death.

Family members originally said Ochoa died of AIDS, but within weeks, investigators pieced together what happened to the boy.

Ochoa's mother, who was addicted to heroin, left him and his two sisters months earlier in the care of their grandmother, Maria Palacios.

Investigators found evidence that Ochoa was tied to a bed frame and his mouth was covered with duct tape.

"Nothing prepares you to see a 4-year-old little boy starved to death with duct tape around his mouth. You could still see the residue around his mouth," said Sen. Carlos Uresti.

Uresti said photos of Ochoa's body persuaded him not only to form the task force but to push for long-term fixes for Child Protective Services.

"When you bring up Jovonie Ochoa, you bring up a lot of memories, bad memories," said Uresti. "Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong on that case. Everything. They were going to the wrong address. Nobody was making contact with the grandmother. Had they just made contact with Jovonie one time in those seven to nine months, I submit to you Jovonie would still be alive."

"It was an agency that was totally incompetent," said Damiani, who still keeps pictures of Ochoa and his sisters in his office. "When you're dealing with a 4-year-old child, you don't get any more innocent than that."

Five of Ochoa's adult family members, including his mother, were arrested and later convicted for their various roles in the abuse or neglect of the child.

While court records show that four family members have been released from prison, Palacios continues to serve a life sentence.

She declined a request for an interview for this story.

See something, say something: Resources for reporting abuse and getting help

Sarah Brasse

Another child's death five years later in the San Antonio area further tarnished the reputation of CPS.

In the days before 8-year-old Sarah Brasse was found dead from appendicitis in her vomit-covered bed, two employees from Watts Elementary School and a Schertz police officer contacted CPS, expressing concerns that Brasse was being neglected.

"The nurse had seen her two days prior to her death, and she was in a lot of pain," said Brasse's mother, Jo-anne Guerrero.

Despite past CPS investigations involving Sarah's father, David Brasse, and stepmother, Samantha Britain, the calls went nowhere.

Investigators eventually charged David Brasse and Britain with manslaughter.

Although the couple were convicted, the 4th Court of Appeals overturned the convictions in 2012, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove criminal recklessness.

"Knowing that she died alone in her bed, without being held, that's probably the hardest part. That she died in a home where I don't believe she was loved," said Guerrero.

David Brasse and Britain no longer live at the most recent San Antonio-area addresses listed for them.

Other attempts to reach them for comment for this story were unsuccessful.

A 2014 investigation by the Texas Office of Inspector General found that several CPS employees failed to properly monitor Sarah Brasse's case.

None of the employees were formally disciplined, according to previous media reports.

Archuleta trio

Records show that CPS had also been warned for years about possible abuse and neglect in the Helotes-area home of Tim and Iliana Archuleta, who owned and operated a San Antonio day care.

When the couple, along with Tim Archuleta's brother, Rogelio Archuleta, were arrested in late 2012, they had already collected more than $100,000 from the state to care for three adopted children.

"There were red flags throughout the case. There were red flags before the adoption actually took place. But nothing was done about it," said Stephanie Boyd, a prosecutor in the Bexar County District Attorney's Office Special Crimes Division. "Everything that these children told was true. The parents appeared to want it mainly for financial gain."

According to court records, the 8-year-old and 10-year-old twins were beaten, forced to eat their own vomit, locked in a bathtub and a hot closet, sprayed in the face with bleach and forced to wear urine- and feces-filled diapers on their heads while at times being ordered to physically harm one another.

Boyd said going to trial would have put the children through even more trauma.

The Archuletas signed plea agreements last year that sent them to prison for a combined 85 years.

Iliana Archuleta agreed to an interview with KSAT from prison but canceled two days before it was scheduled.

"At some point, some other adult had to have seen these children, saw that there was something wrong, and did nothing," said Boyd. more about the Defender's investigation into the epidemic of child abuse in Bexar County and the broken system in place to address it. 

Jennifer Vargas

The FBI arrested Jennifer Vargas in 2013 after she admitted to yanking and ripping her 6-year-old son's genitals in their Fort Sam Houston home.

Instead of taking the child to a hospital, Vargas instead tried to close the open wound on his scrotum with super glue.

Vargas was sentenced to two years in federal prison in 2014 followed by five years of community supervision, according to federal court records.

Chipping Drive

BCSO deputies last year found eight unsupervised children ranging in age from 10 months to 10 years, at a home in the 8100 block of Chipping Drive, on the city's far NE Side.

Six children were in the home and two toddlers were chained in the backyard, investigators said.

"(The) Chipping Drive case shocked people's conscience," said Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood.

His office secured evidence showing that the toddlers suffered serious bodily injury, LaHood said.

A Bexar County grand jury last fall indicted Porucha Phillips, Cheryl Reed and Denadre Dorch, on first-degree felony charges.

They are scheduled for trial later this year.


About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.