May 17, 2013 10:07 PM by Jacqui Heinrich, email@example.com
Police found shocking discovery at a home on the northeast side of Colorado Springs when they responded to a welfare check Thursday night: a 13-year-old autistic boy naked, living among dead and live rodents and human and animal excrement.
The boy has been in the care of a former Colorado Springs City Council member, 44-year-old Charles Wingate, and his wife, 50-year-old Sharon Starkey.
Police have suspended misdemeanor child abuse charges against the boy's guardians pending the outcome of an investigation to determine whether those charges need to be upgraded from misdemeanors to felonies or include multiple counts.
In the meantime, the boy is in protective custody with the Department of Human Services, and they're doing an investigation of their own. DHS officials say removing a child from their guardian's custody doesn't happen lightly; they need permission from a county attorney and a judge to intervene. In El Paso County, child removal is extremely rare, even though the Department gets more than 13,000 calls for service each year. "We do assign about 40% of those for investigation so probably about 5,500 for investigation and only about 10% of those become cases, and an even lower percentage of those children ever have to leave their home," said Marian Percy, Deputy Child Welfare Administrator with the El Paso County Department of Human Services.
While Percy couldn't talk specifically about this case, she did talk about how DHS handles some factors present in the child abuse investigation on Corinth Road. For instance, what they do when a child has been kept in captivity: "We would want to do an assessment try to figure out whats going on with that child and look at developmentally how that child is doing, socially how that child is doing, etc," Percy said.
Percy also discussed protocol when a child has been living in an unsanitary environment; in this case, the child was found naked, living among live and dead rodents with human and animal feces. "It's one thing if the house is cluttered but its more when it's a safety hazards," Percy said.
Percy also talked about what DHS workers do when the child in question has a disability; in this case, the 13-year-old boy is autistic. "Where we say younger children are more at risk, if they're older or have some sort of handicapping condition that makes them more at risk as well."
Percy said the ultimate goal in these kinds of situations is to rehabilitate the family to a safe and healthy living standard and reunite them with their child. "No matter how cases look from the outside looking in, there's a lot of good that happens," she said.
Charles Wingate expressed his innocence to News 5 on Thursday night. Wingate resigned from City Council back in 2003-- with two years remaining on his term-- because of numerous charges. He later pleaded guilty to embezzlement. Wingate was also accused of downloading porn on a city-owned computer, although he denies the allegations and was never charged.
News 5 also received a letter from First United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs where Wingate's wife, Sharon Starkey, works as a part-time employee in the nursery. They say while she is a responsible and reliable employee, Starkey has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.