Investigators have a charged a 68-year-old Arlington man and his girlfriend with savagely abusing his mentally disabled grandson over a period of several years, including beatings with baseball bats that left broken bones, pushing him down stairs, withholding food and taping him to a chair, among other graphic instances.
Jimmie M. Peterson, 215 Rothman St., and his girlfriend, Michelle C. Thompson, 60, were arrested Monday and face numerous charges, including aggravated assault, neglect of a dependent person and reckless endangerment, among others.
Bail had been set at $250,000 each, and both remained in the Allegheny County Jail Monday night.
Both admitted in interviews with detectives to beating Mr. Peterson's 25-year-old grandson, Cherron Peterson, with baseball bats after "a belt became ineffective," among other forms of abuse, leaving broken bones, bruises and abrasions, according to a criminal complaint filed by Detective William Minett of the Allegheny County district attorney's office.
"They didn't hit him in areas of his body where you would sustain life-threatening injury, and we attribute that to the fact that they were cashing his Social Security checks," said District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., who added that investigators suspect the abuse goes back to around 2011. "So if the kid dies, you know you don't get any more checks."
Mr. Peterson told investigators he has been his grandson's guardian since he was 2 and acts as the payee for the $730 a month he receives from Social Security, a criminal complaint says.
He said his grandson had become more difficult to control, breaking televisions, urinating in the house, refusing to bathe and stealing things, the complaint says.
"Peterson estimated that he has been hitting Cherron with the bat one to two times per month for the last three or four years," the complaint says.
Ms. Thompson also admitted abusing Cherron, telling detectives she used a lighter aluminium bat while Mr. Peterson used a heavier wooden one.
She also acknowledged duct-taping him to a chair and locking him in a storage room to restrain him as well as withholding food "if he didn't act appropriately," the complaint says.
Witnesses also told police they heard yelling and screaming, booming noises and heard Ms. Thompson using abusive language at Cherron, who also told police he had been abused by the couple.
"Cherron recalled a time when Thompson held a knife to his penis and threatened to cut it off," the complaint says.
The investigation stemmed from a report filed by a mental health case worker who received a complaint that Cherron Peterson was being forced to stand outside for hours in the cold as punishment for bad behavior.
Days later, during a follow-up visit, a case worker for the state Department of Aging, Jerry Kasunic, was told by Ms. Thompson that Cherron Peterson had disappeared over the weekend and that the couple had filed a missing-persons report.
Cherron Peterson later told investigators he was pushed out of the car while riding with the couple, aggravating injuries to his arm and his orbital bone in his face, the complaint says.
Cherron Peterson was later found by Pittsburgh police and taken to UPMC Presbyterian, where doctors discovered skull, elbow, wrist and arm and other breaks as well as poorly healed old fractures.
Scott Kunce, a doctor at UPMC, notified Mr. Kasunic that Cherron Peterson was at the hospital and did not want to return home because of abuse. He was kept at UPMC under the name "John Doe" for his own protection and has since been placed in a group home, the complaint says.
Mr. Zappala said neither Jimmie Peterson nor Michelle Thompson has a prior criminal record, meaning that their potential sentences could include short county jail stints and probation. "My staff is only talking about retribution. They think they should be punished and I think a jury may very well look at this the same way," he said.
Robert Zullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3909. First Published February 3, 2014 2:34 PM