SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Sarasota couple is jailed on felony child abuse charges after deputies say their 12-year-old daughter showed up at a neighbor’s house with her hands zip-tied together and told the neighbor that her parents kept her confined in a playhouse.
Deputies responded on Dec. 27 to a report of a possible kidnapping after the neighbor called 911 to report a young girl had knocked on his door and told him that her mother and father had bound her with zip ties and abandoned her at their home.
The girl had her hands zip-tied together and she had separate zip ties around her ankles.
The girl told investigators that Eugenio and Victoria Erquiaga restrained her with zip-ties in front of her body when she gets angry and regularly locked her in a playhouse in a loft area of the home, which is used as her bedroom. She also demonstrated to investigators how she was “hog-tied” in the front of her body. “Basically, she couldn’t move,” Lt. Joe Giasone with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office said.
The victim said the playhouse would be secured from the outside, making it impossible for her to get out.
Detectives went to the child’s home and found a playhouse that was 5’ by 7’ wide and 7’ tall. The door can be barred shut by a large piece of wood and all but one of the windows had been screwed shut.
Deputies said the playhouse reeked of urine and the wooden floor was discolored. The girl said that because she can’t get out of the playhouse, she is often forced to soil herself.
Deputies asked the Erquiagas about an eye hook that was inside the playhouse. The Erquiagas allegedly said that they would secure the girl’s zip ties to it to keep her from kicking the playhouse apart.
According to an arrest affidavit, the Erquiagas’ told investigators that they only recently began using the zip ties after seeing them used on a police show on television.
They said the girl wore zip ties at all times so she could be immediately restrained whenever necessary. They said the girl would have violent outbursts without provocation and they believed she was delighted by the chaos she would create, according to the arrest affidavit.
They also told deputies that while the child is allowed to eat dinner with the family, which includes seven other children, she is sometimes forced to sit on the floor to eat.
Investigators say the couple defended their actions and blamed the girl’s behavioral issues. They believed she needed to be restrained to protect her from herself and to protect the other seven children living in the home.
“The parents were cooperative. They told us why they were doing it. They showed us how they were doing it. They showed us where they were doing it. They were defending their actions that night. They were trying to justify it,” Lt. Giasone said.
When interviewed, the other children confirmed that their sister was zip tied and confined to the playhouse.
The arrest affidavit also said detectives found numerous heavy-duty zip ties at the home. The zip ties were 18 inches long and about a 1/3 inch wide.
“The ‘playhouse’ is aesthetically pleasing from the outside but can only be described as a glorified cage when examined closer,” said detectives in the arrest affidavit.
Eugenio Erquiaga, age 51, is employed as a doctor/radiologist at Radiology Associates of Venice and Englewood, according to this arrest affidavit. Victoria Erquiaga, age 53, was listed as unemployed on her arrest affidavit. The Florida Bar website lists her as being a member in good standing and says she received a degree from Stetson University College of Law in 1986.
The children were taken into protective custody by the Department of Children and Families when the investigation began.
The Erquiagas turned themselves into the Sarasota County Jail on Wednesday morning and were each charged with aggravated child abuse. The Erquiagas were each issued $5,000 bond by a judge. They are not allowed to have contact with their children unless DCF decides otherwise.
“I will agree that … in the police report itself, when you read that on its face, it’s troubling. Does it mean its criminal? Does it mean it’s all true? That’s yet to be determined,” defense attorney Derek Byrd said. Byrd is representing the couple.