LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Two Lakeland men are accused of using a stun gun to discipline children in a case of child abuse. Deputies say two women who live with the men knew about the abuse but did not stop it.
Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Eduardo Vazquez, 22, his girlfriend Elizabeth Tarvin, 33, William Torres-Morales, 22, and his girlfriend, Veronica Sanchez, 32.
Detectives say the four live together in a home on Skye Place.
The investigation began in mid July when the sheriff’s office received a referral from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) about allegations of child abuse. The referral said nine children ranging in age from 7 to 13 were possibly being disciplined with a handheld stun gun.
“An 11-year-old boy made the statement that he couldn’t feel his legs any longer. He ran to a neighbor’s (home) and told the neighbor, who called the sheriff’s office,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Two children, ages 8 and 11, were removed from the home by DCF. They had “patterned bruises and burns” and multiple “two-prong” burns over their buttocks. A medical examination found one child had 15 two-prong burns over his buttocks, which investigators said are consistent with the effects of a stun gun.
Detectives got permission from Veronica Sanchez to check the other children for injuries. Detectives located the same “two-prong” marks on five additional children that were consistent with the original victims’ injuries.
During questioning, investigators say, Torres originally told a sheriff’s deputy that he owned a stun gun, and the children had found it and were using it on each other. According to the report, Torres later admitted he had lied, and that he and Vasquez had been using the stun gun for the past two to three weeks to discipline the children.
Vasquez told investigators he and Torres were making all the male children do push ups and would use the stun gun on any child who could not do one.
Detectives tell News Channel 8 the youngest child abused, a female, was only 7 years old.
“I don’t know how to explain to you the outrage that we all feel in law enforcement, that these two guys would use such barbaric action against young children,” Sheriff Judd said. “They tortured them and now they have to face the criminal justice system.”
According to the report, Veronica Sanchez and Elizabeth Tarvin both admitted they were aware the men were using the stun gun on the children.
“Elizabeth said she didn’t report it because she didn’t want to lose her boyfriend. Veronica said she didn’t report it because she didn’t want the children taken away,” Sheriff Judd said.
Neighbors were surprised to hear about the allegations. “The kids would be out playing in the street like kids do,” neighbor Frank Kirchon said.
Kirchon said he wished he had known so he could have reported it. “There’s no excuse to do that to any child,” he said.
“It breaks my heart to hear that,” neighbor Mary Smith said.
The four suspects face charges including aggravated child abuse, negligent child abuse and failure to report child abuse.
Sanchez is being held on $62,000 bond. The other three are being held on bonds of $455,000 or more.