FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A local woman and her live-in boyfriend face a string of charges after police say her 8-year-old son was found to have suffered abuse including starvation and being handcuffed to furniture.
Melissa Miranda, 33, and Jouse “Joey” Tovias have been jailed since Jan. 26.
According to arrest documents, Miranda has four other children aged 17 to 5 and is pregnant with another.
The documents describe in great detail what investigators say the child had suffered. Police say he had injuries described as starvation, and laceration to his right wrist.
The investigation began last week after an employee of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) came to the Fayetteville Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division to discuss a hotline report stating the boy had been handcuffed to a chair in the living room since the beginning of January. On Jan. 24, a police detective reported that he saw the child with a scabbed injury on his right wrist that was consistent with someone applying pressure to a handcuff while wearing it.
During the initial investigation, police say allegations surfaced that the victim was being starved and that Miranda was jealous that her mother loved the victim more than she loved her. This was said to be the reason for the victim being singled out from the other children.
On Jan. 25, the same detective interviewed staff at the boy’s school. Numerous staff members told police the victim’s physical appearance had significantly changed since Nov. 2017. They said his eyes and cheeks became sunken and his skin tone changed. He also became very emotional when eating, hoarded food, and stole food from other students. As a result, an alternate eating schedule had been made by the school on the victim’s behalf in order to accommodate his extreme hunger. The staff also noted that the boy began experiencing incontinence frequently while at school and said even when he was not wet with urine he smelled strongly of it.
Police say that when the staff called Miranda and Tovias, to remedy the situation, they were very defensive and at one point said the victim would just have to spend the day sitting in the nurse’s office. They also resisted requests to bring the victim clean clothes.
The four youngest siblings were taken to the Child Safety Center for interviews, but no disclosures were made. Investigators asked the victim and his 5-year-old brother to remove their shirts and the 5-year-old appeared healthy but the victim had a distended stomach and the bones in his chest/ribs were visible and his arms were extremely skinny.
On Jan. 26, Miranda and Tovias complied with a request from investigators to take the victim for medical screening for malnutrition and other forms of abuse. During that time, Miranda’s 17-year-old daughter gave the detective an audio recording from Jan. 13 of her mother disciplining the 8-year-old.
In the recording, Miranda was extremely irate, aggressive, vulgar, and loud, the report stated. She was mad because the victim stole candy. She threatened him, saying “I’ll cut you” and threatened to abandon him in the cold and to have him arrested for stealing candy. The detective reported hearing sounds of something being struck repeatedly. She was heard speaking to Tovias, which indicated he was there when this was happening, police say.
After hearing the recording, Fayetteville police began surveillance at Owl Creek Elementary. Miranda and Tovias were arrested when they arrived to pick up the children.
About the abuse allegations, police say Miranda said:
- She had a lot of regrets and did not know why she did the things that she did. She said she experienced emotional turmoil in October when she found out that Tovias had cheated on her. The incident reportedly led to her arrest for Aggravated Assault on a Family or Household Member, Domestic Battery and Possession of a Controlled Substance (Meth). At that time, she said she was holding meth that belonged to Tovias and he allowed her to be arrested and charged without claiming responsibility for it. This caused her anger and embarrassment. She said the victim’s behavior at school also caused her repeated embarrassment.
- She said when she put the victim in timeout, he refused to stay put. She also said he was stealing “junk food” from the kitchen during the night. Therefore, she began handcuffing him to a school desk in their living room between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. to 5 a.m.
- Because of his incontinence, she would set her alarm every hour to hour and a half to take him to the bathroom. However, he wet and defecated on the living room carpet on several occasions when he could not make it to the bathroom. The carpet was starting to stain. As a result, she began making him sleep on a trash bag. She also admitted that while handcuffed to the desk in time out, she made him bend at the waist, touch his toes, and remain in that position as punishment.
- She admitted threatening to cut him and holding a knife to the child’s wrist and said she told the victim that “thieves get their fingers cut off.”
- She initially denied starving him and said that he ate every night. She complained that he did not like her cooking frequently and said that she made chicken nuggets as an alternative. She said that for several months that he did not eat dinner “on average” four nights a week. She said she was frustrated and admitted she was scorned because the victim liked everyone’s cooking more than hers, including the school’s, despite her belief that her cooking was “more flavorful.”
- She admitted that out of spite, the victim was handcuffed to the desk to keep him from eating after being sent away from the dinner table without eating.
Police say Miranda displayed emotions of sorrow and disappointment in herself and said that she needed help. When asked why she did not disclose the abuse earlier in the investigation, or in three previous DHS investigations, she said she was afraid of the consequences of her actions and knew that she would get prison time. She also admitted that she frequently told her children that they were not to tell the family’s business to anyone outside of the home, which was why they did not disclose the abuse during interviews.
When asked where the handcuffs were that were used on the victim, she said she threw them away because of contact with DHS earlier this month.
Tovias told police that the voice in the recording was not his despite Miranda admitting it was. She told police he was there and aware of her crimes against the victim. Tovias told police he is father of Miranda’s 5-year-old and the child she is now carrying.
The children have all been removed from the home and placed in foster care.
Miranda and Tovias are being held at the Washington County Detention Center. Miranda faces these charges and Tovias faces the same charges as an accused accomplice, as well as a charge of Permitting Child Abuse:
- Domestic Battery
- Aggravated Assault on a Family Member
- Endangering the Welfare of a Minor
- Tampering with Physical Evidence
- Terroristic Threatening