Authorities Sunday arrested a fourth member of the Watts-based Ecclesia Athletic Assn. on suspicion of murdering the young daughter of the organization’s leader, and also took custody of an additional six children connected with the group.
The action brings to 59 the number of Los Angeles children--age 1 1/2 months to 16 years--that the Oregon Children’s Services Division has taken into protective custody as part of its child abuse investigation of the group.
Bart Wilson, branch manager of the agency’s Clackamas County office, said the additional six children were initially allowed to remain with their relatives at the farmhouse in nearby Sandy from which the 53 others had been taken on Friday.
But, Wilson said Sunday, “We changed our minds because of the information that’s coming out of these interviews” with the other children.
He added that some of the children have “marks and scars and we’re led to believe that abuse has occurred.” Wilson said he will recommend the children remain in custody “at least for a period of time” at a juvenile court hearing today.
Coroner’s officials disclosed Sunday that 8-year-old Dayna Lorea Broussard had been “severely whipped and beaten” before she died.
Blames News Media
Meanwhile, in his first public comment since the death of his daughter, Eldridge Broussard Jr., Ecclesia founder and director, blamed the news media for causing his daughter’s death.
“If (the media) had told the truth and not slanted that story of yours, we would not have had to go all over this country hunted like animals,” Broussard said in an interview with a reporter for Portland television station KATU.
“Now, murder is involved, and I accuse you (the media) on national television of murder in the first degree.”
Broussard called for talk show host Oprah Winfrey, ABC “Nightline” host Ted Koppel, the magazine Psychology Today, or the Rev. Jesse Jackson to mediate an open forum.
He said, “I need a forum where I can unfold some of the most bizarre, unfortunate and real information that I can.
“My little girl is dead,” Broussard added. “And, yes, we may have some evidence . . . I have some evidence that . . . our whole group has been pressured into all manner of activities we would not have had to do had we been understood a little better. . . .”
Broussard, who was in Los Angeles at the time his daughter was slain and came to Oregon over the weekend, gritted his teeth and raised his voice at times. He declined all other interview requests and left the county sheriff’s station in silence.
Sheriff’s officials later said Broussard was cooperating with their investigation and encouraging other Ecclesia members to do the same.
The Broussard group has stirred controversy in Oregon since last year, when it brought 100 Watts residents to Clackamas County, southeast of Portland, in what it said was an attempt to help inner-city children through “toughness training,” a combination of farm labor and athletic workouts.
Neighbors, however, have likened the group to a cult.
Sheriff’s Capt. Pat Detloff said Brian James Brinson, 30, of Los Angeles, who had been arrested Friday for hindering the investigation, is now a murder suspect in the case. Also being held as murder suspects Sunday were Willie K. Chambers, 35, Constance Zipporah Jackson, 37, and Frederick Paul Doolittle, 28, all of Los Angeles.
Only Chambers has been formally charged, however, in the child’s death. The others await arraignment.
Detloff said two others are being held as material witnesses. They are Sherion Melinda Johnson, 32, and Josie Ruth Faust, 50, both of Los Angeles.
Deputy Oregon State Medical Examiner George Coleman said an autopsy showed that the Broussard child had been “severely whipped and beaten around the head, chest and extremities, dying of blunt-force injuries.”
Much remained unclear about the circumstances of the child’s death, Detloff and other investigating officers said.
And they said that as yet they have had “very little contact” with the parents of the other children, who have been placed in juvenile detention centers temporarily.
Wilson said some parents had telephoned from Los Angeles asking about the safety of their children.
In Los Angeles, Broussard’s father, Eldridge Broussard Sr., said that all of the parents of the children taken into protective custody had left Los Angeles for Oregon to retrieve their children.