The FBI is investigating possible civil rights violations involving more than 50 children who were living in the care of the Ecclesia Athletic Assn. until the 8-year-old daughter of the group’s founder was beaten to death.
The children have been held by the state in protective custody since the Oct. 14 death of Dayna Broussard, the daughter of Eldridge Broussard Jr., founder of Los Angeles-based Ecclesia and its parent group, the Watts Christian Center.
The chief of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office, Barry Sheldahl, said Monday that the Portland FBI office had begun an investigation, prompted by news accounts of the girl’s death. He said the investigation is related to events that may have occurred before the death.
An autopsy showed that Dayna Broussard was beaten to death and that her body had evidence of scars, including whip marks, the state medical examiner said. Four adult Ecclesia members have been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death.
“We don’t have a named defendant, so the allegations are not substantiated,” Sheldahl said of the federal civil rights investigation. “They are allegations of civil rights violations in which the children are victims or potential victims.”
Sheldahl said the investigation is being conducted to determine whether “anyone has conspired to deny their civil rights.”
The Oregon Children’s Services Division was given custody of 53 children, ranging in age from 1 1/2 months to 16 years, who were removed from the group’s farmhouse near Sandy, east of Portland. They also have custody of two of five children who had been in Ecclesia’s care at the Watts Christian Center in Los Angeles.
After interviewing the children, authorities said the youngsters had been systematically beaten as many as 800 times with paddles, electrical cords or other devices. Clackamas County prosecutors said the children were forced to watch and count as others were beaten, including Dayna Broussard the night she died.
Sheldahl said the U.S. attorney’s office is assisting the FBI and will send reports resulting from the investigation to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, which will decide whether the matter will be prosecuted.
Ecclesia members Brian Brison, 30; Willie Chambers, 35; Constance Jackson, 37, and Frederick Doolittle, 28, face a manslaughter trial Dec. 12. The defendants will appear today for a hearing before a Clackamas County Circuit Court judge.