A well-to-do Thousand Oaks couple accused of making their teen-age daughter sleep for months in a small outdoor bathroom say they acted to prevent her from raiding the kitchen at night and violating her salt-free diet.
Charlotte Russo, 51, was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on three counts of child abuse following testimony at a preliminary hearing that she would hose down her naked daughter with cold water outside the house in the morning, then let the girl into the residence with a list of housework to be completed that day.
The girl’s father, stockbroker Richard Russo, 49, pleaded guilty on Monday to a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment. Charlotte Russo, a registered nurse, is scheduled for arraignment in Ventura County Superior Court on Oct. 13. Both are free on their own recognizance.
Sheriff’s Detective Robert LeMay, testifying at Wednesday’s hearing in Ventura County Municipal Court, said the girl told him that her parents started locking her in the bathroom on their back yard racquetball court 2 1/2 years ago.
The girl, who turns 16 today and is living in a foster home, said the frequency of her stays in the 4-foot-by-7-foot bathroom increased to the point that “in the course of time it became clear to her . . . that that’s where she was supposed to sleep,” LeMay testified.
Although she sometimes was given a blanket and pillow to use as she slept on the floor, those items were taken away as the discipline escalated, the girl told LeMay.
Except for a week around Halloween, the girl said she slept in the outdoor bathroom from August, 1992, until May of this year. At one point, she was locked in the windowless bathroom for a week, with no opportunity to come out, LeMay said the girl told him.
The girl also told detectives that she was locked in the bathroom on Saturday nights while the rest of the family went to church, during family gatherings at the house, and whenever her parents went away for the day. The Russos have seven children.
LeMay testified that the girl told him that for the nine months she was confined to the bathroom, she was fed a mixture of oatmeal, eggs and orange juice four times a day.
Through their attorneys, the Russos denied that they locked the girl in the bathroom or that she was kept there for nine months, but they acknowledged that they made her sleep there sometimes so she could not raid the kitchen.
The girl has a heart condition that has required four surgeries, and locking her out of the house was the only way they could keep her from eating salty foods, attorneys for the parents said.
“We acknowledge that with the advantage of retrospect, the locking her out (of the house) for medical reasons to keep her away from the food may have put her in a position where she was psychologically harmed because she was ostracized from the rest of the family,” said Jorge A. Alvarado, attorney for Richard Russo. “We adamantly deny that there was a lock (on the bathroom).”
Attorney Joseph Hackett, who represents Charlotte Russo, told Municipal Judge Bruce A. Clark that the girl is a juvenile delinquent who is lying about being abused because she wants to avoid prosecution for three burglaries at Westlake High School.