NORTH MANKATO — Officials are asking a judge to terminate the parental rights of a Minnesota couple accused of starving one of their four children, saying the 8-year-old boy suffered egregious harm and it's not in the best interest of any child to be in their care.
The boy, who weighed less than 35 pounds last month, was released from the hospital Wednesday, Mayo Clinic officials said Thursday. He's now in foster care, and his siblings remain with their parents, Russell and Mona Hauer.
The Hauers, of North Mankato, are charged with six felonies, including neglect and malicious punishment of a child. Authorities said they spanked the boy with a 2-by-4, made him sleep in a sled because he wet the bed and put an alarm on his door so he would not steal food.
He was given a bucket to urinate in, and was taken outside to be hosed off on some mornings, the complaint said.
"He was treated like an animal," said Nicollet County Sheriff's Investigator Marc Chadderdon.
The Hauers' attorney, Jason Kohlmeyer, said Thursday that the couple will fight the charges and to keep all four children, including the 8-year-old.
"They absolutely want him back," Kohlmeyer said.
The Hauers have been licensed foster parents in Minnesota since 2005, and the state has no record of sanctions against them. Kohlmeyer said that up until a month ago, county officials continually recommended the Hauers as foster parents.
It was unclear how many foster children they've cared for over the years; they currently have none. The 8-year-old and his two siblings were past foster children whom the Hauers adopted. They also have one biological child.
Mona Hauer brought the boy to the hospital Oct. 9 because she thought he vomited blood. She said the boy had eating issues and had been ruminating food for months, the complaint said. Ruminating is when a person deliberately regurgitates food, and then rechews and reswallows it or spits it out.
The boy weighed just 34.8 pounds and was 3 feet, 5 inches tall — about the weight of an average 4-year-old. The complaint said his bones were protruding. He had a slow heartbeat, brain atrophy and delayed bone growth.
The boy told officials he was given a liquid diet and he ruminated "because he wanted the taste of food and he did not know when he would eat again," the complaint said. He told authorities he was so hungry that he ate birdseed and rotting food from a compost pile.
Kohlmeyer said the county has jumped to conclusions. He said the boy was malnourished, but the Hauers didn't withhold food.
Court documents say Mona Hauer took the boy to a psychiatrist initially to deal with behaviors such as hoarding food. When they couldn't control his eating, the Hauers put an alarm on his door. Kohlmeyer said the parents had taken other foster children to psychiatrists, and tried to use the same disciplinary techniques with this boy.
"Looking back, it was a terrible mistake," Kohlmeyer said. "They vastly underestimated his mental health problems ... They tried the best they could."
Others didn't notice anything amiss. The Hauers are regulars at Bethel Baptist Church in Mankato and the children attended Wednesday bible classes, where Russell Hauer once helped out, said Ann Winch, a part-time church secretary.
Winch, who taught the Hauer children in Sunday school, said the parents never denied the boy treats in class, and while he was small, he didn't seem undernourished.
"There was never any sign of any abuse of any nature," Winch said. "They are a very loving family. They care for their kids, no doubt."
Chadderdon said the Hauers didn't get help when they needed it.
"As an adult, I feel you have every right to do what you want, but with a child that has some issues ahead of him, at some point as an adult you have an obligation to provide medical care," Chadderdon said. "Even if he has mental issues or whatnot, you have to feed him."
The boys' siblings were removed from the home Oct. 24 and returned to their parents Tuesday, after Nicollet County District Judge Todd Westphal said conditions could be imposed that would ensure their safety, including no corporal punishment and monthly doctor visits.
He ruled the boy would be placed in foster care.
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