Following a welfare check on students missing from Nay Ah Shing School in early September, an investigation, including a series of interviews and search warrants, has indicated a history of beatings and abuse against the children living at the residence. The legal guardians, Lorna Mae Hanks, 56, and Steven Jerome Hanks, 59, both of Onamia, have been charged with a number of counts associated with malicious punishment of a child and child endangerment.
According to the criminal complaint:
On Sept. 3, a Mille Lacs Tribal Police officer responded to the home of Steven and Lorna Hanks on Nay Ah Shing Drive in the Vineland area to carry a welfare check on two children. Nay Ah Shing School had reported these children absent since class had started the previous week. Steven Hanks, appearing to have just woken up, answered the door several minutes after the officer knocked.
When the officer stated he was present because the school was concerned about the children, Steven Hanks replied that he would get them to school. The officer then advised that he wanted to check on the children’s welfare. The officer was led by Steven Hanks to a basement door, sealed with a white child-proof door lock on the handle. The officer asked if the door was locked like this while the children were downstairs. Hanks replied, “Just once in a while.”
When the door was open, the two children were standing at the top of the stairs, appearing to have been waiting for someone to open the door.
A tribal police investigator reported to the house on Friday, Sept. 13, and along with the Mille Lacs Band Family Services and Mille Lacs County Community and Veterans Services, participated in an interview with a third child at the house. This child had lived with the Hanks for five years, during which time the child stated they were forced to sleep in the bathtub and utility room. The child also witnessed other children in the house getting hit with a belt and a backscratcher during this time. At this point, the interview was stopped in order to set up a forensic interview to assess the child’s well-being and gather and corroborate evidence for a criminal investigation.
A forensic interview with the same child occurred Sept. 17. The child again reported having to sleep in a bathtub and the utility room as a result of bedwetting while living with the Hanks. The child also reported being beaten for not doing chores correctly. Three other children had also been beaten, according to the child. The child related being beaten on the head with a wooden spoon on six occasions, which led to bleeding. The child further stated that Lorna Hanks was the one who beat the children most often. That same day, an interview occurred with another of the children, indicating they also had been beaten. This child had been at the house during the same period as the previously interviewed child and reported being beaten with wooden spoons, a belt and a wooden back scratcher. These beatings reportedly left bruises on both beaten children, according to the complaint. The child said that the kids were told to stay in the basement when social workers or other adults came to check for foster care compliance.
On Sept. 18, tribal police executed a search warrant on the Hanks residence. During this search, a sergeant photographed the residence, finding video cameras affixed to the ceiling that were viewable through the master bedroom. The officer also observed holes in doors where locks and door jambs had previously been. The search located three belts and several wooden spoons.
Interviews were conducted on Sept. 25 with four other children who had lived with the Hanks prior to being removed. These interviews produced reports from the children that they had been “whooped” by Lorna Hanks. These “whoopings” had occurred more than once and had included a belt and multiple fly swatters. One child reported being hit near the eye with a fly swatter, and another described a beating on the stomach with a belt that had caused bleeding. One child stated that Lorna Hanks had said, “If you talk about the whooping, you’re going to get a whooping.” One child reported getting whooped by Steven Hanks once. Another child reported that Steven Hanks had beaten them with a belt for “being naughty to [their] brothers.” Two children did not report getting beat or seeing any beatings during the forensic interview.
On Oct. 2, a search warrant was executed by an investigator to retrieve a cell phone of one of the children. An extraction report was completed on the cell phone. Several text exchanges were found from after the children were removed from the home. Lorna Hanks told the child to not tell anyone they were texting and to record everyone the child encountered. Texts from Steven Hanks advised the child not to talk to or trust anyone and to erase messages after they were read. Earlier messages on the phone indicated the child had been left to watch the other children for a period of several days, including infant children.
A second search warrant was executed on the Hanks residence on Oct. 2. Lorna Hanks attempted to prevent the investigator’s entrance, but he was able to jammed the door with his foot. Lorna Hanks stated she didn’t have to let the officer in and continued to stop the officer’s entrance. He advised her that he had a search warrant signed by a judge. The search seized a red fly swatter and blue fishnet.
On Oct. 18, forensic interviews were conducted with two additional children who had previously been under the Hanks’ care as foster children. These children reported the Hanks being mean and abusive to the other children, including hitting, punching, pushing, slapping, and beatings with a belt almost daily. When asked to clarify, one child said the beatings had come from Lorna Hanks more than Steven Hanks. While the child reported the belt was used most often, other beatings were done with shoes, brooms and other objects. One child reported that Lorna Hanks told Steven Hanks how to discipline the children, and that another child (the one whose cell phone had been searched) had been instructed to push and hit the other children. The other child interviewed indicated that Lorna Hanks pulled two of the children’s hair, and they had been forced by Lorna Hanks to pull the children’s hair as well and slap and otherwise hurt the other children.
Throughout the report, a total of eight different minors are numbered and referred to.
Lorna Hanks has been charged with two felony counts of first-degree tampering with a witness, attempting to attempt or dissuade information from being provided to law enforcement (which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years and/or a $10,000 fine); two felony counts of malicious punishment of a child (which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years and/or an $10,000 fine); two gross misdemeanor counts of endangering a child (which carries a maximum prison sentence of one year and/or a $3,000 fine); five gross misdemeanor counts of malicious punishment of a child (which carries a maximum sentence of one year and/or $3,000 fine); one misdemeanor count of obstructing legal process (which carries a maximum sentence of 90 days and/or a $1,000 fine); and three misdemeanor counts of domestic assault (which carries a maximum sentence of 90 days or an $1,000 fine).
Steven Hanks has been charged with two counts of child endangerment, five counts of malicious punishment of a child and three counts of domestic assault.