The parents of three teens arrested after their family was found living in a box in the California desert say they’re innocent of child abuse.
Daniel Panico, 73, and Mona Kirk, 51, appeared at Joshua Tree Superior Court on Friday where they plead not guilty to three charges of child abuse, ABC-7 reported.
Both asked the court to appoint attorneys for their arraignment, indicating they could not afford to hire ones of their own, The Los Angeles Times reported. Kirk’s not guilty please was entered by a public defender while Panico’s was entered by San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Bert Swift.
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Panico told Judge Swift he was confused as to why they had been arrested, The San Bernardino Sun reported. “I am wondering why all this is happening,” he said
“I want to say something — it’s ridiculous,” he added, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Bail has been set at $300,000 each, ABC-7 reported.
The couple are expected to next appear in court on Tuesday, The San Bernardino Sun reported.
Children and Family Services has taken custody of the couple’s children. Swift has ordered the couple not to communicate with them, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Panico and Kirk were taken into custody Thursday after police discovered the family on the litter-strewn property in Joshua Tree, California, during a routine check.
Authorities say the couple and their three children — ages 14, 13, and 11 — were living in a makeshift plywood shack, or box, without electricity or running water for four years. The property has no electricity or water. The plywood shelter had a tin roof that was 20 feet long, 4 feet high and about 10 feet wide.
Authorities described the family as homeless; the children were not being held captive but the conditions were “unsuitable and unsafe,” according to authorities.
Also found on the property were approximately 30 or 40 cats.
Meanwhile, a neighbor, Mike Reynolds, told CBS that the couple had lost their previous house and had bought the property in the 7000 block of Sun Fair Road with a goal of building a “dream house.”
“His family, they lived not too far from here and they lost their house,” Reynolds said. “So he bought that lot and bought that trailers and moved up.”
Reynolds said the family was poor and not criminals.
“There’s people out there in the gutters raising their kids in less environment, in cardboard boxes and having to go to the bathroom in the gutters and they don’t get arrested,” he said. “They need help but they’re not getting arrested. My goodness, he’s living on his own property.”
Added Leanna Munroe, who has known the family for nine years. to The Los Angeles Times: “The Sheriff’s Department is punishing those kids for being homeless.”