Charges: Great-aunt tied up boys in basement, withheld food as punishment

One of the boys went without food for 6 days.

What's happening?

A very upsetting criminal complaint has been filed against a 53-year-old woman in South St. Paul, who is accused of the maltreatment of her two grand-nephews, of whom she is their legal guardian.

Over a period of years, Flor Estella Gallegos allegedly beat one of the boys, while she and her husband Alfonso forced both of them to go without food, and punished them by tying them up in the basement or their bedrooms – sometimes overnight.

One of the boys said they'd go without food for days at a time, with 6 days the longest they'd gone without eating.

They were locked up overnight

The boys first came to the attention of the police in January 2015, when the South St. Paul Police Department received a report from the school that one of the boys, then 11, had gone without eating for a weekend.

Investigators noted that there had been past reports from the boy's school about him being hungry and wanting more food, but when he was spoken to, he denied telling anyone he was not being fed at home.

In February 2017, a school staff member contacted police again to report that the same boy, by then 13, had been physically abused.

The boy's older brother told the staffer that Gallegos had hit the boy several times in the face for getting in trouble at school, and kept him home for several days so nobody would notice.

A social worker and a police officer then went to the Gallegos home to speak with the boy, noticing bruising on his face. At first he denied being hit by Gallegos but later admitted to officers that she had stuck him in the face at least five times.

Gallegos herself admitted she hit the boy for getting into trouble at school, and also admitted she locks him in his bedroom sometimes after police noticed a lock on his door – which child protection services told her to stop doing.

The older brother also expressed concern about his other younger brother, also aged 13.

He said Gallegos would lock them in their rooms and withhold food as punishment when they get in trouble.

When police responded to another report this past November 21, another child at the house, aged 16, told officers the two boys were often tied to a pole in the basement overnight or to the furniture in their bedrooms.

It was at this point they were removed from the Gallegos home and a formal child protection petition was filed by the Dakota County Attorney's Office, with criminal charges eventually filed on Feb. 1.

WCCO reports that six children were removed from the Gallegos home.

What the victims said

The first boy, the one who was allegedly hit by Gallegos, told police that when he was younger he'd not be allowed to eat, so he would steal food at night.

Gallegos would lock him in his room when he did this, he said, though this stopped after the February visit from social services.

In the past, Gallegos would withhold food, he said, though this stopped as a form of punishment when he was in Sixth Grade.

He also told police he and his brother would be tied up from when they were as young as 5 years old, with Gallegos allegedly using duct tape or white rope to tie them to a pole in the basement or to furniture in their room.

Gallegos stopped this when her sister-in-law yelled at her about it. The sister-in-law's daughter told police she would go to their boys' rooms and find it smelling of urine as they hadn't been allowed out to use the bathroom.

The second boy confirmed he had been starved while he was in the Fourth or Fifth Grade, as well as confirming Gallegos would tie them up.

He also said Flor and Alfonso Gallegos would be verbally abusive to them.

How did this not get picked up sooner?

KSTP spoke to Dakota County Attorney's Office, which said the Gallegos home had been the subject of several reports of maltreatment of children dating back to 2009.

These were all investigated, but the reports couldn't be substantiated and there wasn't enough evidence to proceed with a criminal case. 

It wasn't until the November 21 incident that "corroborating and sufficient evidence regarding the abuse was presented," the TV station notes.

Gallegos has been charged with false imprisonment and malicious punishment of a child.

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