The head of Los Angeles County's child protective agency said Thursday he would personally investigate the case of a Palmdale woman accused of beating, torturing and starving two adopted children.
A day after authorities announced that Ingrid Brewer, 50, had pleaded not guilty to two counts each of child abuse, torture, assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily injury, the private agency that facilitated the children's adoption said it was cooperating with the county Department of Children and Family Services.
DCFS Director Philip Browning called the allegations against Brewer "disturbing." The county agency has not confirmed or denied whether the family was under his department's supervision.
"I am personally looking into this situation to determine what role, if any, our department had in these children's lives," Browning said in a statement.
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On Thursday, NBC4 learned that the children were adopted through a private South San Francisco-based nonprofit agency called Aspiranet, which has multiple offices in Southern California.
Internal county documents obtained by NBC4 show that Brewer had seven foster children before adopting the most recent two, a brother and sister who were allegedly harmed by her at her Palmdale home.
On multiple occasions since 2001, Brewer was the subject of abuse allegations that were found to be unsubstantiated or unfounded by the county, the records show. In three instances, the claims were found to be "inconclusive," meaning not enough information was available to prove the abuse occurred.
Among the eight previous allegations, the latest was in April 2011, when a report was taken by DCFS regarding an allegation of physical abuse on a boy. It ended up being unfounded but a note listed a girl as a "sibling at risk."
Speaking in generalities, DCFS spokesman Neil Zanville said abuse allegations are always investigated but can be difficult to prove.
"Any time we see concrete evidence, and by that I mean a child is telling us that they were abused, or we see physical abuses or someone else has witnessed that abuse, we will take immediate action to make sure that child is safe," Zanville said. "Frequently, in a lot of allegations, these things are tough to prove."
Aspiranet Chief Executive Officer Vernon Brown said in an email to NBC4 that the agency is cooperating with the DCFS and Community Care Licensing, which both investigated the prior complaints.
"I cannot go into detail specifically regarding any prior complaints or allegations. CCL and DCFS are reviewing the files and Aspiranet is cooperating fully," Brown wrote. "I cannot comment at this time regarding your request related to the finalization of the adoption due to confidentiality and privacy laws. All adoptions are finalized after review with DCFS and the Court."
Sgt. Brian Hudson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Special Victims Bureau said Brewer had reported the two children, an 8-year-old boy and his 7-year-old sister, missing on Jan. 15. They were found hours later, huddled under a blanket and poorly clothed for the cold winter weather.
They recounted months of abuse -- allegations that authorities described in some detail Wednesday.
"This one just really shocked our conscience," Hudson said.
The siblings said they were hiding under a parked car because they were tired of being beaten by Brewer.
The children showed investigators injuries that gave credence to the story they told: When Brewer left for work each day, she would allegedly lock them inside their separate bedrooms for 12 hours at a time. They were forced to use waste baskets in their rooms when they needed to go to the bathroom during the day.
As punishment, Brewer allegedly pulled their wrists behind their backs with zip-ties, authorities said. The children had marks on their wrists consistent with such treatment, authorities said.
The children also said they had been beaten, sometimes with an electrical cord and a hammer, according to authorities. They were also deprived of food, sheriff's department officials said.
Authorities said Brewer was cooperating with investigators, whom she had told the children were locked up because they had been stealing food.
A neighbor of Brewer -- who lived on Clearview Court, in an area of fairly large, new homes -- did not want to be identified but told NBC4 said Brewer did not respond to greetings.
The charges stem from crimes that allegedly occurred between Oct. 31 and Jan. 15.
"We had two kids that thought they were in a loving home. That's where they thought they were headed when they were adopted," Hudson said "Unfortunately that turned out not to be the case."
Authorities said they were uncertain what agency approved the adoption of the children.
The children were placed in protective custody with a foster family.
Brewer faces a Jan. 31 preliminary hearing at the Lancaster courthouse, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
DCFS has a 24-hour child abuse hotline that it urges victims or witnesses to call: 800-540-4000.