Sunday, August 30, 2009

Police arrest foster parents in case of missing California boy with CP

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

FREMONT, Calif. -- The foster parents who tearfully pleaded for the public's help in finding their missing 5-year-old boy with cerebral palsy were arrested August 28 on suspicion of killing the boy, authorities said.

Louis Ross, 38, and his fiancee, Jennifer Campbell, 33, the boy's aunt, were taken into custody on suspicion of murder, said Officer Jeff Thomason, an Oakland police spokesman.

The boy, Hasanni Campbell (pictured), was reported missing Aug. 10 after Ross said he vanished at the rear door of a Rockridge neighborhood shoe store in Oakland where Campbell worked. His body has not been found.

Oakland homicide investigators were questioning the couple Friday night and conducted a search of the couple's Fremont home in Hampton Place, a tidy community of two-story stucco homes with wide streets and rose bushes.

Campbell was arrested at the Union City BART Station shortly before 2 p.m. after being questioned earlier by police, Thomason said. Ross was arrested at the Fremont home about an hour later.

"This is not a missing persons case anymore, this is a homicide investigation," Thomason said. "And we are talking to the people responsible." The officer said the investigation was "very complex."

John Burris, an attorney who has been consulting with the couple, said he was told of the couple's arrest on Friday afternoon.

"I'm not aware of what evidence, if any, that police have that supports the detainment or the arrest," Burris said. "I know that they have been questioned extensively by the police over the last several days."

Absent a body, Burris said the arrests were probably a police tactic designed to pressure the couple to talk and turn on each other.

"That's how police work," Burris said. "Divide and conquer."

Prosecutors will have 48 hours from the arrests, not including the weekend, to decide on charging the couple.

Investigators had long focused their attention on the foster parents, scouring their Fremont home with dogs two days after Hasanni vanished and questioning Ross and Campbell. Ross also was given a polygraph examination; Campbell, who is more than six months pregnant, declined to take one, saying she feared it might harm her fetus.

Police had said the dogs were unable to detect Hasanni's scent outside the shoe store where Ross said he last saw the boy. Hasanni wears arch-support braces because of his cerebral palsy, but he can walk on his own, Ross said.

Court documents also showed Ross sent Campbell an angry text message 10 days before Hasanni vanished, threatening to leave the boy alone on a BART platform. Ross has described the message as part of a dispute with his fiancee that quickly passed.

Throughout the investigation, the couple said they were cooperating as they continued to ask for the public's help in finding Hasanni. Police offered a $10,000 reward for information on his whereabouts.

"If you have him, let him go!" Ross pleaded at an Aug. 17 event outside the shoe store, when both foster parents wore shirts bearing pictures of the missing child. "This is our son!"

Friends and family members had defended the couple against police scrutiny, with Campbell's mother, Pamela Clark, saying in an interview with The Chronicle a few days after the disappearance that Ross was a professional man and a good provider.

"I don't think the family's involved at all," she said.

Friday afternoon, yellow crime scene tape blocked the street about a half block from the family's home, and Oakland police officers were seen going in and out of the backyard while Fremont police stood guard. A light could be seen on in the second story window, but it did not appear that anybody was at home. The search of the home wound down about 7 p.m.

Neighbors were shocked to see police cars and news helicopters descend on Hampton Place, a neighborhood they regard as free of crime.

"It's surprising for this neighborhood. There's not much crime here. We have had some break-ins, but nothing really serious," said one neighbor, Anton Ko. "It makes you feel afraid."

Entrances to the neighborhood were temporarily blocked by police, who were allowing only residents to enter.

"We're all talking about it, me and my friends, on Facebook," said one 15-year-old neighbor, Arvind Mahesh, who said he heard the helicopters arrive about 3 p.m. and rode his bicycle to watch the police search the home that Ross and Campbell share on Roxie Terrace.

Neighbors who had been following the story said they were dismayed at the latest twist in the case.

"All along, we heard the foster parents were upset about being interviewed, and asked a lot of questions. Now today, we found out they got arrested," said Alok Verma, who lives about a block and a half away from the family's home. "It's shocking."