Docs: DCS dismissed malnourished teen investigation in 2010

(WISH Photo)

ANDERSON, Ind. (WISH) — Police said they have more evidence to prove a malnourished teen wasn’t getting the medical help she needed.

The 15-year-old, who has mental disabilities, lived in a home in the 3400 block of Forest Avenue.

Police say her grandfather, 58-year-old Steve Sells, and his wife, 54-year-old Joetta Sells, are responsible.

Both face neglect charges. Joetta also faces a battery charge.

Detectives went to visit her at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis on Wednesday. Police said she’s not getting better but that she’s also not getting worse. The Madison County Prosecutor’s Office said it’s possible the charges against her grandparents could increase if she dies.

In court documents, Joetta told police that the family was getting $720 monthly to take care of the victim. In those same documents, police said the girl weighed less than 40 pounds and was living in a room covered in feces.

“The question is why wasn’t that money spent on food and why wasn’t that money spent on medical treatment. Why wasn’t that money spent on her environment to keep her safe,” said Detective Joel Sandefur, Anderson Police Department.

Police also wanted to find out if she was getting a proper education.

24-Hour News 8 obtained a statement the superintendent at the Anderson School Corporation. It read:

“After October 12, 2010, she was withdrawn by Steve and Joetta Sells to be home schooled.  It is not the school corporation’s responsibility to check on withdrawn students.”

Police got a warrant to search the home on Tuesday. They said they’ve collected evidence, some of which needs to be tested in a lab. They wouldn’t say what because it’s part of the investigation. But they did say it’s possible more charges could be filed on top of neglect and battery based on what they’ve found.

“I’ve never seen a worse case,” he said of the neglect allegations.Prosecutor Rodney Cummings told 24-Hour News 8’s news partners at the Herald Bulletin.

The Indiana Department of Child Services in 2010 requested custody of the girl but, according to court documents and to Madison Circuit Court 2 Judge George Pancol, DCS later withdrew the request before it came before Pancol.

The document obtained by the Herald Bulletin from Nov. 8, 2010, notes that DCS attorney Maureen Ann Bartolo “respectfully requests the Initial CHINS (Child in Need of Services) on (minor’s name withheld) to be dismissed due to the Investigation being closed and finding no evidence.”

Pancol denied a DCS request to take custody of the girl in 2011, according to the Herald Bulletin.

Story continues below this video:


There’s plenty of conversation going on at the 29th Street Café in Anderson. Customers and staff often talk over a wide range of topics.

“The police department, whether it comes to the weather, whether it comes to what’s going on in the neighborhood, we talk about everything because we’re a close little diner here,” said waitress Sandiy McIntyre.

But pouring in between the cups of coffee is a headline that’s not so easy to talk about.

“Unfortunately there’s never ending supply of things to put on the front page,” one customer said as she looked down at the newspaper.

“She was 15 years old and she only weighed 40 pounds,” McIntrye exclaimed to another coworker now reading the article about the investigation. “That should be more than child neglect that should be like attempted murder or something,” the coworker replied.

From the staff to the customers and the neighbors down the block, all are trying to understand the gut-wrenching story police said was happening inside the home off Forest Terrace.

According to court documents, the victim was so malnourished her bones were protruding from her flesh. It also stated she was locked away in a bedroom that had inadequate heating, blood on the floor, and feces on everything.

“It would be very hard for someone who lives in the same household be able to say I had no idea what was going on underneath my own roof,” said Det. Sandefur.

24-Hour News 8 tried to talk to Joetta Sells’ daughter who became an adopted daughter of Steve when the couple married. Although she was at the home Wednesday she didn’t want to comment.

“These are grandparents. I just, I don’t see how grandparents can treat their grandchildren like this,” said a customer at the diner.

“People in the area are like really, I don’t know, they feel let down because we have a Neighborhood Watch and we would think that people in the neighborhood would have like recognized that,” said McIntyre. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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