The Joshua Tree couple accused of abusing their children who were found living in a plywood structure just weeks ago have had their felony child abuse charges reduced to other criminal counts, court records show.
The announcement of felony charges against the couple last month drew outrage from family members and friends, as one person told a Press-Enterprise reporter: “They’re being punished for being homeless.”
Mona Kirk, 51, and Daniel Panico, 73, were arrested on March 1 and then charged with felony child abuse just a day later. Now, the couple is instead facing charges of willful cruelty to a child and failure to address truancy, records show.
They have pleaded not guilty.
At the time of their arrest, the couple’s children — ages 14, 13 and 11 — told authorities they were living in a plywood structure just outside a trailer. Law enforcement officials initially described that makeshift shelter as a “box” but later clarified the children were not being held captive.
“Rather, the entire family was living a very confined area,” San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Captain Trevis Newport said in a tweet.
The family’s shelter did not have running water, electricity or heat, Newport said.
Still, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said the initial reports of the couple’s children living in a “box” were misleading.
“They’re homeless,” he said. “It’s a shelter, the shape of a box … nowhere near what it sounded like when it came out.”