A local U.S. Army major and his wife are accused of abusing their three foster children -- force-feeding them hot sauce, withholding water, and breaking their bones, according to U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.
In one instance, according to court documents, the couple even made one of their biological children stand guard to make sure the foster children would not be able to quench their thirst with water from the toilet.
The wife was arrested this morning and husband John Jackson surrendered to authorities at their home in Mount Holly, New Jersey.
John E. Jackson, 37, is a U.S. Army major, formerly with the Picatinny Arsenal Installation in Morris County, N.J. Jackson and his wife, Carolyn Jackson, 35, are charged in a 17-count indictment.
"Carolyn and John Jackson are charged with unimaginable cruelty to children they were trusted to protect," Fishman said in a statement.
READ: The entire indictment
According to court documents, the Jacksons have three biological children and had three foster children who they adopted. The indictment alleges that the parents agreed to use "disciplinary and child-rearing techniques that were neglectful and cruel" on their adopted children, and that they physically assaulted all six children. One of their adopted children died in May of 2008.
Federal prosecutors outline a story of physical and emotional abuse, primarily against the adopted children.
The alleged abuse occurred for almost five years, from approximately August of 2005 until April of 2010 while the family lived in Morris County, according to the indictment. Prosecutors say the Jacksons physically assaulted their children with various objects, withheld proper medical care for their adopted children, forced two of them to consume foods like red pepper flakes, hot sauce and raw onion, which caused pain and suffering to the children. They're also accused of withholding water from one child while forcing him to eat salt-laden food and substances, which led to a life-threatening condition.
According to court documents, the parents told their biological children that they were "training" the other children to behave through a variety of methods. They told their biological kids that the physical assaults were justified and that they should not talk about what was going on to others.
When one of the biological children did confide in a family friend, after that friend confronted the father, the boy was allegedly beaten with a belt.
Other allegations in the indictment include the parents allegedly forcing the kids to eat hot sauce, red pepper flakes and raw onion that caused the children "pain and suffering."
The children are in the care of the state right now.
The U.S. Army said it is cooperating fully with investigators and could not comment any further. They referred all inquiries to the U.S. Attorney's office.
The Jacksons have not responded publicly to the charges, but an online search reveals a petition and articles written about the ordeal, dating back to 2011.
According to the petition, the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services removed the remaining five children from the home in April of 2010. The petition was a move to pressure DYFS to return the children:
Army Major Jackson and his wife, Carolyn, have been staunch advocates for children, adopting children, in addition to their biological children, who would have been hard to place because of their medical needs. They have provided their children with a stable, loving home. NJ DYFS must do what is in the best interests of the Jackson children and return them to their parents. We urge you to intervene on their behalf.
622 people signed the petition. And there has been other online support, characterized in World Net Daily as a “Christian family broken apart by a state agency holding 5 kids.”
The article said Jackson and his wife are “devout Christian homeschoolers with a history of serving as adoptive and foster parents. . .During the course of a nine-month legal battle to regain custody of their children, the Jacksons say they have encountered prejudice against their religion and homeschooling as they fight a state agency determined to see the children adopted by strangers no matter what the evidence says."
According to the article, the Jacksons complained that one DYFS worker in particular, would not allow them to pray with their children. Major Jackson also claimed in the report that DYFS misrepresented statements he and his children made in order to build a case against the parents.
“My children are being held hostage, they’ve been kidnapped,” he told the independent, a conservative news website.