A New Jersey Army major and his wife accused of abusing their foster children with disciplinary measures that included assault, withholding food and water and forcing the children to eat hot sauce were freed on bail Thursday.
John and Carolyn Jackson of Mount Holly were charged this week with 17 counts including endangerment, assault and conspiracy. Prosecutors allege that the assaults against the children were so violent they caused broken bones.
The couple forced the children to eat hot pepper flakes and hot sauce and fed one child a substance that gave the child extremely elevated sodium levels, prosecutors alleged in court documents and in arguments. Prosecutors said the couple told their biological children that they were "training" the foster children to behave and instructed the biological children not to tell anyone.
According to the indictment, the Jacksons have three biological children and fostered three children they later adopted. One of the foster children died in 2008. The couple was not charged with the child's death. They are accused of withholding food from the child, assaulting him or her and withholding care for a skin infection the child had.
The Jacksons appeared in federal court in Newark on Thursday, shackled and clad in green jail jumpsuits. They were each freed on $250,000 bail.
The Jacksons must also wear electronic monitoring devices and were placed under home detention with the exception of work, legal, medical and religious reasons.
They were released into the custody of third-party custodians who are responsible for ensuring the Jacksons meet their conditions of release.
United States Magistrate Judge Mark Falk ordered the Jacksons have no direct, phone, Internet or third-party contact with their two minor biological children, who prosecutors say were assaulted by their parents.
Authorities claim the abuse happened in 2010 and all children were taken out of the home by the state. A lawyer for John Jackson said the couple has visitation rights with two of their biological children and that parental rights with the other three children — one biological child and two who were fostered — were terminated.
In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa L. Jampol argued that the couple had breached family court custody agreements and spent time alone with the biological children, when the order stipulated that the guardians be present during all visits.
The couple is being tried in federal court because prosecutors say the alleged crimes took place while the family was living at the Picatinny Arsenal in Rockaway Township, N.J., about 35 miles west of New York City.
Having such cases that involve family court documents typically don't end up at the federal level, a peculiarity that Judge Falk pointed out numerous times during the nearly 90-minute bail hearing.
Lawyers for the Jacksons argued that the two have no prior criminal records and were not a flight risk. Each has a job; John Jackson will return to his job with the Army, his lawyer said.
"Here's a man who has never been arrested, has never been in trouble with the law, has a distinguished military career, served overseas, a distinguished veteran," said David Holman, a federal public defender representing John Jackson. The only case against him, Holman said, has been a case in family court involving the children, he said.
There has been an outpouring of support for the couple, who friends say were active at a church near Mount Holly, outside Philadelphia.
Roy Bryhm said he has known the couple for years and his son still sees their biological children, even attending his or her birthday party since the Jacksons lost custody.
"They're just devastated," Bryhm said of the children. "They miss their parents."
Bryhm said he only knows the Jacksons to be caring, loving parents and that there is no truth to the allegations.
John Angeleri said he met the Jacksons through ALERT Cadet, a Christian organization for boys and their fathers.
Angeleri said he met the Jacksons after they lost custody of the children, but only knows them to be caring people.
"There's nothing in their characters that is anything less than regular parents," Angeleri said.
Bryhm and Angeleri said friends have helped raise money for the Jacksons, who have depleted their savings and retirement money fighting the family court charges.