Updated: January 29, 2010 at 12:00 am
An El Paso County man accused of abusing his adopted son was suspected of mistreating the teenager two years ago while living on the Western Slope but eluded authorities’ scrutiny by home-schooling him, Craig police said.
Jeremiah Lovato, a maintenance worker for the Colorado Department of Transportation, faces nine felony counts of child abuse, first-degree assault and menacing for allegedly beating the 15-year-old boy repeatedly with a 2-by-2 piece of lumber.
Lovato, 39, was arrested Jan. 5 at his home east of Colorado Springs. He was released Jan. 8 on a $250,000 bond and is due back in court Feb. 8. His adopted son, whose identity has not been released, is in the custody of El Paso County social services.
Suspicions about the single father’s treatment of the then-14-year-old arose in early 2008, soon after he enrolled the boy in Craig Middle School.
Among the warning signs reported to the Craig police officer assigned to the school were the boy’s sporadic attendance and his fearfulness around others, said police Cmdr. Bill Leonard.
In early 2009, the boy came to school with what appeared to be a black eye. The school officer and a Moffat County Social Services caseworker went to Lovato’s home and questioned him and his son, Leonard said.
“The father said the injury was from playing football, and the son backed that up,” Leonard said.
Before it went any further, Lovato took his son out of school, telling Moffat County School District officials he was going to home-school him.
“That got him under the radar,” Leonard said.
Matt Harris, Moffat County Social Services’ supervisor of caseworkers, would not confirm that there had been complaints or an investigation, saying it would be a misdemeanor for him to divulge confidential child welfare information.
When there are suspicions of abuse, a sudden decision to remove a child from school can be a red flag, said Shirley Rhodes, El Paso County Child Protective Services administrator.
“The vast majority who home-school do it for the right reasons — religion, culture, education,” Rhodes said. “But in instances where there is abuse, there’s no opportunity for someone to see it or to question them.”
CDOT transferred Lovato to Colorado Spring in spring 2009. On Jan. 3, the teenager called the Sheriff’s Office to report that he had been severely beaten by his father.
According to the arrest affidavit, the boy told investigators his father beat him when he did not do his chores right or fast enough, forcing him to lie face down in the basement and hitting him with a “piece of lumber.”
The boy said the beatings had become worse since October. Before that, he told the deputy, his father would hit him with a belt.
In the affidavit, the deputy described the following injuries: green-colored bruises from the boy’s lower back to his shoulders; bruises the same color around his left eye and right ear; bloodied and scabbed-over injuries to his buttocks, some of which appeared to have healed and been reopened; a large closed gash on his head.
Interviewed in the hospital, the boy told sheriff’s detective Cliff Porter the most recent beating had occurred because he had fallen asleep when he was supposed to have stayed up all night doing chores.
“He told me that when it ‘really hurt’ he would squirm while his father hit him with the lumber,” Porter wrote. “He said that his father would then ‘stomp me with his boot to get me to hold still.’”
Porter wrote in the affidavit that the boy told him he was afraid his father would kill him.
In the basement of Lovato’s home, investigators found a 2-by-2 with what appeared to be blood on it.
Sheriff’s investigators said they believe Lovato intends to try to regain custody of his adopted son.