The Houston Police Officers Union named Officer Ryan Pena the Investigator of the Month in the June general membership meeting.
On Dec. 20 of 2020, while Officer Pena was still working the Child Fatality Unit, he was notified of a callout case regarding the death of a child. However, prior to going out, it was discovered that the deceased was over the age of 6, which was the cutoff age for CFU to respond. So, Homicide responded and took over the fatality.
During the preliminary investigation, it was found that the deceased had a surviving twin, who was found to be grossly emaciated and malnourished. Despite being just under 9 years old, the twins had the body of what could be assumed to be a 4-year-old, both weighing approximately 29 pounds.
There were two older siblings in the home, who were seemingly in perfect health. On body camera the night of the death, the other family members were in the home, children playing video games, as though nothing happened.
Given the circumstances, CPS took custody of the remaining children, and they have since been placed in foster care. Once in foster care, the surviving twin was healthily gaining weight with no issues to report.
During the follow-up investigations, the mother of the children came into the CAC to give a voluntary statement about the events that unfolded. During the interview, she was very stoic, seemingly emotionless about the death of her child.
When asked directly about her involvement, she replied with a very dry “I guess I should have done more.” The surviving twin was forensically interviewed, and she stated that her mother, the suspect, does not feed them and they often eat out of the trash. She also added that the mother placed them in a trash bag, and she asked what she was doing. The mother told them she didn’t love them and that they were ugly.
After numerous subpoenaed documents and medical records, this case was presented to Chief DA Sawtelle. Given the nature and complexity of this case, he wanted charges filed on both mother and her boyfriend, who lived in the home with the woman and her family. The supporting evidence suggested that there was no way anyone around the children, regardless of length of time, would not notice something was severely wrong and the children were excessively malnourished.
Sawtelle described the case himself as one of the worst he’s seen/worked and intends to handle this case personally and escalate the charges as high as possible. With these extended torture cases, the charges will be weighted as a capital offense.
For the Homicide investigation, it will be aimed for capital murder, but per evidence and supporting information, it would have to be charged as manslaughter/murder, but this is subject to change. He projects that they will NOT be no-bonded due to the law/legislation for the charge but are to be given absurdly high bonds to hopefully keep them in custody (hopefully).
The DA requested both cases to be fully investigated and completed and on his desk. He wanted all charges to be filed at the same time. Officer Pena filed charges for the offense of Injury to Child Serious Bodily Injury by commission and omission.