Mother remains held in 'shockingly shameful' child abuse case

This photo shows the Peabody apartment where a Peabody woman and her boyfriend allegedly endangered her children.

PEABODY — A Salem Superior Court judge on Friday rejected a Peabody woman’s request to be released from custody while she awaits trial on what the judge called “shockingly shameful” conduct toward her children.

Felicia Gachignard-Luchi, 31, is facing charges of assault and battery on a child, reckless child endangerment, witness intimidation and vandalism, following a series of alleged incidents this summer involving her children, ages 1 and 7, and the concerned neighbors who reported her and her boyfriend to the Department of Children and Families.

Her boyfriend, John Paul Neal, 28, is also being held without bail on assault and battery and child endangerment charges.

The situation inside the couple’s apartment at 67 Endicott St. came to light in July, when a neighbor contacted DCF and turned over video surveillance images, prosecutor Meg Morrissey told Salem Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Karp during Friday’s hearing.

One of the videos showed Gachignard-Luchi screaming at the older child and dragging her by the arm to a car.

In another one, the daughter is heard begging her mother not to leave her alone with Neal. Another video shows Neal throwing something at the older girl and then grabbing her by the hair and dragging her to the house.

In another video, Gachignard-Luchi is heard yelling at the girl and referring to her with obscenities before dragging her into a car.

The neighbors also reported hearing screaming, crying, and on one occasion, the 7-year-old saying, “Stop, don’t do that,” Morrissey told the judge.

When police went to the apartment with DCF workers to arrest Neal and issue a summons to Gachignard-Luchi on July 10, they found squalid conditions in the apartment, with empty food containers strewn about, a sink full of dirty dishes covered in insects, and a stale odor throughout. The carpet was covered in stains and there were holes punched in the wall, which the older girl said were caused by her mother.

Police noticed a sex toy in the bathtub alongside childrens’ bath toys. During Friday’s hearing, Gachignard-Luchi’s lawyer insisted that the item was something she’d used the night before police arrived, and that she took it out of the tub when her children were taking a bath.

And police noticed a bag of marijuana on the coffee table, within reach of both children, who, Morrissey told the judge, both tested positive for that drug at birth.

The younger child, according to a police report, had not been washed in some time, and was wearing a dirty diaper. The older girl’s hair was matted as if not brushed for days, according to court papers.

Morrissey called the conditions in the apartment “deplorable.”

Police said in a report that Gachignard-Luchi told them she was “overwhelmed” and had stopped taking her medications recently, though officers told her that the conditions in the apartment had to have deteriorated over a period of time to reach the point they had in July.

Then, said the prosecutor, Gachignard-Luchi was outside the Peabody District Court the following day after Neal’s arraignment when she confronted the neighbors who reported the couple, telling them, “It’s all your fault,” and “You’re gonna pay.”

That night, one neighbor came home to find the word “Die” carved into her front door.

Gachignard-Luchi subsequently appeared in court for arraignment in response to a summons and was placed into custody.

At the conclusion of a three-day hearing, Judge James Barretto ordered that she remain in detention pending trial.

Her attorney, Mark Gallant, filed an appeal of that ruling in Superior Court, arguing that because Gachignard-Luchi had not been arrested, prosecutors could not seek pretrial detention.

But that’s an issue that has been addressed recently by the Supreme Judicial Court, Karp told the lawyer. Karp said he believes the SJC decision and an earlier one give him the authority to detain someone even if they appeared in court in response to a summons.

Gallant also argued that there was “no substantial risk” to the children, as required by the child endangerment statute.

And he objected to a condition barring contact between his client and the children, saying he believes DCF is in the best position to make that decision, and that the agency does bring children to visit parents in jail.

“My client might not be the best of parents here, and the language she used is probably not appropriate, but that doesn’t do to the level of child endangerment as envisioned by the statute,” said Gallant.

But Karp did not share that view.

“Frankly, this is an easy case in my estimation,” said Karp. “A difficult case because of the facts, but an easy case to find ... beyond a reasonable doubt, that this defendant is a danger to her children.”

He also suggested that her alleged conduct outside a courthouse was “shockingly brazen.”

“This defendant threatened a concerned citizen in front of a courthouse,” said Karp. “There’s really no doubt in my mind that there are no conditions that would ensure their safety.”

The couple are due in Peabody District Court on Monday for a status hearing in their cases.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.

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