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CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Two married Casper police officers have been charged with abusing a boy and girl adopted by the female officer, including allegations they were hit, forced to run up stairs as punishment and made to write tens of thousands of sentences.
Laura Starnes-Wells, a school resource officer, and Sgt. Todd Wells have been on paid administrative leave since November when the department became aware of a criminal investigation, Police Chief Jim Wetzel said.
Attorneys for the couple said the children — a 15-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl — are no longer in their clients' custody. The state is looking after the teens.
Starnes-Wells made an initial court appearance Friday on a felony child abuse charge. She did not enter a plea, and Circuit Court Judge Steven Brown set her bond at $10,000. Wells has been charged with misdemeanor child endangerment.
Starnes-Wells had the boy placed in foster care in May 2014, and she lost custody of the girl last May after the teen told school officials that her mother slapped her and had repeatedly abused her. The sheriff's office soon began its investigation.
The Department of Family Services retained an independent consultant last fall to review all the family's contact with the agency, courts, law enforcement and treatment providers, court records said.
Prosecutors say school officials first filed a report with the family services department in March 2008, expressing concerns for both children due to "extreme punishment by the mother."
The children, school officials and family friends told counselors, social workers and investigators that the kids were forced to "run stairs" and "run hills" or spend the entire day sitting at a table as punishment, leaving only with permission to eat or go to the bathroom.
The boy said he was forced to walk to school and back home, a two-hour trip each way, when he was a freshman. Both reported being hit and pushed.
The girl said she was not allowed to talk to her brother, court records said, and the boy said when he got home from school he had to wait on the porch in view of a camera — no matter the weather — until Starnes-Wells or Wells got home or Wells got up to let him in.
Two counselors ended treatment with Starnes-Wells and the boy because of the mother's emotionally abusive behavior and her unwillingness to attend counseling on her own to change her parenting style, court records said.
Starnes-Wells told investigators that she slapped the girl once in May 2016 and that she had spanked her and slapped her three or four times in the past.
Wells told investigators he never saw Starnes-Wells use excessive punishment on either child.
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