A federal grand jury indicted five northern Minnesota residents on child abuse and neglect charges, levying accusations of "systematic torture, endangerment, neglect and abuse."
The indictment, unsealed Friday, accused Trina Mae Johnson, 49, of directing the abuse of a boy who was in her legal custody through a foster care placement. She is charged alongside Bertram Calvin Lussier Jr., 42, and her three sisters — Bobbi Jo Johnson, 44; Ellie Mae Johnson, 47; and Patricia Ann Johnson, 39 — with those four accused of aiding and abetting Johnson. They each regularly assumed responsibility for all or part of the child's care and supervision.
Messages seeking comment from the defendants' attorneys were not returned Monday.
According to charges, the child was about 12 or 13 years old during the alleged abuses, which occurred between January 2021 and April 2022. The boy's foster placement began in November 2020, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges that the four withheld food to the point of starvation and malnourishment, forced the boy to stand in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time and deprived him of sleep. They are also accused of assaulting him with "hands and objects," threatening and verbally abusing him, withholding necessary medical care and isolating him from the outside world.
The grand jury charged Johnson with one count of child torture. All five defendants are charged with child neglect for depriving the boy of food and health care, and child endangerment.
Trina Johnson is also charged with assault on a minor with a dangerous weapon, with the indictment alleging she used a knife "with intent to do bodily harm."
The case is federal because it took place on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. According to court records, all but Ellie Mae Johnson made their initial court appearances on Friday and have been released from custody. Ellie Mae Johnson is scheduled to make her first appearance "at a later date," according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office on Monday.