The Associated Press, June 14, 1998

Police charge Plainfield couple with handcuffing, hitting kids

ELIZABETH -- Police arrested a Plainfield couple and charged them with abusing eight of the 11 foster and adopted children they cared for by handcuffing them together and striking them with household objects.

James Sylvester, 65, and his wife, Rena, 60, were charged Friday with child cruelty. They were allowed to remain free, but will have to appear in court next week to answer the charges.

The children, ranging from 4 years to 12 years old, were removed from the couple's home in March, after one child told her school principal about the abuse, said Union County Prosecutor Thomas Manahan. That prompted an investigation by prosecutors, Plainfield police, and the state Division of Youth and Family Services.

Authorities said at least four of the children were often handcuffed together and struck so that they would not misbehave. At least two were cuffed together at the ankles while they slept.

"We allege that Mrs. Sylvester used items such as a wooden paddle, a comb and a brush, a belt, and a vacuum attachment on the children," Manahan said. "This is a sad case, but it came to light because the system worked and because one brave victim told her principal in school and did the right thing."

The children had been placed with the Sylvesters at different times between 1993 and 1997, and some had since been adopted by the couple.

James Sylvester has been charged with abusing five of the children, while his wife was accused of abusing all eight. Each fourth-degree penalty carries a punishment of up to 18 months in prison.

There have been no allegations that three older children have been abused, Manahan said.

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