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Prosecutors Refuse To Drop Joshua Tree Child Abuse Case

Benjamin Purper

Prosecutors are refusing to drop criminal charges against Daniel Panico and Mona Kirk, the Joshua Tree couple charged with felony child abuse. KVCR's Benjamin Purper has this report from Joshua Tree. 

Daniel Panico and Mona Kirk were arrested in March after police found them and their three teenage children living in a makeshift shelter in the desert. Their arrest led to a community outcry, as friends and supporters insisted that the couple were not child abusers, and had been arrested for being homeless.

Jackie Klear is a close friend of Panico and Kirk. She started a GoFundMe account that raised enough money to buy them a house to live in. Klear hoped that would be enough to convince prosecutors to drop the criminal charges and let the case play out in dependency court.

However, speaking outside the Joshua Tree courthouse last week, Klear said that no such deal has been made.

“We were hoping that they were going to dismiss [the case] or even have it reduced down to an infraction,” Klear said. “But again, last night I get a message saying that they're not going to do it, that there's no deal made, and so this is where we stood today.”

And that’s not the family’s only troubles. Panico and Kirk are allowed to visit their children once a week, but they have to drive four hours to get to them. Klear says Mona Kirk’s health problems make that a hard commute.

Credit Benjamin Purper / KVCR
Jackie Klear says the city of Joshua Tree gave Daniel Panico and Mona Kirk a 30-day notice to clean up their property or face fines.

“[The children] are in the care of family, but they are four hours away. So the drive is becoming very difficult for the family, for Mona and Daniel to take. Mona is the only driver, Daniel cannot drive,” Klear said. “She's coming back with swollen legs, she's coming back in pain from her back, so this is getting hard for them and they cannot miss a visit, or they're releasing rights.”

While supporters like Klear maintain that the parents did not abuse their children, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said in a press release that the children were living in unsafe conditions with an inadequate amount of food.

Panico and Kirk’s next court appearance is tentatively scheduled for May 3.

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