Signs of trouble with Mallo family were there
By Gary Harki
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Mallo family knew how to work the system.
Someone in the family owned a broken-down truck that would sit on the curb near their house at 1319 Frame St. Police would come and tell them it had to be moved, said Charleston Mayor Danny Jones. They’d push the truck into their yard until the city came and said it violated city codes there. Then they’d move it back out on the street.
When police started investigating the situation on Frame Street after the killing of 82-year-old Phyllis Jean Phares, Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster said he spent some time patrolling the area.
The Mallos were known to the area’s beat officers, but they were seen more as a nuisance than anything, he said.
“I don’t think they were high up on our radar,” Webster said.
But now a 14-year-old member of the family is apparently charged with killing Phares, though police and prosecutors won’t say so because he’s underage. And the 14-year-old’s entire adult family — two brothers, a sister and his parents — are charged with crimes ranging from child neglect to rape to sexually abusing a 7-year-old.
Along with police, the family had daily interactions with the school system, social services and neighbors. Yet no one stepped in to remove the children from the home or to stop the situation from worsening.
“You’d hate to think that it would have to come to all this,” Webster said.
Last November, Child Protective Services had Trina Mallo’s 7-year-old son interviewed for signs of sexual abuse.
The interview stemmed from a situation at the children’s elementary school, said Sgt. Steve Cooper, chief of detectives for Charleston police. CPS was called in during that incident by the school and that led to the forensic interview, he said.
“I don’t know what happened after that,” Cooper said.
Trina Mallo’s 7-year-old son had been a student at J.E. Robins Elementary School, a source, speaking anonymously because of child privacy issues, confirmed.
J.E. Robins Principal Henry Nearman said he could not discuss specifics about any child that went to the school, past or present.
“We’re all mandated reporters,” he said of school employees, meaning that they are required by law to report any signs or suspicions of child abuse or neglect.
When police served a search warrant on the Mallo home in early June, along with deplorable living conditions, they came across a witness who said that some of the underage children in the home might have been victims of sexual abuse.
“At that point we contacted Child Protective Services and they removed the children from the home,” Cooper said.
They were taken to CAMC Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where the forensic interviews for such cases take place, Cooper said. It was there that police discovered that Trina Mallo’s two young children had been interviewed in November 2008.
Police cite the forensic medical examination conducted in November as the basis for first-degree sexual abuse charges against Alexandrio Michael Mallo in June — seven months later.
According to the complaint, he was charged with first-degree sexual abuse for allegedly striking the boy’s genitals with a ruler, among other things.
CPS workers, as well as any officials at CAMC, are required to report child sex abuse cases to police, said Marsha Dadisman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
DHHR officials declined to speak about the case specifically, citing confidentiality laws.
Normally such cases are reported twice, once to local police and once to West Virginia State Police, Dadisman said.
Charleston police and the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department officials both said the case was not reported to them.
State Police have no record of the November interview being referred to them, said Sgt. Michael Baylous.
“Typically, if we receive information that a crime occurred within the city of Charleston, we refer the complainant to them. I’m not saying that it did or did not happen in this case. We just don’t have any record or recollection of this happening,” he said via e-mail.
CAMC spokeswoman Elizabeth Pellegrin said she couldn’t confirm whether the children had been treated or interviewed at CAMC, citing privacy laws.
“I can’t imagine that police didn’t know about this,” Dadisman said.
Often in such cases, children can be removed temporarily, then are taken back if the situation improves, she said.
If sexual abuse is suspected in any case, it would be routine for a child to have a forensic medical examination and be removed from his or her home until safety issues could be addressed, said DHHR spokesman John Law.
“It really depends on the reaction of the family and how protective they are being of the child,” Dadisman said. “If [CPS] truly doesn’t think the family is going to protect the child, they can go to court over it.”
A circuit judge has to make the final decision to permanently remove children from a home, she said.
“It further traumatizes kids if you have to remove them, as opposed to getting the perpetrator out and working on the issues,” she said.
Charleston building inspectors were also familiar with the Mallo house on Frame Street, said Tony Harmon, the city’s building commissioner.
“My inspectors were surprised that children were living there because we never saw any, never saw them outside,” Harmon said. “We never called CPS on this case. We didn’t see any children.”
Harmon said his building inspectors deferred inspection of the home to the Charleston-Kanawha Housing Authority, as they do with all HUD housing.
The Mallo home received federal Housing and Urban Development funding, but only for three residents — one adult and two children, said Michele Hatfield, public relations coordinator for the Charleston-Kanawha Housing Authority.
The house had been inspected once a year and had been on the HUD program since October 2006, she said.
“If we run into a problem with one of their properties, we call and their inspectors inspect it,” Harmon said. “We called at least once before on that house.”
Harmon said, like many houses, they’d get cited for sanitation issues, high grass, weeds and the place would be cleaned up. Then the mess would just continue.
“The mother and her two kids were the legal tenants,” Mayor Jones said. “Then they brought in the whole gang.”
It’s hard to believe that people who came into contact with the family didn’t know something was wrong, said the Rev. Matthew Watts, pastor of the Grace Bible Church on Charleston’s West Side. Watts has worked with underprivileged and troubled children for more than 20 years as CEO of HOPE Community Development Corp.
“Someone should have been shouting, screaming,” he said. “We have a responsibility to get someone out of that situation. It takes courage, otherwise it is always a postmortem where we’re all very sad.”
The day after Thomas Mallo was arrested, neighbors said the 14-year-old wasn’t capable of killing his 82-year-old neighbor. Many remembered his brother Farris as the neighborhood mechanic, always fixing cars.
But a few days later, the reaction was different. One woman recalled Thomas Mallo the night Phares’ body was found.
“He was so distant, so different,” she said. “He seemed like he either saw what happened or knew something about it.”
Children in terrible family situations become extremely disconnected from society, Watts said.
“Family situations can be so dysfunctional, that they really have not connected in a way that a child needs to grow up healthy and feel secure, valued,” he said. “So what happens is there is this tremendous sense of emptiness and loneliness.”
What starts out as deep hurt and disappointment progresses to anger, Watts said.
“It’s like a powder keg,” he said. “All it takes is an ignition source to explode into rage.”
No one should expect government to work unless people make it work, he said.
“We have a responsibility as a society to protect these children,” Watts said. “It takes aggressive, persistent agitation to make our system work.”
Staff writer Davin White contributed to this report. Reach Gary Harki at gha…@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.
The Mallo family
A rundown of the Mallo family members who lived in the house at 1319 Frame St.
Carolyn Mallo, 55: She is charged with felony child endangerment because of the conditions in her home.
Alexander Doran (whom police say also uses the last name Mallo), 67: The patriarch of the family, he is charged with felony child endangerment.
Trina Mallo, 27: The daughter of Carolyn Mallo and Doran, she is the mother of a 7-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl who lived in the home. She is also charged with felony child endangerment.
Farris Mallo, 29: The oldest of Carolyn Mallo and Doran’s three sons, he is accused of sexually assaulting his ex-wife three times. He is charged with three counts of first-degree sexual assault and three counts of burglary for allegedly breaking into her house to commit the assaults.
Alexandrio Michael Mallo, 23: The middle son of Carolyn Mallo and Doran, he was arrested in June on a charge of sexually abusing his 7-year-old nephew. He was charged with first-degree sexual abuse for allegedly striking the boy’s genitals with a ruler, among other things.
Thomas Mallo, 14: The youngest son of Carolyn Mallo and Doran. He is apparently the 14-year-old charged with killing Phyllis Jean Phares, though police won’t confirm it because he is a minor. At his arraignment on child endangerment charges, Doran said he had one 14-year-old dependent named Thomas Mallo.