Police: Grandparents collected $720/month in government aid while teen wasted away

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

ANDERSON, Ind. (Dec. 3, 2014) - Police said an Anderson couple collected $720 a month from the government while their 15-year-old granddaughter wasted away. The teen weighed less than 40 pounds when she arrived at the hospital Monday night, while nurses had to keep her breathing.

The Madison County Prosecutor said government assistance could be a motive in this case of alleged neglect. Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said he's never seen anything like it during his 35-year career in law enforcement.

"It's a motive for even having the child in their house to begin with, to get the money, have her there but not use the money to care for her, use the money for their own interests," said Cummings.

The teen is still at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital fighting for her life. Detectives visited the hospital on Wednesday to check on her condition and interview medical staff.

The mentally disabled 15-year-old girl was living with her grandparents--Joetta and Steve Sells--in the 3400 block of Forest Terrace. Police believe the girl was being kept in a locked room with a mattress, space heater, bucket and oatmeal. During a search of the room, they found blood and feces on the floor.

Investigators have questions about the government assistance that was supposed to help cover any expense related to taking care of the girl.

"The money was there for that purpose and where did that money go," said Det. Joel Sandefur with the Anderson Police Department.

An unrelated 4-year-old child was also living with the Sells. According to police the child is now is DCS custody. During a police interview, the child demonstrated how a lock was put on the door and explained how the victim would put her fingers around the door trying to get out. The child also described to police how Steve Sells would pick up the teen by the hair and drag her.

Police said Joetta Sells admitted her husband would lock the 15-year-old girl in her room. When police questioned Steve Sells he said he did it to protect himself because the teen was very strong. The affidavit for probable cause points out Steve Sells weighs between 200 and 225 pounds.

Investigators are trying to paint a timeline of the alleged neglect by looking at the victim's medical and education records. The girl stopped attending Anderson Community Schools in October 2010. During a police interview Steve Sells said his granddaughter had not been to the doctor since January of 2012 because her Medicaid ran out.

According to the prosecutor, a juvenile court case involving the Sells was filed in 2011 but the case was dismissed by DCS before the hearing in front of a judge.

"It's puzzling and I think we need to have some answers about that," said Cummings.

Steve Sells was granted custody of his granddaughter in 2009. Records show he appeared in court in on Nov. 6 in an attempt to get child support for the teen. Police said the biological mother and father are not involved in the girl's life.

Steve Sells has also worked as a bus driver for the City of Anderson since 2008. A spokesperson said the city is working with law enforcement.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.