On Your Side: Reno father wants answers after his daughter is injured in county custody
Terrance Ellis just wanted to protect his 14 year-old daughter so he asked Washoe County for help. Now he's trying to understand how she ended up in a motor lodge drugged, naked and unconscious.
"Man my heart is hurting, Ellis said. "We as parents are trying to protect our kids and they still curious. Teens are going to be teens. She's hard-headed, we tried to protect her. Now the worse happened."
The single father of three said his teen daughter ran away a lot.
"She tell people he don't love me, I'm adopted," Ellis said. "I have you, you're my daughter. I had you since you were three months in your mother's stomach. I had you since day one. I was there the day you were born."
He needed help. So he asked Washoe County's Human Services Agency and petitioned the court. Both agreed that the girl should be in a county home. Ellis said he gave up custody temporarily for the safety of his daughter.
"They gave me these options and I took them," he said.
But she continued to run away at the group home. At the end of last month she ran again. This time Reno Police found her. She was topless and passed out in a motor lodge. She tested positive for meth. The 14 year-old has been in the intensive care unit at Renown for more than a week. She's been mostly unresponsive. She's hardly talking and walking. Detectives were waiting to talk to the girl to find out what happened or if someone did this to her.
Ellis is upset that he didn't get a call right away from the group home that his daughter was missing.
"I called on the Friday so I could bring her some clothes and extra items for her. (They said) 'oh she ran on Wednesday.' When were you going to tell me?"
Ellis wanted the group home to do more.
"I feel it shouldn't take 13 to 14 to 15 times for a kid to run away before something happens. I think there should be three chances then let's put them away for a about a week or two where they can talk to someone and figure this out," Ellis said. "Terrified, pissed off, angry, frustrated, this is my little, this is my first born child."
But Amber Howell, the Director of the Human Services Agency said you can't just lock up a kid.
"It is not common but it does happen, probably five times a year," she said. "The only time a child is placed in a locked facility or where you can keep them against their will is if they have been diagnosed by a psychiatrist and had a clinical assessment that suggests that they are a harm to themselves or others. "
The court also has to get involved.
Howell wasn't able to talk about Ellis' case specifically because of confidentially rules but said there are protocols in place when a child runs away. Law enforcement is notified within three hours, staff will go looking for them and parents are notified. It's not known why Ellis wasn't called when his daughter ran away last month.
Ellis' daughter has a long recovery.
"I feel she's strong enough to break out of this but it's going to take some time and a lot of hard work. A lot of physical therapy, probably a lot of counseling, a whole lot of counseling. We need to find out what's going on with my child's head so she can move on with her life," he said.
The state is putting Ellis and his two younger children in a motel while his 14 year-old recovers in the hospital.
"I'm basically taking the strength from my other two kids because I have to live for them as well. All three of my kids are my world, I live for them. It hurts me, it hurts me too much as a single parent to go through this."