VALPARAISO — A misinterpretation of court documents led to the mistaken release from jail of a Portage woman charged with abandoning her three children in a home without running water or a working furnace, police said.
Thanh Nguyen, 46, was released from the Porter County Jail on Sunday after posting a $1,500 cash bond, Prosecutor Gary Germann said.
Her release came two days before the bond was supposed to be taken up Tuesday afternoon during a continuation of last week's initial court hearing.
Last week's hearing was derailed when Nguyen, 46, claimed she was unable to understand English well enough to comprehend her legal rights.
Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford ordered that Nguyen be held in jail without bond until a Vietnamese interpreter could be secured, continuing the hearing to Tuesday.
"It was not stated directly to us that her bond was to be changed to a, 'No Bond,'" Porter County sheriff's spokeswoman Sgt. Jamie Erow said.
The confusion, which resulted in surprised officials at the courthouse Tuesday, was further complicated in that Nguyen was initially brought to the jail on three level 5 felony counts of neglect of a dependent — one for each of her children, according to Germann.
Level 5 offenses would have required a bond to be set by a judge, he said.
But Germann said the official charges filed by his office were three level 6 counts of neglect of a dependent and a fourth count of possessing a legend drug, which is a prescription drug for which she did not have a prescription. Level 6 charges, with the exception of domestic offenses, have predetermined bonds for release from jail, he said.
The judge's order stating bond would be taken up Tuesday should have trumped any standard handling of bond, Germann said.
Nguyen is no longer required to show up for Tuesday's hearing as a result of posting bond, according to prosecutors. Her new court date is March 6.
Germann said his office is pursuing having the court issue no-contact orders to keep Nguyen away from her children while her case is proceeding.
'She's gone for months at a time'
The case came to light Feb. 11 when the oldest of Nguyen's three children, who is 16, sought help from school officials for a broken water pipe at their home in 1100 block of Camelot Manor, according to Portage police.
He and his siblings, ages 11 and 10, told police Nguyen stopped by just long enough to drop off food on occasion and then could not be reached by phone, according to a police report.
A school official reported the children have been heating the home with three space heaters and sometimes the oven turned on with the door left open, police said.
"Mom hasn't been home for a very long time," the 10-year-old girl reportedly told police. "She's gone for months at a time."
Police said when they located Nguyen, she said she had been at the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Michigan. She denied the claims of her children, telling police, "I come home after they sleep and leave before they get up."
The eldest son told investigators he had been caring for his younger siblings "for as long as he can remember," according to the police report. "He added he cooks their meals, cleans the house and makes sure they get all of their chores/homework done."
The boy said his father was away on vacation in California, and his mother prohibits the children from contacting him, police said.
Nguyen reportedly begged police to let her go home and not take her children away from her.
"I love my kids," she was quoted by police as yelling. "They can't go to foster care."