A region woman who one relative described as a "great mother" has twice been accused of neglecting her children, one of whom died in a high-profile homicide case, state records obtained by The Times show.
Melissa Swiontek faces felony neglect of a dependent charges relating to her daughter Jada Justice's death in June 2009. But nine years before Jada's death, Swiontek was chastised by the Indiana Department of Child Services for leaving her then 3-year-old disabled son at home alone in Portage, DCS records state.
The records recently were released to The Times through a public records request.
Swiontek told DCS investigators at the time that she thought it was OK to leave her son, Jesus Albanice, alone because he was immobile, DCS records state. He functioned at the level of a newborn baby, couldn't see and had a feeding tube, according to the records.
Jesus had Zellweger syndrome, a genetic disorder that affected his brain and liver. He died as a result of the disorder on Dec. 3, 2001, state records show.
Swiontek said she left Jesus home alone on Feb. 29, 2000, so she could go to the laundromat. She was arrested there after a confrontation with her ex-boyfriend's wife, DCS records state. When Portage police took her into custody, Swiontek told the officers she had a handicapped child at home.
DCS officials later substantiated neglect allegations against Swiontek for leaving Jesus by himself, DCS records show. She was ordered to take parenting classes and was supervised by a DCS caseworker for six months.
Swiontek's mother, Lisa Huerta, vigorously denies her daughter ever neglected Jesus — or any of her other children.
"She never neglected him, period," Huerta said in a recent interview with The Times.
Huerta said Swiontek took Jesus to regular doctor's appointments at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis to treat his disorder. Life expectancy for a child with Zellweger Syndrome is 6 months, but Jesus lived until two days before his fifth birthday, she said.
Huerta claims Jesus was being watched by another family member when the incident at the laundromat took place — despite DCS records that say otherwise.
Huerta said police asked her to care for Jesus when Swiontek was arrested.
She called her daughter's arrest at the laundromat "a dumb childhood thing." Swiontek, who was 18 at the time, never was criminally charged for the incident.
"Teenagers do dumb things," Huerta said. "Who hasn't as a teenager?"
Huerta said she doesn't understand why people are trying to portray her daughter as a "bad witch" when she is a victim. She said Swiontek is a single mother who put herself through college while caring for five children.
"Everything I've seen from Melissa indicates she's a very good mom," Swiontek's attorney, John Vouga, said.
Swiontek, now 30, faces felony neglect charges relating to her daughter Jada's death at the hands of a cousin and the cousin's boyfriend in June 2009, Lake Criminal Court records state. Swiontek is accused of leaving then 2-year-old Jada with Engelica Castillo and Timothy Tkachik, knowing they were drug users and dealers.
Swiontek previously told The Times she intended to leave Jada with the Hobart couple for nearly two weeks.
Tkachik and Castillo were charged with murder, two counts of neglect of a dependent, battery and false informing after Jada's body was found burned and encased in concrete in a LaPorte County swamp.
Castillo was convicted on all counts and sentenced to life in prison.
Tkachik pleaded guilty to two counts of neglect of a dependent but has not been sentenced, Lake Criminal Court records show. He testified against Castillo during her trial and is expected to testify against Swiontek.
Swiontek's next court hearing is scheduled for April 25.