When Jeremiah Brinegar and Ashley (Melanson) Brinegar were handcuffed in front of their four preschool children in the Santa Clara River wash and arrested on suspicion of child endangerment they were on a 40-day mission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
That was Thursday about noon, Day 18 into the couple’s 40-day missionary mission.
On Monday, the couple was free, having been released from custody, never having appeared in court as Brinegar had hoped, and their children placed in the care of a “Sister in Christ” who lives in Chino Hills where the mother also now resides.
When he was released by deputies Thursday, Brinegar asked why he was being released and was told he was being “cited out,” he told The Signal Monday.
Shirley Miller, spokeswoman for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, defined “cited out” Monday as: “It means that the couple was hard-booked at the station, and later in the day they were given a citation and released.”
Brinegar wanted his day in court, he said.
“I know they’re doing what they think is right and I know from the outside it must seem ‘not normal’ but clearly the children were all right.
“They handcuffed me and they handcuffed my wife in front of my kids,” he said.
“It was lunch time (Thursday) and we were about to feed them some food,” Brinegar said. “The Sheriff (deputy) was nice enough and said ‘I’ll get them some food.’”
When asked what kind of food, Brinegar said he was told “McDonald’s.”
Brinegar said he objected to their choice of food, but despite his protest, the deputies brought the kids food from McDonald’s.
“I wanted to go to court next day,” Brinegar said.
Arrest papers show he and Melanson were scheduled to appear at the Santa Clarita Courthouse on Friday.
Brinegar was excited at the prospect of being able to address the court on St. Patrick’s Day, he said.
He never got that chance, he added.
When asked Monday about the couple’s scheduled appearance in court, Shiara Davila-Morales, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said updates on the case were not immediately available.
Brinegar is familiar to many people in the Santa Clarita Valley having manned a table set up inside the Westfield Valencia Town Center mall to promote the gospel for the last four years.
Sheriff’s deputies placed the couple’s four preschool children in protective custody Thursday after finding the family living in the Santa Clara River wash Thursday afternoon.
Amara Suaraz, spokeswoman for Child & Family Services, told The Signal Monday that she could neither confirm nor deny that the children were placed in the department’s care.
“When law enforcement brings children to us, typically, we always look for a non-custodial family member.”
Brinegar, with his family, had been preaching under the Interstate 5 overpass bridge at Hasley Canyon Road, on property that belongs to the Pitchess Detention Center since Feb. 27. Concerned deputies responded to that location at Hasley Canyon Road Thursday afternoon.
On at least three occasions, he said, including a visit by deputies on “Day One” of the 40-day mission, deputies checked on the well-being of the family.
Deputies were alerted to four children ages three months to four years old who were reportedly living in the wash with their parents, according to the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.
When Crime Prevention Deputy Wilson saw the infants and toddlers living in the wash, he said: “I couldn’t just see them, and pretend like I didn’t.”
“It’s difficult,” said Watch Commander Lt. Bryan Aguilera.
The parents of the children were initially arrested on suspicion of willful cruelty to a child and child endangerment, a misdemeanor, Lt. Ignacio Somoano told The Signal.
News of the family found living in the river wash with four young children triggered an outpouring of response from citizens in the Santa Clarita Valley wanting to help the children.
More than a dozen citizens have contacted The Signal since Friday offering to help.
Since the 40-day mission got underway, many citizens have offered food and shelter, said Matthew Millar, who identified himself as a Brother in Christ.
“We had multiple offers of places to stay. We were actually declining food and the kids were having a blast,” he said.
“On Day 8 they (deputies) came by to make sure we were OK,” he told The Signal Monday. “The next day they came by and said it was a flood zone and said ‘You guys have to leave.’”
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