Couple charged with child abuse for allegedly tying up and waterboarding 9-year-old girl

Kristine Solomon

A couple in Provo, Utah, has been accused of using waterboarding to punish a 9-year-old girl. Police say the child’s father and stepmother tied her hands behind her back, placed a towel across her face, then held her down in the bathtub while pouring water over her. This kind of water torture simulates drowning and is known for being used to interrogate prisoners of war.

Joseph Maeser Mitchell, 29, and Ilaria Catherina Mitchell, 28, have both been arrested, and each faces one count of child abuse, according to CBS affiliate KUTV. Investigators say this wasn’t an isolated crime, claiming that the couple had terrorized the girl this way on three separate occasions.

The suspected abuse first came to light in early November, when the girl’s father checked her into Utah Valley Hospital; that’s when nurses spotted bruises on her wrists, according to Utah’s Fox 13. They reported a case of potential physical abuse to authorities, whose investigation led them to interview the girl on Dec. 3. She described the alleged torture and told detectives it caused her pain and made her unable to breathe, a representative for the Provo police department told KUTV.

Joseph and Ilaria Mitchell have been charged with child abuse for allegedly waterboarding a little girl. (Photo: Utah County Sheriff’s Office)
Joseph and Ilaria Mitchell have been charged with child abuse for allegedly waterboarding a little girl. (Photo: Utah County Sheriff’s Office)

The girl also reportedly told investigators that her stepmother had hit her in the face with a closed fist and given her a nosebleed. Authorities found the girl’s story credible and consistent with her injuries, so they took her to the hospital and booked the Mitchells into the Utah County Jail. While there, police reportedly found someone else’s credit card in Joseph Mitchell’s possession. According to news reports, he claimed the credit card was connected to Ilaria Mitchell’s account but was in his 7-year-old nephew’s name. In addition to the second-degree felony child abuse charge, Joseph Mitchell was also charged with unlawfully possessing a financial card, a third-degree felony, according to Utah newspaper the Daily Herald. Court documents indicate other forms of alleged abuse too.

The Utah Division of Child and Family Services contacted the girl’s biological mother, Brittany Calabrese, who lives in Texas and hasn’t seen her daughter in four years, according to Fox 13. When she learned of the alleged waterboarding, she was in shock.

“She’s 9, 9 years old. This is torture of a child,” she told the news station through tears. “No child needs to endure any of this. It was the hardest thing for me having to hear it being in Texas.”

There’s been some debate over whether waterboarding is actually a form of torture, but most experts agree that the tactic can cause short- and long-term physical, emotional and psychological trauma, according to Scientific American.

Child and Family Services has taken custody of the girl and are keeping her safe until the court decides her future, Fox 13 reports. The Mitchells apparently have three other children at home, but their statuses are unknown.

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