The Garlin case refers to the three adults and one juvenile charged in the June 4, 2007 murder of Tammie Garlin and to the earlier horrific physical abuse visited upon Garlin's 11-year-old son. Garlin's 15-year-old daughter is alleged to have been a willing participant in both her mother's murder and the torture of her brother. All of this is detailed in the Columbia County, Wisconsin complaint, first published on June 20. The case also represents another blot in the scandal-ridden record of the Florida child protection system.
The adults involved are Candace L. Clark (born February 20, 1984) Clark's boyfriend, Michael J. Sisk (born December 22, 1981), and Michaela Shawn Clerc (born July 13, 1986), who was reportedly the lover of the slain woman. The juvenile is 15-year-old Felicia Mae Garlin (born August 28, 1991), daughter of the deceased and sister of the abused boy.
Portage, Wisconsin law enforcement officers became aware of the situation on June 15, 2007, when they followed up on a Lake County, Florida warrant for Clark, who is charged with unlawfully removing her 2-year-old daughter out of the foster care custody of Clerc's parents. While the local media was curious about the June 15th process, the national media began coverage when the four were arraigned via video hookup in Columbia County, Wisconsin Circuit Court on Wednesday July 20. By the next day, the entire world picked up the story.
Clark was the one to answer the door. She is alleged to have given an alias, and denied that Michael Sisk was resident there. The officers consulted photographs, and recognizing that the woman greatly resembled Clark, and that another photograph resembled the 2-year-old in question, further inquiry was made of the household. Clark eventually admitted the child in question went by two separate names. Felicia Garlin, who also gave an alias, was interviewed; she said her mother was not around. Clerc was also engaged by the officers. When it became clear to the authorities that the women were lying about their identity, and that there was reasonable cause to suspect the child in question was in fact the child abducted from Florida, the entire household was taken to the Portage police station, with the three youngest children being placed in protective custody (pp. 11–12 of complaint).
In addition to her 2-year-old, Clark had two other small daughters with her, a 1-year-old and a 3-month-old. These children are in protective custody. The complaint indicates Sisk is the father of the two younger girls (to include the child involved in the Florida custody case). A WTMJ-TV story suggests the youngest child may in fact be Felicia Garlin's; the same story indicates that Felicia's brother and the three small children will remain in the custody of the Wisconsin child protection system. The head of the Florida system, Robert Butterworth commented that "We are asking the Pinellas judge to relinquish jurisdiction in Florida and let them [i.e., the Wisconsin authorities] take care of the case".
At the police station, Clerc indicated an 11-year-old boy would be found at the house, and that he had been burned.(p. 12 of complaint). This boy, identified by the initials "ACG" was indeed found, inside a closet. Page 12 of the complaint states
ACG, DOB 10/13/1995. ACG was sitting on the floor of an upstairs bedroom closet with his knees pulled up to his chest. ACG had obvious wounds all over his body. ACG started crying when he saw the officers and said that he did not want to go to jail..
The Garlin boy was initially seen locally at Divine Savior Hospital, then transferred to the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. At the UW hospital, he was diagnosed with extensive injuries; this quotes pp. 12–13 of the Complaint verbatim:
Dr. Knox reports that ACG was admitted to the UW Emergency Department and then to Dr. Knox’s care. The physical examination of ACG showed the following: overall - grossly burned with significant new and old injuries from serial beatings and malnourishment. Specifically, ACG had a large ulcerated area on the top of his scalp, multiple cutaneous injuries around the rest of his scalp, a front upper tooth missing, several other burn marks on his face and scalp, multiple burn and loop marks (from reported extension cord beatings) throughout his torso, burns on both his hands which had caused mummification and significant contracture of some of the fingers, burnt and swollen arms, burn scars on his legs and knees, extensive burns on both feet. Dr. Knox also reports that some parts of the physical exam could not be completed because ACG’s injuries caused him too much discomfort for these portions of the exam. Dr. Knox also reports that ACG showed absence of significant muscle mass. ACG was unable to walk because of the extensive burns on his feet. The radiology exam of ACG showed abnormalities, likely due to dehydration.
Dr. Knox diagnosed ACG as having the following: 1) definite physical abuse, 2) serial torture of a child, 3) profound malnutrition, 4) chronic medical neglect, 5) educational neglect and 6) great mental harm to a child.
The police further questioned Clerc who admitted that the
young children were Candace’s children. She also said that the abducted child from Florida was one of the children. [...] Clerc admitted that she helped “punish” ACG with the scalding water and held the bathroom door shut while others were scalding ACG because Ms. Clark and Mr. Sisk did not want the babies to be hurt by the hot water. Ms. Clark also admitted that she had hogtied ACG as punishment..(p.13)
Page 14 of the complaint details the murder of Tammie Garlin:
Ms. Clark was also able to determine that Tammie Garlin died on June 4, 2007. She said this would have been early morning, shortly before daybreak. She said that earlier in the day Felicia had kicked Tammie. Tammie was not feeling well after that time. Michaela also kicked Tammie. Felicia and Michaela had to carry Tammie down to the bathroom. Michaela dropped Tammie’s head when they got into the bathroom and Tammie’s head hit the floor. Felicia also “smacked” Tammie “hard” while they were in the bathroom. Felicia and Michaela put Tammie in the bathtub fully clothed and washed her off because she had soiled herself. Tammie was then put on the floor of the bathroom but she wasn’t moving. Ms. Clerc kicked Tammie and told her to “get off the damn floor. Mr. Sisk went into the bathroom and shut the door. He came out a few minutes later and said something to the effect of “She’s dead.” Michaela laughed.
On the same page, the 15-year-old Felicia admits helping with the burial of her mother, where preparations during the day were made for burial after dark in the back yard (p. 15).
At this point a search warrant was obtained and Tammie Garlin's remains were exhumed. An autopsy was performed on June 16; p. 16 of the complaint states it was "determined that the probable cause of Ms. Garlin’s death was manual strangulation".
Sisk was not at the residence. A detective did acquire a cell phone number and called him, indicating Sisk was wanted for questioning. Sisk left town, and police put out a bulletin on him.
At the time he was arrested in Milwaukee on June 15, 2007, Mr. Sisk was on a bus that was heading to Chicago, IL. Mr. Sisk also had in his possession a bus ticket that had been purchased on June 15, 2007 at 10:40 a.m. in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. This ticket had the ultimate destination of Madisonville, Kentucky.
The unlawful removal of the 2-year-old from her foster home has brought one more strike against the reputation of the Florida child protection system. Martin E. Comas writes in the Orlando Sentinel that it took Florida child custody authorities four months before law enforcement was informed: Comas writes:
Lake County sheriff's officials also said they were baffled as to why a caseworker with the Safe Children Coalition in Pinellas County did not report Courtney missing until Jan. 25, more than four months after she was snatched from her Sorrento foster home by her mother, Candace L. Clark.
Carol Marbin Miller, in the June 22 edition of the Miami Herald indicates that former Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth, six months into a stint as Secretary of the Department of Children and Families, was both horrified and mystified that such a thing could happen again. He declined to place blame until a full investigation was completed. Butterworth held a news conference on June 26, where he announced changes in the system. Another Herald article followed-up with more details on June 23. The Saint Petersburg Times published a longer analysis of these failures on June 24 Compounding the mismanagement is the fact that Stacye Scarborough, Clark's sister, is reported to have sought custody her nieces fully a year before the events under discussion, and that the authorities were entirely non-communicative and failed to report to her that the 2-year-old had been unlawfully removed from foster care. She will face "a myriad of legal hurdles if she hopes to get custody of her nieces", in that custody is now an interstate issue, and would take 3 to 6 months of intensive effort.
The four are reported to constitute an identity theft ring. Clark and Sisk both have outstanding warrants in Colorado. This same article quotes a former neighbor characterizing Sisk as a "pinhead" and "dumber than a sack of hammers", with the further comment that he himself said Clark was the controlling figure in the household.
Clark is the only member of the group willing to meet the press. Candace Clark gave Sarah Langbein of the Orlando, Florida Sentinel an interview in her jail cell. Published in the June 22, 2007 issue, Clark claims that Sisk was the controlling member of the group, though other news sources indicate it was Clark who was really in charge. As for "ACG" she termed him difficult, needing constant discipline; she seems to be unaware of the horrific findings of the medical examination. In a June 23 article by Portage Daily Register writer Matthew Call, she again denies any role in the murder. As for her relationship with Sisk, Call writes:
Clark said she met Sisk at a high school in Hopkins County, Ky. They moved to Florida because "that was my dream place to always live," she said. Clark also said she met Clerc in a chat room and at one point considered buying a Sanford, Fla. house in which Clerc and Garlin lived.
The Wisconsin charges are extensive. The complaint, dated June 20, 2007, makes no mention of the identity theft charges. Since the alleged crimes have interstate components, Federal charges are also possible. The main charges are first degree murder, abuse of a corpse, and the child abuse. All face life imprisonment and another 100 years of time just on the Wisconsin charges (Wisconsin does not have the death penalty).
Jane E. Kohlwey, Columbia County District Attorney, is in charge of the case. Colorado, Florida and Kentucky have expressed interest in the defendants. As the combined cases are large, complex and potentially involving multiple jurisdictions, Columbia County's rather small District Attorney's office is stressed. The Portage Daily Register voices local concerns over this: "While a plea deal could be worked out that would reduce the expense to Columbia County taxpayers for four trials, a heavy workload still awaits police and prosecutors."
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for November 19 and 20, 2007. There will be another hearing earlier, on November 6 regarding videotape evidence. Felicia Garlin's attorneys sought to have Garlin be allowed to wear street dress at this hearing, but this was denied by the judge.
- Columbia County Complaint, June 20, 2007 (*.pdf)
- Heather Shannon, "Children Rescued from Portage Home Will Stay in Wisconsin", WTMJ-TV, June 21, 2007
- Susan Latham Carr, "Local woman asks for custody of girls tied to torture case", Ocala, Florida Star Banner, June 27, 2007
- Martin E. Comas, "Relentless officer led police to find girl, 2", Orlando Sentinel June 17, 2007
- Carol Marbin Miller, "DCF chief calls loss of tot `inexcusable" Miami Herald, June 22, 2007
- Sarah Langbein, "Missing 2-year-old's ordeal prompts changes at DCF", Orlando Sentinel, June 27, 2006
- Carol Marbin Miller, "Tampa agency criticized for letting tot disappear", Miami Herald, June 23, 2007
- Melanie Ave, "Failures persist in child welfare", Saint Petersburg Times June 24, 2007
- Susan Latham Carr, "Fighting for family", Ocala Star-Banner, July 2, 2007
- Mike Wiggins, "Neighbors recall murder suspects as scam artists", Grand Junction, Colorado Daily Sentinel June 22, 2007
- Jonathan Hardison, "WI Murder suspect takes Henderson woman's identity", WFIE-TV, June 21, 2007
- Sarah Langbein, "I want truth told, tot's mom says" Orlando Sentinel, June 22, 2007
- Matthew Call, "Clark in interview from jail: 'I didn't kill her", Portage Daily Register June 23, 2007
- Todd Krysiak, "Kohlwey, Hahn prepare for more work on Oneida Street case", Portage Daily Register, June 26, 2007
- Todd Krysiak, Garlin's bid to wear street clothes in court denied, Portage Daily Register, October 17, 2007
- Criminal complaint (*.pdf)
- State of Wisconsin vs. Michael J. Sisk, Columbia County Case Number 2007CF000199
- State of Wisconsin vs. Felicia Mae Garlin, Columbia County Case Number 2007CF000198
- State of Wisconsin vs. Michaela Shawn Clerc, Columbia County Case Number 2007CF000197
- State of Wisconsin vs. Candace L. Clark, Columbia County Case Number 2007CF000196