A Southlake couple charged with forcing a West African girl to work in slavelike conditions in their home for more than 16 years were ordered released from federal custody Monday, though they did have to surrender their passports.
Family members and friends of Mohamed Toure and Denise Cros-Toure — who were arrested last week — erupted in celebration after U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cureton ordered them set free. The Toures' five children sat in the courtroom in support of their parents, and the oldest daughter testified on their behalf.
Tarrant County authorities have dealt with the girl, who is believed to be about five years older than she thinks she is, and the family since at least April 2002, when Southlake police found her in a city park "wearing dirty unkept clothing" and "very visibly scared and nervous," according to a police report. She has told federal agents that she was forced to do all manner of household chores, that she was for years made to sleep on the floor and that she was at times physically and emotionally abused — all while receiving no pay or formal education.
After Cureton's ruling, Scott Palmer, Denise Cros-Toure's attorney, called the government's case "weak" and suggested that it's the girl's word against that of the family's five children.
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"It's one source," said Palmer, whose law practice is based in Addison. "We had five witnesses — the Toures' children — and they say it didn't happen."
Cureton reached his decision after almost three hours of testimony.
The couple, dressed in orange and tan jail jumpsuits, smiled and acknowledged their children and friends as they arrived flanked by U.S. marshals.
Palmer, along with Mohamed Toure's attorney, Brady T. Watt III of Dallas, emphasized that the girl went on domestic vacations with the Toure family, left the home on her own, engaged in social media and even jogged in the neighborhood.
"She was not confined to the home," Palmer said.
'They love us'
The Toures' oldest daughter testified that the girl was a "cousin" — though not by blood or marriage — who was never abused, mistreated or forced to work. The daughter said she spoke not just for herself but for her four siblings as well.
The judge asked that witnesses not be identified by name.
"They love us," the daughter testified, appearing to fight back tears. "I believe my father to be a good man, my mother a good woman."
Arrest warrants accusing the couple of engaging in forced labor were issued last Tuesday. The Toures are also accused of taking away the girl's documents and keeping her in the United States unlawfully after her visa expired.
If convicted, Mohamed and Denise Cros-Toure face up to 20 years in federal prison.
Monday's hearing came after federal prosecutors filed motions Thursday for the couple to be kept in custody, saying the defendants posed a flight risk and could try to obstruct the case.
Their supporters can scarcely believe what's happening.
"It's all ridiculous," family friend Abdul Bility of Fort Worth said Monday after the hearing. "I don't know how these people could be charged."
The criminal complaint
The girl, identified in the federal complaint as female victim 1 or "FV-1," was born in Guinea and lived with her family in a one-room mud hut with a thatched roof and no electricity. Her father was a farmer and her mother sold produce to support the family.
In testimony Monday, the girl was identified as Jane Doe.
On occasion, the girl attended school and learned Malinke, a Guinean dialect, and some French. She did not know English, according to the federal complaint.
Toure and Cros-Toure are also from Guinea but have been permanent U.S. residents since 2005. Mohamed Toure is the son of Guinea's first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure, according to the complaint.
The Toures are educated and have significant assets in the United States, but a federal investigation indicated they do not have jobs. They bought their Southlake home in 1991 for $370,000 and it's now valued at $590,000, records show.
According to Texas Workforce Commission records, Toure has never worked in this country but has worked for a government party in Guinea. The records show his wife worked for Delta Air Lines from July 2005 to June 2006 and as a substitute teacher in the Carroll school district starting in 2016.
Bank records showed that significant overseas deposits were the family's primary source of income, averaging $200,000 a year from 2010 to 2016, according to the federal complaint.
The couple's five children attend high school or college or have jobs.
The girl told federal agents that her father asked her if she wanted to go to a city in Guinea, and took her to Cros-Toure's parents. She was about 4 or 5 years old at the time. She stayed there for just over a year caring for the Cros family's blind daughter. She remembered being upset one day, and the Cros family told her to stop crying because they were her family now.
When she was 5, the family placed the girl on a plane to Houston where she then flew to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, arriving on Jan. 19, 2000. Cros-Toure and three of her children met her and took her to their Southlake home, according to the federal complaint. She never left the United States after that.
In testimony Monday, the age of the girl was believed to be over 10 years old when she arrived in 2000. A discrepancy exists because her date of birth has not been verified.
As soon as she arrived in Southlake, the girl told federal agents, Cros-Toure ordered her to care for the Toure family's 2-year-old son.
Cros-Toure routinely kicked the girl out of the Toure home as punishment for her poor labor and domestic work. The girl slept in a nearby park. She did not try to escape because she was undocumented, spoke very little English, and didn't have money, any form of identification or a car, according to the federal complaint.
On April 30, 2002, a Southlake police officer dispatched to Bicentennial Park for a possible runaway found the girl. The officer took her back to the Toure home where Cros-Toure said the girl was her cousin and she was being home-schooled. The couple told police that they had been trying to find her, according to the federal complaint.
In 2003, Toure, Cros-Toure and their children took a trip to Paris and left the girl with another family in North Richland Hills.
As the years went by, according to the federal complaint, the girl's job responsibilities increased to cooking, cleaning, making beds, vacuuming, doing the laundry, mowing the yard and painting. She also walked the children to school. Some neighbors believed the girl was a nanny because they would see her with the children or walking the dogs. One neighbor believed the girl did not have a social life.
The Toure's daughter testified Monday that she and her siblings also did chores, that she went shopping with the girl several times and that the girl was treated like family.
Cros-Toure and Toure started physically abusing her when she did not perform her duties to Cros-Toure's liking. Cros-Toure increased her punishment when the girl's pain tolerance increased, like slapping led to the use of a belt and then to the use of an electrical cord, according to the federal complaint.
Cros-Toure is accused of ripping the girl's left earring out, tearing her ear lobe; hitting the girl when she caught her drawing instead of cleaning the house; and twisting her arm. Toure is accused of sitting on the girl's back as Cros-Toure spanked her with a belt.
Cros-Toure called the girl a "slave," a "whore," and told her she was "just a little nothing," according to the complaint.
When the girl told Cros-Toure she had proof of the abuse, Toure stated, "Who do you think you are?"
As she grew older, she made fewer mistakes and was punished less often, according to the complaint.
Toure's daughter told the judge Monday all the children were disciplined by spankings or timeouts.
"No one was ever hit with an electrical cord," she testified. "I never saw Jane Doe hit with an electrical cord."
Her day started at 6:30 to 7 a.m., and she worked until the children went to bed at night, according to the federal complaint.
Initially, the girl never left the Southlake home and was never left alone.
Later, she was allowed to walk to a grocery store, but because she could not read or write English, she would shop by sight for the vegetables that she recognized and by the pictures on canned and boxed items, according to the federal complaint. On every occasion, Cros-Toure checked the receipt and change when the girl returned.
The Toures did not allow the girl to eat with the family. One neighbor who was over for dinner at the Toures saw the girl serving the meal and cleaning afterward, but said the girl did not eat with the family.
For years, the girl slept on the floor in one of the children's bedrooms. When one of the children graduated from high school, the girl was permitted to sleep on an old twin bed in one of the rooms, according to the complaint.
'My parents took care of her'
Carroll school records showed the Toure children enrolled in the district. There were no records for the girl. One neighbor asked Cros-Toure whether the girl attended school and Cros-Toure replied it was too hard. Cros-Toure told another neighbor that the girl had finished high school.
"My parents took care of her," the daughter testified Monday when asked how she believed the girl ended up in their Southlake home from Guinea. "She did have the proper paperwork to enroll in school."
The girl also missed out when Mohamed and Denise Cros-Toure taught their children how to use computers, to swim and drive.
Nor did she get new clothes like the Toures' daughters, but instead got old, ill-fitting clothes, according to the complaint.
Cros-Toure and Toure never took the girl to a doctor's office. In 2014, the girl woke up with a toothache and the Toures drove her to a friend's home where she was given a shot for a tooth infection. She was later driven to Texas A&M College of Dentistry where her tooth was pulled, the complaint states.
At times, the Toures told people the girl was their niece. The girl would repeat it to others because she was embarrassed that it was not true.
In 2016, the couple threatened to send the girl back to Guinea, even taking her to a CVS to have a passport photo taken, but then they stopped.
The girl escaped in July 2016 after Cros-Toure became angry with her on Father's Day for not preparing anything for dinner. The Toures yelled at her and she attempted to flee the residence, but Cros-Toure blocked her way, according to the complaint. The girl jumped out a window and spent the night at a Southlake park.
The girl contacted a neighbor who let her stay there for a few days. The girl stayed for a week with another neighbor, who contacted the Toures and asked them about the alleged mistreatment. Cros-Toure told the neighbor that the girl was lying, that she had finished high school and that they were sending her back to Guinea.
She was returned to the Toure family.
A month later, the girl contacted a neighbor and told her that things had gotten worse. The neighbor told the girl to get proof of her abuse such as photos, according to the complaint. The girl got photos and her travel documents, then fled the house when Cros-Toure and her children were away. Friends picked her up and took her to a shelter, all her possessions stuffed in a duffle bag and backpack.
Neither Toure nor Cros-Toure filed a missing-person report with Southlake police.
The Toures' daughter told the judge Monday she was angry with her "cousin."
"I don't understand why she is doing this," she said. "My parents have nothing to hide."