John and Carolyn Jackson of Mount Holly made an initial court appearance and were detained Tuesday pending a bail hearing Thursday. They face 17 counts including endangerment, assault and conspiracy. John Jackson surrendered after his wife was arrested at their home, federal officials said. Each of the 17 counts carries a maximum possible prison sentence of 10 years upon conviction, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
Federal authorities have jurisdiction because the alleged crimes occurred when the couple lived at Picatinny Arsenal, a military installation about 35 miles west of New York City.
"Carolyn and John Jackson are charged with unimaginable cruelty to children they were trusted to protect," U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said. "The crimes alleged should not happen to any child, anywhere, and it is deeply disturbing that they would happen on a military installation."
Peter Rowland, a spokesman for the arsenal, said the Jacksons lived there from 2007 to 2012. He said the arsenal would not comment on the case because it is a pending legal matter.
"We have cooperated fully with investigators to date and we will continue to do so," Rowland said.
Attorneys representing the Jacksons didn't immediately return phone messages seeking comment Tuesday.
According to the indictment, the Jacksons had three children of their own and fostered three other children they eventually adopted. One of the foster children, referred to by the initials "J.J. (hash)2," died in 2008. The Jacksons weren't charged directly with the child's death but are charged with assaulting the child and failing to seek prompt medical care.
The Jackson children are in the custody of New Jersey's Department of Children and Families, the U.S. attorney's office said. Kristine Brown, a spokeswoman for the department, said the one child's death was determined not to be caused by abuse or neglect. Brown declined to comment further on the Jacksons' case, citing confidentiality laws.
Two of the foster children were forced to eat red pepper flakes and drink hot sauce as punishment and two suffered fractured bones from assaults by the Jacksons, the indictment alleges.
The couple employed "disciplinary and child-rearing techniques that were neglectful and cruel," the indictment charges. Also among the accusations are that the Jacksons misled Army and medical authorities in Oklahoma, Indiana and New Jersey about the nature and causes of the children's injuries.
The alleged abuse was directed at the foster children, according to the indictment. The Jacksons' biological children allegedly were instructed to monitor the foster children and told that the disciplinary measures were meant to train the foster children to behave.
The Jacksons also allegedly forbade their biological children from telling others about the discipline and beat one child with a belt after discovering the child had told a family friend.