A 10-year-old girl who said she feared for her family's safety climbed out a first-floor window and called police from a pay phone to report that her mother and older sister were freebasing cocaine, Los Angeles police said Tuesday.
Teran Cortez called the 911 emergency line about 7:30 p.m. Monday and gave the address of her sister's house in the 18200 block of Saticoy Street in Reseda, police said.
Teran--who said she was calling secretly so that her mother would not know who had turned her in--told police that her mother and sister were smoking what appeared to be freebase, a purified form of cocaine, in a glass pipe, Officer Margie Reid said.
When police arrived, they conferred privately with the youngster, who had returned to the house. While her mother remained in the living room and her father on the back porch, Teran led officers to a side yard, where they found a drawer containing freebasing equipment and a vial with a small amount of cocaine, police said. The girl told police that the drawer had been carried from the house by her father before officers were let in.
The mother, Barbara Jean Cortez, 46, who lives with Teran in a nearby home, was booked at the Van Nuys Jail on suspicion of possession of cocaine. Bail was set at $2,500.
"The little girl didn't want to get her mother in trouble," Officer H. L. Rosenfeld said. "She was more interested in getting her mother help."
Cortez's husband, Ernest, 55, and Jeffrey Smith, 27, who lives in the Saticoy Street house with Cortez's daughter, were booked on suspicion of misdemeanor child endangering and released on their own recognizance. Investigators said no drug charges were filed against the men because the child had not witnessed them using drugs.
Teran told police that her older sister, Chris Traposi, 24, fled when police arrived. She was being sought.
"The mother was upset with her (Teran), of course, being turned in; she was definitely mad at the child," Rosenfeld said. But, he added, "It's a very affectionate family. There was a lot of hugging and kissing. The child was real concerned about her parents. I don't think she knows anything about jail or prison."
Rosenfeld described the girl as a "very intelligent" fifth grade student.
"I asked her how she knew what freebasing was, because that's not something every 10-year-old knows about," the officer said. "She said she had seen her mother do it before and her father had explained to her what it was."
Teran told investigators that her mother would always send her to her room before using drugs. On Monday night, she told police, she was sent to a bedroom in her sister's house and saw the alleged drug use through a hole in the door and decided to do something about it.
Teran and Barbara Cortez's 5-year-old grandson, Brandon Degano, were placed in the custody of officials at the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services. A hearing will be held today or Thursday to determine whether they should remain in protective custody or be released to their parents, police said.
Police said they did not know where the girl got the idea to call them, but it was at least the third case in California of children informing on their parents for drug use since a highly publicized case last August in Tustin.