Columbus police were checking on "suspicious people" reported outside a doctor's office Feb. 29 when they arrested a Jacksonville Beach mother accused of repeatedly selling sex with her 6-year-old daughter for drugs and money.
Dalina J. Nicholas, 35, is being held on a child-neglect warrant in the investigation, which began in early January with a tip about the sexual abuse of her child, police said. Nicholas was arrested Feb. 29 outside a Warm Springs Road doctor’s office on a fugitive from justice warrant and will be extradited to Jacksonville Beach as early as this week. Police also charged two men with capital sexual battery, and at least one other suspect is being sought in the case. The tip about the abuse came from a homeless man who flagged down a passing police officer and told him what had been going on in the Jacksonville Beach home, said Sgt. Mark Evans, the lead detective in the case. The man said he’d been to the home to use drugs in the past and gave police information about the child’s abuse.
Police launched an investigation and then sought to arrest Nicholas after an interview with the girl, who gave them details of sexual attacks by three men and physical abuse. Nicholas, by that time, had fled the area. The child and a sibling were in the custody of Nicholas’ mother and father.
The child was 6 at the time of the allegations and just turned 7. She remains with her grandparents and is receiving therapy and other treatment from state child welfare agencies, said John Harrell, a spokesman with the Department of Children and Families.
Nicholas was arrested after Columbus police responded about 3:15 p.m. Feb. 29 to a report of suspicious people outside a doctor’s office in the 2800 block of Warm Springs Road. When officers arrived, they saw Nicholas and a man standing near the building, said Sgt. Art Sheldon.
The officer approached the pair and asked for their ID. The man had no outstanding warrants and was not detained. The officer did discover Nicholas was wanted in Florida, Sheldon said.
Nicholas remained in the Muscogee County Jail Wednesday pending extradition.
Jacksonville Beach Police Chief Bruce Thomason said Nicholas lived in subsidized housing in the 400 block of Sixth Street South and supported herself and a drug habit by selling her daughter for various sex acts. Witnesses told police drugs were frequently used in the home, where Nicholas let the homeless and others stay. Neighbors said many different men were seen coming in and out of the home at all hours of the day and night.
"I can't think of an adjective that's bad enough to describe the allegations," Thomason said. "Anyone who would harm a child is just beneath contempt."
But Nicholas' mother, whom the Times-Union is not naming because she has temporary custody of the girl and a suspect still is at large, said her daughter and granddaughter were sexually abused by drug dealers. She said her daughter, whom she described as a recovering drug addict, did not condone or know about the abuse of her daughter. She said the child could verify the story.
"These drug dealers kept returning and basically they took over her home," the child's grandmother said. "She was as much a victim as her daughter was."
Nicholas also denied the allegations to investigators, but a child-protection team interview with the victim provided enough information to issue a warrant.
"It was heartbreaking ... to hear the things that this little girl said had taken place," Evans said.
Quinn M. Brooks, 56, of Jacksonville and John F. Hagans, 47, who is homeless, were charged last month with sexual battery in the case, police said Monday.
Hagans, also known as Mute, was interviewed by police in mid-February. He told police he lived with Nicholas and her daughter in the past, but he denied having any sexual contact with the girl.
Hagans told police there were many people coming and going at the home and that drugs were frequently used there. Brooks was arrested last week after a witness identified him as one of the men involved with the victim.
Carrie Fifield, who lives in a duplex only yards from Nicholas' home, said she would periodically see Nicholas, her daughter and a younger son outside the home. Fifield described the girl as having a bright personality and had no reason to believe she was in trouble. But Fifield also began noticing a lot more foot traffic in and out of the home in the past few months, which left her worried that it might have been a drug den.
"It's disturbing," Fifield said of the charges. "You never know what's going on next door."
Harrell said his agency has completed its investigation and continues to work with police.
"This child has obviously been through so much," Harrell said. "These are terrible allegations that are of great concern to us and great concern to the community."
Court records show that Nicholas was charged in 2002 with possession of marijuana and was fined after pleading guilty.
Records show Hagans has been arrested at least 35 times in Florida since 1983. His convictions include grand larceny, robbery and cocaine possession. Brooks has been arrested 10 times, with convictions for trespassing and dealing in stolen property.