HOUSTON – Two people were arrested this week in Fort Bend County after a girl told a doctor that she had been married since she was 13 years old, deputies said.
According to Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, an investigation was launched June 5 after the child bride, who is now 14, told a doctor that she was married and was sexually active.
“Just a very disturbing, disturbing case to think that a ... 13-year-old child married to a 47-year-old. I don’t think there’s anyone in Texas that’s going to agree with that,” Sheriff Troy Nehls told reporters Thursday.
Deputies arrested Steven Carty, 47, on Monday and charged him with aggravated sexual assault of a child. He was being held in jail on $100,000 bond.
Investigators looked into the Fort Bend County Clerk’s Office and did not find any records of a marriage license. The sheriff’s office said it’s not a legal marriage, but that Carty and the teen considered themselves married based on religious beliefs.
Detective said the family lived in the Sugar Land area and are part of the Hebrew Israelites faith.
“This is their culture. This is what they believe,” explained Detective Dawn Welch. “Some of the things they believe don’t coincide with Texas state law, which is where we come in and we were able to determine that an offense had been met. Even with their cultural beliefs, with respect to their culture, there was a violation.”
Deputies also arrested Cherry Payton, 39.
She was arrested Wednesday and charged with endangering a child by criminal negligence, deputies said. She was being held in jail on $10,000 bond.
The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office said there were no other children living in the home and that the family is from the Houston area. Investigators said they’re working to get more information about Carty, such as his employment and other background history.
Welch said the teen is in CPS custody.
Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office said prior to last week, state law allowed a 16-year-olds to get married with parental consent. Texas also allowed a judge to approve a marriage of a child of at any age.
On June 15, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1705, which makes 18 the minimum age requirement for marriage.
The bill prohibits anyone younger than 16 from getting married.