News Article Details

Caged child case sends couple to grand jury

Johnson City Press - 3/7/2017

A Jonesborough couple accused of keeping a 10-year-old autistic child in a cage to keep her calm was bound over to a Washington County grand jury after a preliminary hearing Monday, one of the defense attorneys confirmed.

Mickey Sparks, 69, and Patricia Laws, 43, were each charged with aggravated child abuse and neglect Feb. 6 after Washington County deputies were sent to 151 Miller Crossing Road on a child welfare check. During a consentual search of the house, officers came to a bedroom that had a wooden cage that had no top but was padlocked.

Inside that cage was a girl lying on a small mattress. Deputy Jared Taylor said in a court affidavit that the girl did not appear to be in distress. When he asked Laws about the girl, Laws "explained that the child was autistic and they were able to control the child better by locking her up. She referred to this as a safe room. Patricia (Laws) advised this is also where the child slept at night (and Department of Children's Services) had approved the caged area," Taylor said.

Assistant Public Defender David Crichton, who represents Laws, said the case "was bound over on a felony," which he said was not appropriate given the evidence he's seen.

"Everyone keeps calling this a cage, but this looks like a wooden playpen, but it's bigger," Crichton said. Photos of the wooden structure, which was homemade, showed slats similar to those of a wooden playpen.

"It's ridiculous to call it a cage," he said, and Sparks and Laws used the enclosure to protect the child. There were also video cameras that focused on the room where the girl stayed, which was to help keep up with her.

"They set this up to protect the child and not let her go walking around at night," Crichton said, but added there was some evidence the girl spent more than 12 hours at a time there on some occasions. He also said the girl attended special education classes at Lamar Elementary School and "there was no injury to the child and no signs of abuse."

Both Sparks and Laws are free on bond while the case is pending. Sparks is represented by David Crockett. They will appear in Criminal Court later this year.


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