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Update: Jonesborough pair claimed DCS approved cage for autistic child

Becky Campbell and Zach Vance • Updated Feb 7, 2017 at 8:15 PM

The caretakers of a young autistic child told deputies the Department of Children’s Services had approved their method of using a locked cage to control the girl and that it had been used for three or four years, according to a court document.

Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputies found the 10-year-old girl in a wooden cage that smelled of urine and feces Monday in a Jonesborough residence, according to Sheriff Ed Graybeal.

After an initial investigation, Mickey Sparks, 69, and Patricia Laws, 43, were each charged with aggravated child abuse and neglect on Monday. 

Deputies were sent to 151 Miller Crossing Road around 5 p.m. to conduct a welfare check after receiving a report the child was being housed in a cage in the home. When Deputy Jared Taylor and Deputy Michael Garmer arrived, they first encountered Laws and asked whether there were any domestic violence issues between her and Sparks. Laws denied any problems, so the deputies asked to do a welfare check on the children in the home.

Laws allowed the officers into the house, and Taylor noted in a court document that he immediately detected a strong odor of feces. He said he saw what appeared to be ground up feces on the kitchen’s tile floor and in the carpet through the rest of the house. Two boys were standing in the kitchen as the deputies walked through.

Officers came to a bedroom in the house that had a wooden cage that had no top but was padlocked. Inside that cage was a girl lying on a small mattress. 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) DCS had approved the caged area.”

Sparks arrived home with another girl about that time and also denied any domestic violence issues in the family.

“Mickey (Sparks) also advised DCS had been to the residence on numerous occasions and they were aware of the caged area for the female child. Mickey advised he has surveillance cameras inside and outside the property,” including a camera focused on the caged area, Taylor wrote in the court record.

Taylor called DCS and spoke with Child Protective Services supervisor Karen Thompson about the situation. She confirmed there were several referrals in the family’s history, but there were no notations in the records to indicate a locked cage was approved for the child.

Two CPS investigators were sent to the residence as well. Sheriff Ed Graybeal said in a news release The Department of Children’s Services removed all four children from the residence.

Taylor noted the cage was taken and placed into evidence.

Sparks and Laws were both arraigned in Washington County General Sessions Court on Tuesday. Judge Don Arnold read aloud Sparks’ and Laws’ charges during two separate hearings, as both appeared puzzled when Arnold asked if they understood the charges. 

Sparks requested a public defender since he is retired, but Arnold denied the request, citing Sparks’ claim of $250,000 worth of real estate in a house and farm.

Sparks also attempted to get his bond lowered from $50,000, but Arnold replied, “Absolutely not. You’re lucky it’s not higher.”

When Laws appeared before Arnold, her demeanor was disoriented, she kept her head down and claimed to have a hearing problem.

After determining she could moderately understand what he said, Arnold made Laws stand directly in front of the bench as he read aloud the complaint.

On several occasions, Laws either peered down or closed her eyes, in which Arnold demanded she look at him while he read to assure she understood the charges.

“I don’t need you to comment on it right now,” Arnold told Laws after he finished reading the complaint. “Now listen to me, please. You seem to hear me. I had the impression that you were understanding what I said because you would say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ ”

Although Laws is currently employed at Advanced Call Center Technologies, she was appointed a public defender since she had no ownership in Sparks’ property. Her bond remained at $50,000.

Sparks and Laws are scheduled to appear in court again on Feb. 16 at 1:30 p.m.


Earlier report posted at 10:05 a.m.

Deputies found an autistic child locked in a cage with urine and feces odor at a Jonesborough residence Monday afternoon, resulting in two arrests, Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal announced Tuesday.

The discovery occurred when deputies went to 151 Miller Crossing Road about 5 p.m. Monday to conduct a welfare check after receiving reports that an autistic child was being kept in a cage in the residence.

When deputies entered the bedroom, they saw a locked wooden cage with a mattress and a child inside. The cage smelled of urine and feces. Deputies learned the child was 10 years old and autistic. There were three other children who also resided at the residence. The Department of Children’s Services responded to the scene and removed all four children.

Mickey Sparks, 69, and Patricia Laws, 43, were each charged with aggravated child abuse and neglect. They were held in the Washington County Detention Center on $50,000 bond each awaiting Sessions Court appearances today.

Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for updates on this developing story.

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