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A Utah family is accused of caging a toddler in "close proximity" to a horde of neglected and malnourished animals, including a number of snakes.
Heather Scarbrough, 42, T.J. Brown, 46, and Charles Brown, 82 were arrested in June after authorities made the “heinous” discovery. On June 25, authorities had executed a search warrant at the family’s home in Buchanan, Tennessee. There, they discovered a child, under the age of 8, being kept in a cage inside the home, according to a series of arrest warrants obtained by Oxygen.com.
“When officers approached [the] doorway, a small child was observed in a cage or kennel inside [the] residence,” one arrest warrant stated.
Hundreds of animals, including nearly a dozen snakes, were also found living in “atrocious” and “cruel” conditions “in close proximity” to the youngster, investigators said. Authorities also observed a “strong smell of feces” and noted “numerous insects” were found in the child’s cage.
In total, 531 mice, rats, and hamsters, 56 dogs, 86 chickens, 10 rabbits, eight snakes, four parakeets, three cats, three sugar gliders, a pheasant, and a gecko were discovered living at the home.
The majority of animals were dehydrated and had “skin conditions due to lack of care,” according to arrest warrants.
“[They] failed to provide necessary water and care for the animals,” law enforcement alleged.
The sheriff also described the makeshift zoo as “unlivable.”
“I’ve never seen this before, and I can guarantee the gentlemen up here with me have never seen this before,” Henry County Sheriff Monte Belew told MEAWW.
Many of the rodents allegedly being kept by the family were also sealed in jars that contained the rotting, maggot-infested remains of dead mice and rats.
“With all of the law enforcement experience up here, it’s hard to find something that actually shocks us,” Belew added.
The trio were also charged with manufacturing marijuana after investigators also seized 127 marijuana plants growing on the property. Seventeen firearms, many of them loaded, according to warrants, were also discovered.
Scarbrough, T.J. Brown, and Charles Brown were arrested on several counts of suspicion of aggravated child abuse, neglect, or endangerment and animal cruelty, according to court documents.
Scarbrough and T.J. Brown are the child’s parents, WKRN-TV reported. T.J. Brown was convicted on firearms and marijuana-related offenses in Georgia dating back to a 1995 arrest, according to arrest warrants. Charles Brown, the grandfather, owns the property in Buchannan, Tennessee, where the alleged abuse occurred, about 100 miles northwest of Nashville.
The family’s legal team downplayed the allegations during preliminary court hearings, describing the so-called “cage” as a lower-income family’s playpen. The defense also reportedly argued that the kennel was the safest place for the 1-year-old in the animal-ridden home.
“When I put a child in a playpen, there’s not eight snakes, hundreds of rats and hamsters and mice up against the cage, there’s no cockroaches in the cage, there’s not urine-soaked clothes in the cage, I mean, there’s a big difference,” an investigator said in court, according to WKRN-TV.
The defense also noted the only medical condition the child allegedly suffered from at the time he was found was a rash, the outlet reported.
Henry County Sheriff’s Office didn’t respond to comment when contacted by Oxygen.com on Friday.
The three family members could be indicted after a grand jury reviews the case on Nov. 2.
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