A family of three was arrested in Tennessee after an 18-month-old boy was allegedly found locked in a cage surrounded by snakes, rats and mice in what the local sheriff called “horrific” conditions.
Heather Scarbough, the boy's mother, and Thomas Jefferson Brown, described by authorities as the boy's stepfather — along with Brown’s father, 82-year-old Charles Brown – are all facing felony charges of aggravated child abuse, aggravated animal cruelty, possession of a firearm while committing another felony, manufacturing marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Thomas Jefferson Brown, 46, is also faces a charge of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
Henry County Sheriff Monte Belew told Oxygen.com that authorities — including himself — responded to the family's single-wide trailer after receiving an anonymous tip about large-scale animal abuse on the property.
When authorities arrived, they allegedly discovered the property was filled with more than 600 animals, according to a press release issued by law enforcement.
As he approached the property, Belew said he could “plainly see” chickens and roosters milling about the property.
“The front of the house is very thick with tall grass and bushes and cages, rooster and chicken cages all around the front,” he said. “You actually have to go down a little trail to get to the trailer.”
When Belew arrived at the door of the trailer, which had been propped open, he was even more shocked by what he said he found inside it — an 18-month-old child allegedly locked inside a cage and surrounded by rats, mice, and a 10 foot long boa constrictor.
“As I began to look around, I could see several different cages that contained mice and rats, and then also I could see multiple cages that had snakes in them,” he said. “Some of the mice and rats were in like five-gallon buckets and the buckets were leaned up against the child’s cage.”
The boa constrictor was in a glass aquarium near the child that “didn’t appear to be very secure,” Belew said.
“I’ve been in law enforcement now almost 28 years and, you know, there’s not a lot that just really shocks me,” he said. “But when you see a child that literally locked in the cage and you’ve got mice and rats and dogs and feces on the floor and the smell of ammonia and, you know, eight snakes in the same room as this child, it just blows my mind.”
Belew estimated that there were between 15 and 20 dogs running around the residence and an estimated 75 to 150 roaches.
The young child — who was wearing a shirt and “extremely soaked” diaper — did not appear to be malnourished and was quickly handed over to a female deputy on the scene, authorities said.
“As soon as the cage was opened up, he reached out and came to our female deputy and she kept him and fed him until the department of children’s services (arrived),” Belew said.
Belew called the conditions at the home “horrific” and “unbelievable.”
Scarbough, the child’s 42-year-old mother, was found asleep in one of the trailer’s bedrooms. Charles Brown was also found asleep in another bedroom of the home.
Thomas Jefferson Brown had been inside another building on the property when authorities arrived and was apprehended as he came out of the building.
“We went back and looked inside the blocked building and there was marijuana and drug paraphernalia in there as well as an AR-15 and a large screen TV playing porn,” Belew said. He added that officials also found mice and rat cages in that building.
Thomas Jefferson Brown appeared to be more concerned with his animals’ welfare than the welfare of the child and “never asked once about the child,” Belew said.
In total, officials confiscated 531 mice, hamsters and rats; 56 dogs, eight snakes, 86 chickens and roosters, 10 rabbits, four parakeets, three cats, one pheasant, one gecko and three sugar gliders from the property, according to the release.
Officials also said they found 127 marijuana plants and 17 guns on the property.
The three suspects are being held on a $300,000 bond at the Henry County Jail.
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