Sheriff: Autistic girl was caged; Child abuse charges filed

Two people were charged with child abuse after deputies found an autistic girl locked in a cage at a home in northeastern Tennessee.

Deputies conducted a welfare check at the home Monday after receiving reports that a child was being held in a cage, Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal said in a statement. He said deputies entered a bedroom to find a locked wooden cage with a child inside and a mattress that smelled of feces and urine. Deputies were told the 10-year-old was autistic.

Graybeal said that child and three others at the home were removed.

Two adults, 69-year-old Mickey Sparks and 43-year-old Patricia Laws, were each charged with aggravated child abuse and neglect. They were being held at the Washington County Detention Center pending arraignment. It wasn't immediately clear whether they have attorneys.

A court document cited by the Johnson City Press said Laws told deputies that the state Department of Children's Services had approved the use of the cage as a means of controlling the girl three or four years ago.

Deputy Jared Taylor checked with a Child Protective Services supervisor, who told him there were no records to indicate a locked cage had been approved for the girl, the document said.