LARAMIE, Wyo. - Authorities in Wyoming are pressing felony charges against a man and a woman alleging they kept a 7-year-old child in an outdoor cage.
The child's mother, Jena Harman, and her boyfriend, Alexander Smith, face one count each of child abuse and three counts each of felonious restraint.
The pair were arrested July 24 after Albany County Sheriff's deputies responded to a tip that the child was caged outside a home on Fox Creek Road.
The July 24 visit was not the only time the sheriff's office was called to check on the child. Deputies went to the pair's property on multiple occasions starting in February of this year.
Deputies said the child reported living in the 6-by-6-foot cage on and off for three weeks, taking meals there and sleeping there overnight, even during rainstorms.
The child was not allowed inside the house, according to an arrest affidavit. The victim said Harman would occasionally let the child inside the home when Smith was not around.
The times when the child was allowed inside, the 7-year-old slept on the floor. The victim told deputies that the dog got to sleep on the couch.
Harman and Smith also imposed rules on bathroom use. The child told investigators that peeing outside was allowed, but if the child "has to go poop, [the child] holds on to it, until they can go to town," the affidavit read.
The arrest affidavit said the child was fed at least once a day and had to eat while inside the enclosure. The victim was only let out of the cage for short periods during the day.
The affidavit also detailed instances where child was subjected to other types of abuse. The child was sprayed with a hose by Smith while the victim was inside the enclosure. The 7-year-old also slept outdoors in the cage while it rained.
The cage was constructed of "cattle paneling, wooden snow fence, and plywood covering half of the top of the cage." It was "secured with a metal chain, with a locking carabineer on one end, and a dog leash style latch on the other. A piece of plywood blocked access to the latch end of the chain from inside of the cage."
Deputies say the mother told them the plywood was put on top to give the child shelter from bad weather.
Harman and Smith told deputies that they kept the child in the cage only when the victim misbehaved.
The child's school had complained to the sheriff's office several times - saying the child had come to school with bruises and a limp. But each time, the sheriff's office said the reports were unfounded. At one point, deputies witnessed the kid pulling food out of a garbage can and eating it in front of them.
Neighbors told 9NEWS they saw the abuse firsthand but didn't report it, because they were scared of retribution from the mother's boyfriend.
The Albany County Sheriff's Office said it could not comment and referred all questions to the DA's office. Neither defense attorney was available for comment Tuesday.
Smith faces a circuit court hearing Thursday. The mother already has been bound over to district court. Both were in custody Tuesday.
The child is now in the state's custody.
Dr. Max Wachtel: Investigators failed child
9NEWS psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel says the Albany County Sheriff's Office should have picked up on the abuse sooner. And he says the child faces a tough future.
"This was an absolute fail on the part of the sheriff's office," Dr. Wachtel said. "They came out eight times in nine months. The kid was starving. The kid missed 18 days of school, and all the sheriff's deputies did was say, 'well, try and get him to come to school.'"
"This kid is going to develop anxiety, depression, anger; that's almost a given," Dr. Wachtel added. "Probably the worst thing is the potential for the child to not be able to relate to other people."
(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)