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LARAMIE, Wyo - A Wyoming sheriff responded Wednesday to criticism that his office failed to protect a 7-year-old child forced to live in a cage.

The child's mother, Jena Harman, and her boyfriend, Alexander Smith, were arrested July 24. The child is now in the state's custody.​

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.

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An affidavit said deputies from the Albany County Sheriff's Office were called out to the home near Laramie, Wyoming to check on the child on several occasions, but the child was never removed during those visits.

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. In an another report, eight days later, the mother's boyfriend told police he made the child urinate and defecate outside, because he had clogged the toilet inside with toilet paper.

"You need to have something that's concrete, something that's substantial, and those are all bits and pieces of the situation," Albany County Sheriff David O'Malley said. "The bottom line is there was never an incident prior to [July 24] where we felt comfortable taking custody of the child."

The child's mother and her boyfriend are facing charges of felonious restraint and aggravated child abuse. They are both being held in Albany County.

If convicted, they could each spend more than 40 years in prison.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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