Prosecutors file charges in child imprisonment case

Investigators search the couple's apartment

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: April 18, 2011, 8:21 PM

 

Prosecutors on Monday filed charges against a Vancouver couple accused of locking their two young autistic boys in a dark, caged room. Meanwhile, major crimes investigators searched the couple’s apartment as part of the ongoing investigation.

Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Rachael Probstfeld filed two counts of unlawful imprisonment domestic violence against the boys’ father, John K. Eckhart, 30, and his live-in girlfriend, Alayna M. Higdon, 26.

The crime, a class C felony, carries a minimum sentencing range of one to three months in jail.

Probstfeld filed two aggravating factors on the charges: First, she alleges that the crimes were committed with “deliberate cruelty;” second, that they were perpetrated against victims who were “particularly vulnerable or incapable of resistance.”

If convicted, the aggravating factors could allow a judge to give an exceptional sentence; the maximum punishment for the crime with aggravating factor is five years in prison.

Eckhart and Higdon, who both have no criminal record, will be arraigned on the charges April 27.

Apartment searched

Meanwhile, investigators served a search warrant over the weekend for the apartment and seized evidence on Saturday “consistent with the crime of unlawful imprisonment,” according to a press release from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Allais said investigators also took photos and video footage of the apartment at 4317 N.E. 66th Ave. No other details were released. Higdon was present for the search and cooperative with detectives, Allais said.

According to police reports, the couple were arrested Tuesday after Vancouver police officers found the autistic boys, ages 5 and 7, locked in a dark room with a metal slatted cage-like door. They had no toys and shared a single mattress. The boys were wearing diapers, not receiving medical attention or enrolled in school.

According to court documents, the couple allegedly imprisoned the boys from Oct. 1 to April 12.

Higdon and Eckhart were booked in the Clark County Jail; Higdon has been released after posting bail and Eckhart was still in custody Monday morning.

The boys were placed in the care of Child Protective Services, as were the pair’s other boys, ages 9 and 11 months old.

In charging documents, Probstfeld also filed a domestic violence no-contact order, barring Eckhart and Higdon from being around the autistic boys.

A hearing is set for Thursday in Clark County Superior Court to decide the children’s temporary placement. The autistic boys’ biological mother, Jona Bronson of Tillamook, Ore., has said she’s seeking to have them placed with her.

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516 or laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.