Court records detail autistic boys’ imprisonment

Conditions likened to those of a prison cell

By Bob Albrecht, Columbian Staff Reporter

Published:

Updated: April 19, 2011, 8:57 PM

 
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Warrant details autistic boys' imprisonment

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A Clark County Sheriff’s sergeant likened the conditions inside a dark, cage-like room where two autistic boys were kept to a prison cell.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Allais said the white walls of the bedroom were picked at and scratched. It was something like the scratches and graffiti marks made by bored prisoners on cell walls, he said.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Allais, who has been with the sheriff’s office 22 years, said of the room.

Details of the room’s conditions emerged out of an interview with Allais and a search warrant affidavit prepared as part of a continuing investigation into the April 12 discovery of the two autistic boys, ages 5 and 7, who were locked in a dark room with a metal, slatted cage-like door. The two had no toys and shared a single mattress. The were wearing diapers, were not receiving medical attention and were not enrolled in school.

Allais and other investigators executed a search warrant at Springfield Meadows unit G56, 4317 N.E. 66th Ave., on April 16. Allais described the cage-like door as the end of a metal closet rack turned on its end. A lock was set up using a carabiner mountain climbers would use to connect ropes.

“Two thing young boys couldn’t really get through the way it was designed,” Allais said.

Plywood on the walls covered damage the couple said had been done by the boys. A wooden child’s gate rigged to keep a window closed took police five to 10 minutes to remove, Allais said. A sheet was hung over the window, court records show.

The room had a red race car toddler bed with a mattress and no blankets or pillows. According to the affidavit, spit and food filled a window sill.

“When I was standing there, they were feeding the two kids inside the room chips through the bars,” said Desiree Carlson, a Springfield Meadows employee who had taken part in a routine maintenance sweep through the apartment April 8.

“As soon as I walked up, the kids came to me and tried to reach me through the gate,” Willis Mousseau, another employee, told investigators, according to the affidavit. Four days after the boys were removed, the smell of diapers and urine “was still evident,” Allais said.

The boys’ father, John K. Eckhart, 30, and his live-in girlfriend, Alayna M. Higdon, 26, were each charged Monday with two counts of unlawful imprisonment domestic violence in connection with the case. The crime, a class C felony, carries a minimum sentencing range of one to three months in jail.

Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Rachael Probstfield 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.”

The aggravating factors could allow a judge to give an exceptional sentence if they are convicted; the maximum punishment for the crime with the aggravating factors is five years in prison.

Eckhart and Higdon, who have no criminal records, will be arraigned April 27.

Court documents alleged the couple 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 Tuesday afternoon.

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

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.

Asked about Eckhart and Higdon, Allais said, “They might possibly just be overwhelmed by the disabilities.”

Bob Albrecht: 360-735-4522 or bob.albrecht@columbian.com.