Two arrested for child neglect

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By Jeff M. Hardison

Two Chiefland women were jailed on Jan. 19, after Chiefland Police Officer H. K. Hutson III charged them with four counts of child neglect.

The suspects are Heidi Ann Prophet, 35, and Donna Gail Deal, 64, both of 510 N.W. Fourth Ave.

Hutson and Florida Department of Children and Families Inv. James Ledford found deplorable conditions at the home, he said. These women were arrested on three counts of child neglect at the same house, under similar conditions on Aug. 23, 2002, according to records.

The State Attorney's Office did not prosecute in 2002, according to records.

State Attorney Bill Cervone said a pre-trial intervention action was allowed in those cases more than five years ago. The defendants completed parenting classes and other mandates, and the state did not prosecute.

"Sometimes, criminals re-offend," Cervone said as he conceded these are the same suspects allegedly performing the same crime against the same victims in the same place.

There is no diversion option now, Cervone said, because this is not the first time they are charged with neglecting children. Not everyone is given a diversion option, either, just because it is a first offense, he said.

"You don't get PTI (pre-trial intervention) on your first murder," Cervone said.

After the recent arrests of the two suspects, four children were removed from the care of the women. A 17-year-old boy went to live with an aunt. A 2-year-old girl and two boys, aged 6 and 11, went to foster homes.

Two malnourished cats and five underfed dogs dug in garbage bags in the kitchen, Hutson said, as officers investigated. Roaches and ants crawled throughout the inside of the house, he said.

"In my 15 years of being a police officer," Hutson said, "I've never seen kids in that kind of filth."

Almost every room of the house contained garbage bags. The bathroom toilet was inoperable, Hutson said. Feces and wadded up notebook paper sat stacked a foot high next to the toilet, he said. The sink and bathtub were in a similar condition, he added.

One of the children had many sores on his left arm and leg. Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner Marilyn Barnes said the bites could be from roaches or rats, and were aggravated by the child scratching them, Hutson said. In the 2002 case, one of the defendants reportedly admitted the marks were from roach bites.

Trash was piled waist high in some areas of the house, Hutson said. Chiefland Animal Control captured two cats and four dogs. One cat and one dog escaped and remained on the loose as of Jan. 24.

The women had bonds set at $30,000 each for the four felonious child neglect charges.

Chiefland Building and Zoning Administrator W.T. "Bill" Hammond Jr. has been in his post for nine years. This is the worst condition he has seen during that time, he said.

Only one other case comes close, he said, and that was in 2002, at the same address with the same people. The 2008 case, however, is even worse than five years ago, Hammond said.

The Chiefland Board of Adjustment will consider the alleged code violations. It can recommend up to a $500 daily fine for each day after it rules a cleanup must occur, if it chooses to impose a fine, because this is the second occurrence at this house.

The range of options goes from the most severe civil action of a $500-a-day fine to doing nothing about these code violations, Hammond said. For now, the house is not habitable, he said.