A Virginia mom is out on bail after she was arrested for allegedly keeping her two toddlers in makeshift cages, while her three other children were living in unsafe conditions in a filthy house.
A judge in Accomack County, Virginia, has granted 38-year-old Malista Ness-Hopkins temporary freedom under the condition that she seeks recommended mental health evaluation and treatment, as she awaits more news from a grand jury regarding her five felony counts of child abuse and neglect, reports Delmarva Now.
Ness-Hopkins was arrested on July 28, after an investigator and social workers visited the home to follow up on a complaint about the household.
Three of the children were confined: a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old were in separate cribs with barriers made from other crib side rails screwed on top, and a 1-year-old was in an open-top crib, as Accomack County Social Services worker Kate Bonniwell testified on Sept 8.
Bonniwell said that she took an electric screwdriver and worked on unscrewing the top off the cages. One took her 23 minutes, and she said that during this time, the 2-year-old hissed and made "animal sounds" at her.
"The children didn't act like normal children," Bonniwell explained in court, according to Delmarva Now.
Once she dismantled the cages, the children made no attempt to get out of their space. She noticed that they and the other kids were "filthy with multiple bug bites" and were covered in lice.
The two toddlers and the infant wore dirty diapers.
The house smelled of urine, and the two older children, who are 5 and 6, were on dirty, bare foam mattresses with no sheets, pillows or blankets.
The cribs had scratch marks on them.
There was one bathroom in the house. The bathtub and sink were both full of plates of rotting food and other trash, and the toilet was full of black water and had a broken seat.
Broken glass, trash, fleas and cockroaches were found around the rest of the house.
Ness-Hopkins reportedly told another social worker that she was struggling to handle the kids and was planning to move soon, although she had nowhere to go. She said at the time that she caged up the babies when she couldn't keep an eye on them, as she once caught them playing with a can of Drano.
"This did not happen overnight," said Judge Croxton Gordon. "She said she only screwed them in when she couldn't mind them. But she was there."
If convicted of child abuse or neglect, each count could land Ness-Hopkins in prison for between one and 10 years in addition to a fine, notes Thomas Soldan Virginia Law Firm.