After a contentious sentencing that revealed horrific details about an illegal day care in northeast Bend, its former owner, January Neatherlin was sentenced to 21 years, 4 months in prison.
She had ignored and abandoned children, even burned a baby with scalding milk. Parents of one child say Neatherlin violently shook their daughter.
“There is something broken and something missing in you,” Deschutes County Circuit Judge Wells Ashby told Neatherlin, who had drugged children and left them at her Little Giggles Daycare while she went to a tanning salon or to work out. “It is this court’s hope that you are able to find it or reconstruct it, and make yourself whole at some point.”
During the hearing Friday, parents and grandparents of more than a dozen children left in Neatherlin’s care spoke about their experiences with her over the course of nearly five years.
Statements from Deschutes County Deputy District Attorney Kandy Gies and concerned family members revealed that she had sent a child to a Portland-area hospital with multiple head injuries, and admitted to causing burns on a young child by overheating a bottle of milk. Parents accused Neatherlin of everything from disrupting children’s sleep cycles to striking them.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with the defendant; I don’t know what could bring a person to do what she’s done to the most helpless and innocent people in our society,” said Les Adams, the grandfather of one of the children. “But I hope she can understand that she damn near killed the easiest, happiest, most easygoing baby I’ve ever known in my life.”
Neatherlin pleaded guilty in February to 11 counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment and one count of third-degree assault. Each of the counts was related to a different child under her care, according to Gies. Prosecutors had pushed for 35 years in prison, according to The Bulletin’s archives.
Before she was sentenced, Neatherlin addressed the families of those children publicly for the first time. Wiping away tears and brushing a lock of dark hair from her eyes, Neatherlin apologized to a room of about 30 parents, grandparents and young children.
“I loved all my day care kids as my own, and I believe they loved me and enjoyed hanging out with me during the week,” she said. “But I failed you all. I let you all down.”
A baby brought by one of the families in attendance cried softly while Neatherlin spoke.
Neatherlin was arrested March 15, 2017, after police followed up on a tip that she was leaving young children alone in her home where she operated her day care on Blue Bush Court. They found children between 6 months and 4 years old alone in the home. Seven of the criminal mistreatment charges relate to the children found in March 2017.
However, her problems with children began well before last year. On Jan. 21, 2014, an 11-month-old child was picked up from Little Giggles and rushed to St. Charles Bend, and eventually to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland with bleeding and swelling in her head. The head injuries were consistent with a baby being shaken or struck repeatedly, according to Adams, the child’s grandfather, and were the source of the third-degree assault charge.
During her apology, Neatherlin said she turned her back on the 11-month-old girl to answer a phone call and the baby fell while sitting up.
“I didn’t think she hurt her head; I didn’t think she was injured in any way,” Neatherlin said. “I would never hurt her.”
During the sentencing, the judge rejected that description of the assault, describing it as inconsistent with the evidence in this case. After the hearing, Adams called it “an outright lie.”
The other four criminal mistreatment charges are from previous incidents with children in Neatherlin’s care in 2013, 2015 and 2016. One of the parents during that period, Audrey Torrance, said Neatherlin heated a bottle of milk in the microwave, which left her daughter with blisters on her mouth and shoulders. Torrance said Neatherlin at the time called the injuries spider bites when pressed about it.
“She has shown no remorse, after being confronted multiple times by multiple sets of parents,” Torrance said.
Devin Lewis, a sergeant with the Bend Police Department, testified that one of the children found in her home was covered in vomit that was still damp, and officers were concerned that the child was choking.
“What we saw was shocking,” Lewis said.
Other statements during the sentencing included a litany of crimes — diaper rash, poor nutrition, allegations of scratching.
“This isn’t a one-time, ‘oops, I made a mistake,’” Gies said. “This is a continued course of conduct that went on for several years.”
Angela Therese Lee-Mandlin, Neatherlin’s attorney, objected to allegations that Neatherlin had beaten or punched any children. Lee-Mandlin added that Neatherlin opted not to enter an Alford plea, which allows defendants to concede that the state has sufficient evidence to find them guilty while not admitting any criminal conduct. She did so, Lee-Mandlin said, to atone for what she’d done.
When passing the sentence, Ashby said he wanted to balance Neatherlin’s efforts to improve while in prison with her consistent pattern of reckless behavior.
“It is sheer serendipity and chance that some of those kids were not killed,” he said.
Adams said he hoped that the sentence would be longer, and added that he hoped there was a condition that she never be near kids again. The vast majority of parents testifying advocated for the maximum allowable sentence.
“In my opinion, your honor,” said Kevin Hord, one of the fathers in attendance, “100 years would not be enough.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7818, email@example.com