State child welfare officials will not discuss their involvement with a disturbing neglect case in Prineville where police found a 2-year-old boy and his 3-year-old sister living in a home reeking of dried feces and rotting food.
Prineville Police say the severity of the case only surfaced the night of Oct. 20 when officers arrested the toddlers’ parents — Terry Earl Nicholson, 47, and Felicia Davin Nicholson, 27. But police reports from that night note a history of child welfare concerns, including involvement by the Oregon Department of Human Services: multiple police visits to the home due to child neglect allegations, calls to assist state human services workers and neighbors who said DHS had been called.
Those reports were released Thursday after the Nicholsons pleaded guilty in Crook County Circuit Court to two counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment — one for each child. Through a plea agreement, they were sentenced to 37 days in jail and three years’ probation. They have an open DHS custody case.
The Oregon Department of Human Services keeps details about open child welfare cases private, citing a need to protect the privacy of the children.
Only cases involving child fatalities are made public, according to the state agency.
“There are no fatalities, thank goodness,” DHS spokesman Jake Sunderland said about the Prineville case. “The children have their lives ahead of them, and they deserve a right to privacy.”
At the time the Nicholsons were arrested, they told police a DHS caseworker visited the home a few days earlier but did not go upstairs, where the children were found by police, naked with their hair tangled with debris and dried feces.
Terry Nicholson told police “everything was fine” when DHS visited, and the agency closed its case on them.
During the investigation detailed in police reports, officers interviewed the Nicholsons’ neighbors in the Elizabeth Townhomes, where the couple had lived for about six months.
Melissa Ramsey, who lives in a unit west of the Nicholsons, told officers she had called the police and DHS about the children multiple times. She recalled seeing the children playing in the second-floor window and leaning out of it. She never saw them play outside.
Another neighbor, Tyler Sexton, told police the upstairs window was ripped open and he also could see the children hanging out it. When they were hanging out of the window, Sexton knocked on the door, but the parents were not home. He tried to get the children to go back into the window, but then, Terry Nicholson returned home, Sexton said.
April Iveans, who lives next door to the Nicholsons, told police the children were always standing in their bedroom window, usually naked. She could hear the children in their room hitting or kicking the wall, which occurred most of the day, every day.
On the night the Nicholsons were arrested, officers were called to a physical fight at the Nicholsons’ address and were not expecting to find the evidence of severe child neglect, Prineville Police Sgt. James Peterson said Friday.
“It all unfolded right there,” Peterson said. “It was literally like stumbling on to all of that while they were doing the investigation.”
The Prineville case is the latest in a troubling trend across the state. Child neglect cases have been rising in Oregon in the last five years, state child welfare officials said.
In Crook County through September, there were 13 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect cases, which accounted for 31% of the county’s cases, state human services records show.
In Deschutes County — where Maliyha Hope Garcia, a 5-year-old Redmond girl, was starved to death by her parents in 2016 — child neglect cases increased from 172 cases in 2014 to 362 cases in 2018, according to human services data. Neglect comprised 79.2% of Deschutes County child welfare cases in 2018.
“Pretty consistently across the state, we are seeing more and more cases of neglect,” Sunderland said. “The majority of our cases are neglect compared to physically abusive behaviors.”