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Couple charged after little girl found locked in basement in deplorable conditions

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Timothy A. Phillips and Lacey A. Chaney Timothy A. Phillips and Lacey A. Chaney
INDEPENDENCE, MO (KCTV) -

A Kansas City couple has been charged in connection with child abuse involving a 9-year-old girl who was restrained in their basement, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced Wednesday.

Lacey A. Chaney, 27, and Timothy A. Phillips, 30, each face charges of abuse or neglect of a child, first-degree endangering the welfare of a child and felonious restraint.

According to court records, a school nurse at an Independence, MO, school reported Friday that a 9-year-old student may have been the victim of abuse after the girl was sent to the nurse's office because she smelled strongly of urine. Court documents said the victim told the nurse that her private parts hurt, so the nurse conducted an examination and found her vaginal area to be red and irritated.

The little girl also told the nurse that she wasn't allowed to go to the bathroom in the house and was forced to go to the bathroom outside because her family didn't want to contract the infections she had.

When Jackson County Sheriff's deputies responded, the victim's father and his girlfriend acknowledged they locked her in their unfinished basement with little food and water during the day as punishment for a recent school suspension. This was after Phillips "popped her in the mouth and whooped her on the butt."

The basement door was secured with a lock and chain and had an alarm attached to the frame that would sound when opened from the basement.

According to court documents, Phillips said he, his live-in girlfriend and her biological son live upstairs, while the little girl lives in the unfinished basement. He said they kept her downstairs because of her lack of bladder control, saying he "cannot afford to keep cleaning up after her" and that "when she p---es, she leaves a large puddle."

Phillips also told police he knew that not bathing the little girl had caused severe yeast and staff infections, but he hadn't gotten her treated because "what difference would it make, she is just going to p--- on herself anyway."

Chaney, the live-in girlfriend, said the little girl had been sleeping on an air mattress in the basement since February. According to court documents, she told police she believed the victim peed on herself to "keep people away" and "to make people not want" the victim.

Chaney also said she made the little girl go to the bathroom outside because she claimed she got a yeast infection from using the same toilet as the little girl.

"For one, she knows you can't get a yeast infection that way. Any real woman should know that," Michelle Wright said.

Wright was one of many concerned parents and neighbors in the area of East 19th Street and Hazel Avenue in Independence, where the victim lived, who reacted to the news.

Phillips told police he only bathes the girl "every five days or so" and that he doesn't think she likes to bathe because of past sexual assault and physical abuse that took place in the shower. He said he determines when to bathe her based on how bad she smells.

According to court documents, Phillips also told police he didn't wash the little girl's clothing regularly because he doesn't own a functioning washing machine.

When police inspected the house, they reported finding the main floor in a very clean, tidy and well-lit condition. When police entered Chaney's son's room, they found his clothes clean and neatly folded.

Deputies noted that the basement was partially covered in carpet, saturated in dirt, was lit by only a single light bulb, had several exposed wires and overflowing sewage.

Chaney was able to tell police when was the last time her son saw a pediatrician and who the doctor was, but she couldn't remember the last time the little girl was taken to see a doctor.

The little girl was taken to Children's Mercy Hospital for further evaluation and treatment.

Prosecutors requested a cash bond of $100,000 for the couple.

Concerned neighbors had obvious reactions to details.

"I couldn't imagine hurting your own child," Wright said. "Very sickening. They need to be put away, really."

"I didn't know anything like that was going on. If we knew that was going on, we probably would have got somebody to stop it," said a woman who only would go by Gigi. "I feel terrible. I feel sorry for the little girl."

One neighbor, who wished not to reveal her identity, described the little girl's appearance.

"She was very petite for her age. After we found out she was 9 years old, we had no idea. We were simply astonished," the woman said. "I thought [she was in] kindergarten, on a good day."

The neighbor said the little girl always seemed sad and now she wishes she had asked more questions.

"We tried to give her toys to have fun and she looked like she was not having fun over there. Every time you tried to get her attention, she'd hold her head down and walk away."

Therapist Ann Thomas at the Children's Place said the situation in Blue Summit is similar to one in Clay County in February. In that case, one of the parents said they couldn't handle the behavior of a child.

"I think it's shocking," Thomas said. "I think it's a reflection of people not knowing what to do. I think it's a reflection of desperation. I mean these are adults who aren't sure how to manage children's behaviors, how to access help, how to find out what their child needs."

Wednesday's case, the February case and last year's case of a 6-year-old living in a locked closet are all extreme, Thomas said, and not an example of the abuse her organization normally sees.

"In 20 years of providing services to kids, I've not seen this amount of publicity around kids being locked in basements and closets and that kind of thing," Thomas said.

There has been an increase in Jackson County in the number of cases extreme enough to cause social services to remove a child from the home.  It is up 63 percent since 2007.

It's something Thomas attributes at least in part to funding cuts for services aimed at the parents.

"Money targeted to help prevent mental illness in adults, money targeted for helping families overcome addiction issues. As those dollars have decreased, some of the parents are getting less services and sometimes children are living with parents that need help," Thomas said.

She says funding has limited outreach efforts, so it is up to family, friends, churches and the media to make families in need aware of the services available.

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