Columbus Police said they found urine, feces, bugs and trash throughout the Eagles Trace apartment Crystal Grace Clark and Hakeem Ali Webster shared with their three children for about two years.
Clark, 26, pleaded not guilty today in Columbus Recorder's Court to three counts of cruelty to children related to the incident. Authorities are still searching for 28-year-old Webster, a 5-foot-7 tall black man who was issued arrest warrants for the same charges.
Columbus Police said a woman was visiting Eagles Trace Apartments Friday morning when she noticed the defendant's two boys and girl, whose ages range from 2 to 4, playing in the street unsupervised.
"The smallest child was wearing just a shirt, and none of them had any shoes or bottoms on," said Detective Susan Shelton with the CPD Special Victims Unit.
When the woman returned to the area later that day, she saw the children were still playing in the street unattended. She approached the kids and asked them to direct her to their mother, according to police.
The children led her to an Eagles Trace apartment at 2001 Torch Hill Road, where she found the mother lying naked on a twin mattress sitting on the living room floor.
The kids woke their mother, who yelled at them and told them to stay inside before she fell back asleep, according to the witness' statement to authorities.
After finding trash scattered throughout the residence, the woman called police to notify them about the incident.
Officers arrived at the defendant's home around 1:20 p.m. but initially had trouble getting anyone to open the door to the residence despite hearing children inside. After several knocks, a one of the toddlers welcomed police inside.
Authorities said they found Clark naked on a twin mattress and the kids sitting in a pile of trash in front of the television. The mother had visible sores on her face chest and arms, police noted.
"The children were covered in dirt and smelled like they hadn't had a bath in days," Shelton added.
Police said the kids, two of whom were injured, were transported to Columbus Midtown Medical Center.
Shelton said the 2-year-old boy was treated for burn marks on his legs, bug bites on his body and a diaper rash, while his 4-year-old brother was treated for an ear infection. All three children were later released from the hospital and placed in their maternal grandparents' care.
Officers said they further explored the apartment and found trash and bugs in each room, feces and urine smeared on the walls and floor and dirty diapers "everywhere."
"The two bedrooms were filled with dirty clothes and broken furniture," Shelton said. "The back bedroom window was broken out."
Clark told police that her children slept on the stained twin mattress police found lying on the living room floor with trash on it.
Police said they walked into the bathroom, where they saw feces sitting in a large white bucket between the bathtub and toilet. The toilet was overflowing with feces and trash, Shelton said.
"The smell in the apartment was so overbearing that we actually had to go outside and put masks on before we continued our investigation," the detective testified.
Shelton said she walked into the kitchen to find the stove "completely covered in old food and trash." They found food in the refrigerator along with multiple flies.
Authorities said they also discovered a bucket full of needles in the apartment.
On the scene, police advised the mother to get dressed and questioned her about the incident.
"She indicated that the children's father, Hakeem Webster, was supposed to be watching the children while she was asleep," Shelton testified. "She said he always leaves when she falls asleep."
The mother also told police that she suffers from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety.
"She said the medication that she takes make her extremely sleepy," Shelton told the court.
Clark was taken into custody in the 2001 Torch Hill Road apartment later that day at 3:28 p.m. She was transported to the Columbus Public Safety Center for further questioning.
The defendant told police that she and Webster, who weighs 150 pounds, were abusing crystal meth and cocaine while living in that apartment with the children, according to police.
Clark also said the family was relieving themselves in the white bucket police found in the bathroom, because Webster broke the toilet. He was responsible for dumping the bucket outside whenever it was too full, she told police.
"She said her kids got tired of using the bucket at times and would just defecated on the floor, and at times, urinate on the floor," Shelton told the court.
She claimed that Eagles Trace Apartments ignored the work order she issued to have it fixed, but a supervisor with the complex told officers that she never submitted a request to have the toilet repaired.
"During the interview, Ms. Clark showed no emotion," Shelton said. "She wasn't upset that (the Division of Family and Children Services) was taken her kids or that she was being arrested."
An employee with DFCS told the court that Friday wasn't the first time Clark was brought to their attention. She the mother was previously being investigated by the social services organization for not having a "stable household."
The children were not removed from the home in connection with that incident, the DFCS employee confirmed.
Clark told the court that she had plans to clean the apartment, but got tired after taking her medication.
Columbus Public Defender Charles Lykins asked his client if she had any problem providing food for her children, and she responded, "no."
Judge Mary Buckner bound Clark's case over to Superior Court and ordered her be held in the Muscogee County Jail under bonds totaling $15,000.
— Sarah is a crime & safety reporter at The Ledger-Enquirer. You can contact her on Twitter at @SarahR_92.