FOX 5 has received hundreds of Facebook comments from people who are outraged after a Spotsylvania County couple was given suspended sentences for keeping three children locked in a room in deplorable conditions.
The children's parents, 36-year-old Brandy Kangas and 28-year-old Scott Suggs, pleaded guilty to felony child neglect last week in the so-called "kids in a cage" case.
This child neglect case has upset parents and FOX 5 viewers for the way the siblings -- who are all under the age of 4 -- were locked in a dirty room by their parents. Some are asking whether the child neglect laws need to be strengthened in Virginia.
The room, as shown in photos, was filthy. The carpet was stained with urine and feces. All of the children were still in diapers, including the 4-year-old. Their food was passed through a gate locked with a key. The children were in the room day and night.
On Monday, the prosecutor defended the decision that is letting those parents avoid jail time and possibly regain custody.
The parents pleaded to three counts of felony child negligence. But in the plea deal, they only got six years of a suspended sentence and probation.
William Neely, the state's attorney for Spotsylvania County, sent me a statement explaining the plea deal.
The prosecutor said television reports and social media reaction that have expressed outrage over the suspended sentence are misguided. He wrote that "those opinions as expressed appear to be ignorant of the proof requirement for felony child neglect prosecutions under Virginia law."
A 2006 Virginia Supreme Court decision said that felony child neglect requires evidence that the parent -- in Neely's words -- "intentionally or with gross recklessness permitted their children to be placed in a situation so dangerous that it was likely to kill or cause serious physical injury."
Neely said that these children were found "filthy and covered in a (treatable) rash and small bruises" … but "well-nourished and otherwise healthy" -- so, that means, they were not suffering from any serious or life-threatening injury under the law.
Due to that, the prosecutor decided it was unlikely that the parents would be convicted, so the plea deal was the best option in order to keep the children safe -- for as long as necessary.
Both parents will be on a strict probation for 10 years -- which includes drug testing -- and they would likely go to jail if they don't comply with the terms of the probation.
A spokesman for the Spotsylvania County Sheriff's Office told FOX 5's Emily Miller that the three children are being kept in foster care through the Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center. That organization's director declined to do an interview about Virginia child neglect laws.
Miller called many Virginia state lawmakers on Monday, but so far, none are willing to discuss rewriting the law for child neglect.
Donations can be made to the Safe Harbor Children's Advocacy Center. NOTE: Safe Harbor can take donations for ALL children; however cannot receive donations for one certain family or child.
P.O. Box 56
Fredericksburg, Virginia 22404