Grandparents arrested in connection with malnourished girl locked away in room

ANDERSON (Dec. 2, 2014) – Court documents paint a disturbing picture of a child neglect case in Madison County.

According to documents obtained by FOX59, a 15-year-old girl was kept locked away from the world as she lived in filth with inadequate heat and food.

The girl’s grandfather, Steve Sells, 58, was arrested Monday night. Joetta Sells, the girl's grandmother, was arrested Tuesday afternoon. They both face charges of neglect of a dependent and battery. Steve Sells also faces a charge for criminal confinement.

Steve Sells (left) and Joetta Sells (right)

Steve Sells (left) and Joetta Sells (right)

Police executed a search warrant at the home in the 3400 block of Forest Terrace where the teen lived with her grandparents. Investigators carried out several brown paper bags filled with evidence Tuesday afternoon.

Court documents show Steve Sells was awarded custody of the girl in 2009. Records show Steve Sells appeared in court on November 6 in regards to child support issues involving the teen.

When police arrived, they said the girl was so thin that bones were protruding from her skin. She was flown to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital because of her condition.

Steve Sells told police he was the girl’s legal guardian because his daughter had abandoned her. He said she had a chromosome problem in her brain that caused her to have health problems and said she’d fallen Monday and a few days ago, causing her condition to worsen, court documents said. Police said the girl is mentally disabled.

During a search of the home, investigators found an upstairs room with a lock at the top of the door. Inside they found a mattress, space heater, blankets, a bowl with oatmeal and a bucket.

Police noticed blood on the floor and “feces on everything in the room,” court documents said.

"It's very disturbing, we wouldn't accept treatment of an animal this way let alone a human being," said Detective Joel Sandefur with the Anderson Police Department.

A 4-year-old child who lives in the home told police that the 15-year-old girl was locked in the room and would sometimes “stick her fingers out around the door trying to get out.”

Another child said Sells would lock the door “during the day and nights” and that the girl was left in the room with inadequate heat. That child described Sells “picking up (the girl) by her hair and dragging her.”

"It's difficult to imagine, police are also contacting neighbors and trying to get as much information as we can about how this could've happened and no one notice," said Rodney Cummings, Madison County Prosecutor.

According to Prosecutor Cummings DCS asked for a court hearing regarding the girl in 2011.

"Well they had a hearing and I think they were asking for court intervention for them to be permitted to take the child out of that environment or to get services and the court did not permit that to happen at that time," said Cummings.

A spokesperson for DCS could not elaborate due to confidentiality laws but confirmed the agency received a report into the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline.

Documents obtained by FOX59 go on to say Joetta Sells told detectives that her husband locked the girl in the room. When asked about it, Steve Sells told police he locked her away “to protect himself” and said “she was very strong, and that he would have to squeeze (her) arm because she would approach him with a knife.” Police noted that the girl weighs less than 40 pounds while Sells said he weighs between 200 and 225 pounds.

Steve Sells told police he hadn’t taken the girl to a medical exam since January 2012.


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