Red Wing couple facing 16 child abuse charges, accused of caging kids
(KSTP) – A Red Wing couple is facing more than a dozen criminal charges after they allegedly locked their four young children in cage-like beds and neglected them.
Court records show that 41-year-old Benjamin Taylor Cotton and 38-year-old Christina Ann Cotton were each charged last week with 16 counts ranging from child torture and endangerment to neglect and malicious punishment. They were arrested Saturday, according to jail records, and are due for a bail hearing Tuesday morning.
The charges stem from a report made to Goodhue County Health and Human Services on Aug. 17, 2022. Court documents state that a caller expressed concerns about the Cottons’ children and claimed the kids were being neglected, punished unreasonably and locked in cages.
The following morning, an investigator and social worker went to the Cottons’ home for a welfare check. After being invited inside by Christina Cotton, a criminal complaint states that she got upset when told about the report saying the kids were living in cages and responded that they were “locked up for their safety.”
When pointed to where the children were, the social worker and investigator found a then-2-year-old in a playpen that was covered by a dog gate that had been tied down so the child couldn’t get out. Nearby, a bunkbed had been “converted into an actual cage with a homemade wooden door,” the complaint states, and a 5-year-old and 7-year-old were locked inside. A 9-year-old was found downstairs without any confinement.
According to court documents, the investigator told Christina Cotton that she couldn’t lock her kids up like that and had to let them out. She allegedly responded, “you don’t understand,” and said she locked them up to keep the children from dying. She also explained that one of the kids got ahold of a knife once and she worried about them getting into household chemicals, adding that if they died it’d be the fault of the police and human services department.
Additionally, Cotton told the investigator and social worker that the kids are only locked up and night and were only still locked up that morning because she woke up late. Based on their stated bed times, authorities determined the kids were caged for at least 13 hours before the investigator and social worker arrived.
The children were all taken to a hospital for evaluation and doctors found the 2-year-old was in a soiled diaper that had been taped to his skin, the 5-year-old had extensive and significant bruising, the 7-year-old had bruising that was consistent with being forcibly hit by an object and the child said his hands had been duct taped behind his back, and the 9-year-old’s body also had extensive bruising, according to the complaint.
It adds that the doctor believed the bruising found on the children was consistent with being forcibly hit by a belt or similar object. When the children were interviewed by the social worker, the 7-year-old said he was spanked with a belt if he didn’t do his chores, adding that his dad hit him hard but his mom “hits him really, really hard.”
The complaint states that the children also said they can’t go to the bathroom during the night because they’re caged, so they have to “hold it.” The 9-year-old was also reluctant to talk, saying her parents “don’t want them talking about trouble” and she was worried her parents would find out.
Through more investigating, the officer learned the Cottons had been caging their children for around four years at that point.
Based on all of that information, a psychologist at Midwest Children’s Resource Center classified the Cottons’ conduct as “severe abuse,” adding that it could fit into the category of intrafamilial child torture and can significantly impact a child’s emotional, physical and social development, the complaint states.
The potential penalty for the Cottons ranges from a maximum of a year in prison for the lowest counts up to as much as 25 years in prison for the child torture charges.