A sign on the front door at the home in the 700 block of North Rochester Avenue reads: "Take off Your Shoes or Stay Out."
But police said Sunday that the message belies what they said were the "deplorable" conditions inside the wood-frame bungalow.
It's where they discovered four children, including a 7-month-old girl, in cockroach- and maggot-infested surroundings with no electricity while the children's mothers were visiting friends. The children, all girls, had little food and half a can of baby formula, and the floor was littered with dog feces, police said.
Some of the children had lice in their hair, and roaches swarmed over their clothes and toys, police said. "The officers on the scene said it was a deplorable situation with insects and dog poop and not enough food," said Sgt. Paul Thompson, spokesman for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Police on Sunday arrested the two mothers on preliminary charges of neglect of a dependent and placed three children, ages 7, 5 and 7 months, in the custody of child welfare workers. Jamie Presley, 28, faces preliminary charges of two counts of neglect of a dependent. She lives in the house and is the mother of the 7-year-old and 5-year-old. Tiffney Johnson, 25, the mother of the infant, was charged preliminarily with felony child neglect. A 14-year-old, who might have been baby-sitting, was allowed to go home with her mother, a friend of Presley's, police and neighbors said.
Police came to the house at 9 p.m. Saturday because an extension cord ran from its back door across the alley and was plugged into an outlet of a vacant garage. The children told police their parents had gone out earlier and left them alone. At 1 a.m. Sunday, Presley and Johnson returned to the house, according to a police report. They told police that they had left at 8 p.m. to visit friends.
Presley has lived in the house at least two years, and Johnson and her child moved in three days ago when Johnson had domestic problems, police and neighbors said. Both women appeared to have alcohol on their breaths, according to a police report. Neighbors said Presley was a good mother who had trouble keeping her house in order, mostly because she was unemployed and poor and because no husband or boyfriend lived at the home.
They also said a vacant house next door was overrun with rats and insects, which could help explain some of the squalor at Presley's home. 'The house itself is in bad shape, and she doesn't have the money to fix it up," said Buffie Fulbright, 37, who lives across the street. Presley's front yard Sunday was littered with children's toys and other items, including three baby strollers, two bicycles and an overturned dollhouse. Several of the windows were open, although no one was inside. A window on the northside of the house was boarded up.
The backyard also was strewn with toys, and the garage behind the house was stacked shoulder-high with garbage bags that appeared to be bulging with trash. With the door slightly ajar, a stench could be detected from five feet away. Thompson said the children would have been removed even if the parents were home. "It was about the conditions in the house," Thompson said. But Fulbright said the children were well-behaved, decently clothed and appeared to be clean -- and they loved playing with their "wiener" dog, a puppy named Sparkles. Animal Control took the dog Sunday, according to the police report.
'They were very active children, and everyone in the neighborhood knows them and looks out for them," she said, adding that the electricity was turned off only last Thursday. Next-door neighbor Luann Osborne, 56, said she had told Presley she needed to clean the garage. "I've never been in the house, but I know she didn't keep the garage clean," Osborne said. Osborne said Presley asked if she could run the electrical cord to her house but she refused. She said the department of Child Protective Services had been out to Presley's house before to warn her about cleaning it up. "My prayer is that she gets out of jail, gets this house cleaned up and gets her kids back," Osborne said.
Catherine Woodard, 16, who lives on the block, said Presley was "like an older sister." "Anytime I need a shoulder to cry on, she was always there," Woodard said. "She takes care of those kids," she said. "They take a bath and they eat every day. The house isn't spotless, but it isn't complete filth." Officials with the state department of Children Protective Services could not be reached for comment.