Police report: Malnourished girl locked in room

By Eric Butler: PNT staff writer

A 10-year-old Portales girl was forced to eat meals quickly, by herself, then locked in her room at night “to prevent her from getting up and eating food,” according to a police incident report.

The girl was also forced to wear pull-up diapers, denied bathroom access and had her head shaved as punishment for cutting her own hair, the report shows.

The details of child neglect charges against Mern and Athena Shepherd are contained in the report released Wednesday. Both were in Roosevelt County jail in lieu of $5,000 bond each.

The Shepherds were arrested Sept. 24 — six days after teachers at the girl’s elementary school contacted police because the girl appeared malnourished.

The girl was removed from the home on Sept. 18.

“That’s a law enforcement decision. It’s really up to the officer,” Portales Deputy Chief Lonnie Berry said.

Portales Police Officer Nate Hyde went to the Shepherd home with workers from Children, Youth and Families Department and interviewed the family.

Hyde reported being told the child was forced to eat by herself at a small table in the kitchen as punishment for breaking a dining chair.

In interviews with Hyde and Sgt. Brack Rains, Athena Shepherd downplayed the accusations, saying they were isolated incidents.

However, Hyde said Mern Shepherd told officers his wife treats the 10-year-old “very rough.”

The Shepherds, both 33, are charged with child neglect, a third-degree felony.

Berry said he did not know where the 10-year-old and the other children living in the household were taken. Berry also said he didn’t know the number of children taken from the home.

Officials at the Portales and state CYFD levels could not be reached for comment.

The police report notes the agency had been involved with the Shepherds on previous complaints.

According to Rains, who interviewed the child on Sept. 23, she “disclosed that she was given two to five minutes to eat and was timed using the timer on the kitchen stove.

“At the conclusion of the time,” Rains noted, “she had to stop eating and throw any remaining food in the trash. The child stated she was required to sit in the kitchen while the remaining family members ate in a different room.”

Rains said the girl told him she “was locked in her bedroom at night to prevent her from getting up and eating food.”

In his report, Rains said Mern Shepherd “admitted that this mistreatment and abuse of the child has been ongoing for several months.”

Events leading up to the arrests began when the girl was asked why she was crying at school.

“We have training on child abuse and sexual abuse each year. This is something our teachers are quite aware of and know they are required by law to report what they think could be abuse,” Portales Superintendent Randy Fowler said.

2008 Child Protective Services reports of abuse and neglect in New Mexico:

Curry County: 437 accepted cases; 175 substantiated

Roosevelt County: 157 accepted cases; 46 substantiated

Quay County: 134 accepted cases; 70 substantiated