In 2015, Laurens County, South Carolina, sheriff’s deputy Lt. Scott Franklin said — regarding the conditions he witnessed in a Gray Court, South Carolina, home — that “I’ve never seen anything like it in my 20 years doing this.”
Let’s hope that he hasn’t seen anything worse in the intervening six years — and that no other police officer has to witness something like what he did.
In August of 2015, the Greenwood, South Carolina Index-Journal reported that police showed up at the Gray Court, South Carolina, home of Matthew William Batton to find an unresponsive toddler, more than 70 dead animals and two other children with signs of abuse.
Both Batton and Savannah Victoria Morgan, the then-pregnant mother of the unresponsive child, were arrested on charges after the July 28, 2015, incident.
WYFF-TV reported Morgan originally called 911 when her child wouldn’t respond. The Laurens County Sheriff’s Office said when they arrived, the unresponsive toddler was in cardiac arrest, with bruises about his back, face, neck and the rest of his body.
Morgan, then 25 years old, told deputies he choked on chips. She later said that he had been dropped, although doctors said the toddler’s injuries were extensive enough that they couldn’t have come from a single drop. He was admitted to the intensive care unit at Greenville Memorial Hospital and recovered somewhat, although one victim advocate said he had bleeding of the brain. All three children were placed in Department of Social Services custody.
There were nearly 100 animals at the address — although 88 of them were estimated to be dead. Trash and animal feces littered the property.
“The majority of the animals that animal control picked up that evening already had passed and were carcasses,” Laurens County Director of Public Works Robert Russian said, according to the Index-Journal.
This was just an estimate, however, since the animals were in various states of decay.
There were 12 animals still alive; most of them found foster homes. Public works disposed of the rest.
“The animals found alive were two bearded dragons, three dogs, a puppy, four snakes and one cat. Animal control is still looking for the cat, according to Russian, but caught the other living animals,” the Index-Journal reported.
“Russian said one of the snakes was a common black snake and one of the turtles was a common turtle, both of which were released in the wild. The rest of the animals are in rescue homes or foster homes.”
One of the dogs was in such bad condition — with overgrown, matted fur — that animal control officers thought it was female before they shaved it down and discovered it was male.
“It was just in terrible shape — it had maggots in the fur, it had sores on it, it had several spots on it’s body that were infected — but was a real trooper, was not aggressive at all,” Russian said.
“We thought it was probably a 50 to 60 pound dog, but when the rescue got it shaved down, it was more in the 30 pound range.”
The rest of the animals were underfed, as well, and Russian called the home a “house of horrors.”
“Obviously they had been starved to death, dehydrated,” Russian said, regarding the animals. “There were snakes that were obviously not kept in proper containers; they were in plastic tubs in the house. Some of them dead, rotting in those plastic tubs.”
Batton was charged with child neglect and ill-treatment to animals, while Morgan was charged with three counts of unlawful neglect of children and child abuse, with another count of cruelty to animals.
Lt. Judy Stiles of the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office said that Morgan’s unborn child, who was nine months along at that time, would likely be given over to the custody of the state Department of Social Services, as well.
“Most of our officers probably were faced with something last night that they probably have not seen in their careers. It was a very sad situation to see something like this,” Laurens Sheriff Ricky Chastain said at the time, AL.com reported.
Let’s hope they don’t see much worse.
This is the rough part of the job for law enforcement. Cruelty, neglect, abuse — whether it’s children or animals, it’s always tough on first responders. When both are involved — and when it happens on this scale — it’s scarring.
Yes, the children and some of the animals survived. What will survive, too, is the images that haunt the men and women who had to witness the ugly scene.
Even six years on, our thoughts and prayers should be with them.
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