Pomfret couple accused of forcing girl to sleep in plastic tote in basement, denying her food and water, state police say

A Pomfret couple faces child abuse charges after state police say they made a young girl in their care sleep in a plastic tote in the basement and denied her adequate food and water to the point of malnutrition.

Jacqueline Barbour and Jason Carroll, both 34, turned themselves in to police Wednesday on charges of cruelty to persons and risk of injury to a minor after an extensive investigation into the alleged abuse that began in January 2020 when the girl, who was not yet 10, was brought to Connecticut Children’s hospital in Hartford.

Carroll told hospital staff the girl had lost 10 pounds in a month and her mental health was deteriorating, which he explained was typical for her in the winter, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. He said the girl was prone to outbursts, picked at her skin to the point of causing significant redness and injury and had issues with incontinence at night.

But doctors who spoke with the girl at the hospital quickly surmised something was amiss.

Asked where she slept at night, the girl replied “I sleep in the bucket,” according to the warrant affidavit.

“It’s hard plastic, it’s clear, the sides are bendy and I only fit in it if I curl up because the sides are thin,” the girl told Sarah Dean, an APRN from the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect Unit at Connecticut Children’s, according to the affidavit.

She demonstrated for Dean, getting into a cannonball position on the floor.

The girl also told Dean that “I don’t get a lot to drink at home” and when asked about what she had for dinner said “if I am behaving I have peanut butter and bread or just bread.”

Hospital staff alerted the state Department of Children and Families, who contacted state police and an investigation was launched.

According to notes Dean took at the hospital, reviewed as part of the investigation and included in the affidavit, the girl was diagnosed with chronic severe malnutrition. She told doctors she had very little access to food and when she arrived at Connecticut Children’s she ate “voraciously” and gained 14 pounds in eight days, the notes say.

Dean said the girl had an enlarged liver, most likely caused due to inadequate caloric intake, according to the affidavit.

State police Detective Daniel Bruell wrote in the affidavit that he contacted the girl’s pediatrician, who reported the 9-year-old was “relatively physically healthy” and was well-behaved the last time she had seen her in July 2019 but that Barbour said the girl had “many mental health issues” and saw another doctor for those concerns. The pediatrician said she had no prior concerns of abuse or neglect.

Bruell visited Barbour and Carroll at their home in late January and asked to interview them but they said they had consulted with an attorney and declined to speak with the investigator.

About a month later, in late February 2020, Dean, the child abuse expert at Connecticut Children’s, submitted a report to state police that raised further concerns of medical child abuse. The APRN alleged the girl’s caregivers had subjected her to unnecessary and potentially harmful medical care, including multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. The young girl was also given a prescription for diazepam, or Valium.

“[Jaqueline Barbour] has described extreme behavior disturbances leading to multiple prior psychiatric admissions, and the objective evidence in the records does not support this,” Dean wrote in the report shared with investigators. “Nearly all records reviewed and conversations with treating professionals to date have revealed they have not observed [the girl] to display the reported behaviors. During all four of her inpatient psychiatric admissions [she] was observed to be calm and cooperative.”

Dean said the girl had shown significant recovery after she was placed by DCF with a foster family. Her weight was in a normal range, she did not pick at her skin and had no issues with incontinence, according to Dean’s notes in the affidavit. The girl, who had been homeschooled, was reenrolled in public school and was “doing well transitioning back to school.”

Bruell interviewed the girl on March 10, 2020, at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford with DCF and hospital staff present. When asked why she was there, the girl grew quiet. She eventually said that she was living with a foster family because “[Jackie] and [Jason] had made some bad choices,” according to the affidavit. Asked about those bad choices she said she did not remember and began to hug a stuffed unicorn. Bruell said he noticed an immediate change in her behavior.

A few minutes later, the girl was asked individually about Barbour and Carroll. She said she had lived with Carroll her entire life “and that he is really nice.” When asked about Barbour, “she said she can’t explain and she can’t remember either” and she became upset and guarded, according to the affidavit.

Two months later, on May 14, Bruell spoke to the girl’s foster mother who had taken her in after she was discharged from the hospital earlier that year. She said the girl seemed to be doing well but occasionally became triggered by things that reminded her of her past, like when her husband brought out a clear plastic storage bin he used to store fish tank accessories.

The foster mother told Bruell the girl was seeing a therapist and that during one videoconference the girl blurted out, with the woman’s husband next to her, that Barbour “had locked her in a bucket and nearly starved her to death,” according to the affidavit. She also said the girl had told her that Barbour “threw me out in the snow in my underwear” and “threw her into a fan” when she got upset that she could not do jumping jacks because of pain in her legs.

On June 30, Bruell spoke with Carroll’s mother, who told him she had not seen the girl in person since August 2016. She had a FaceTime call with the girl on Christmas Eve 2019 and said she appeared “zoned out” and “possibly drugged,” according to the affidavit.

“She explained that she believed that there was no way that Jason didn’t know what was going no and that there was no excuse for something like that happening to a child,” Bruell wrote in the arrest warrant affidavit. “She further explained that she understands that he will probably be arrested and that she will not come and bail him out because he deserves whatever happens as a result of this.”

Russell Blair can be reached at rblair@courant.com.