Three Rhea County child abuse suspects are being held on a total of $4 million in bonds in two separate investigations leading to felony indictments this week, according to court records and authorities.
According to Rhea County Sheriff's Office investigator Rocky Potter, two defendants in an aggravated child abuse case are each being held on $500,000 bonds while another defendant in a separate child sexual abuse case is being held on a $3 million bond. The charges stem from grand jury indictments issued this week, and all three defendants are due for an appearance in Circuit Court on Friday. None of the defendants have attorneys on record. The three suspects remain behind bars and couldn't be reached for comment.
CHILD ABUSE CASE
In the case with two defendants, Potter said the two people charged were arrested following a recent drug raid in the Morgantown area where officers allegedly witnessed an act of aggravated child abuse involving a 4-month-old child. According to the indictment, the incident happened Oct. 28.
Clara Maria Dominguez, 26, and Deontae Clayton Austin, 31, both of Dayton, are each charged with child endangerment, felony reckless endangerment and aggravated child abuse, according to Potter and court records. The aggravated child abuse charge is filed under Haley's Law, which raises the level of the felony.
Austin was additionally charged with multiple counts of drug-related charges stemming from the drug raid, Potter said.
"There were a lot of fentanyl pills, a lot of cash, lots of finished product inside the residence," Potter said Wednesday in a phone interview. "As he pulled into the residence he threw a white powdery substance -- tried to throw it out of the car -- it hit the seat and that's when the narcotics officer noticed there was a 4-month-old child in a car seat where the product was thrown."
Because of the child's age and suspected exposure, officers on the scene called in Potter and Tennessee Department of Children's Services officials, he said.
"After we removed the child from the car, we had a search warrant for the residence, and that's when they found all the fentanyl pills, marijuana, lot of cash," he said of the allegations. "We called a medical unit for the child since the finished product was thrown in the general direction of the child."
Investigators learned the child's last name didn't match either Dominguez or Austin. Contentions Dominguez had temporary custody were false, Potter said. He said the child's custodial mother is incarcerated in another county and no family members could be found to take the child so it was turned over to Children's Services. That part of the case is still being probed, he said.
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State and Rhea County authorities decided to order a hair follicle test, which can reveal the presence of drugs going back up to six months, on the 4-month-old, he said.
"This child had eight illegal substances in its hair follicle examination, three of them were fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine," Potter said. "So basically, ever since this child was born it was exposed to these substances."
It's too soon to know whether the drugs injured the child because, he said, but impacts could involve cognitive issues, speech problems and more.
CHILD RAPE CASE
Held on a $3 million bond, Brandon Henderson, 36, of Dayton, is charged with three counts of rape of a child and three counts of incest stemming from an investigation launched in early July after a phone call to the Sheriff's Office's investigation hotline, Potter said. According to the indictment, the incidents took place between Jan. 1, 2021, and July 1, 2022.
"The Department of Children's Services made contact with a child under the age of 12," Potter said.
The initial interview with the alleged victim provided enough information investigators felt another interview was needed at the state Child Advocacy Center in Dayton, Landon's Place, he said.
"Good disclosure was made by the child with time frames, locations, and (the child) was real clear about being assaulted by Mr. Henderson," Potter said.
Collateral interviews with some adults helped put together a timeline similar to the alleged victim's, he said.
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Investigators interviewed Henderson, but Potter said he couldn't discuss the content of those discussions. Henderson was arrested Tuesday night.
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.