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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa man is charged with locking his girlfriend's five children in a bedroom for more than 24 hours at a time without food or a bathroom, authorities said Monday.
Deputies who responded to a domestic disturbance at a Westgate home Friday found several children crying and yelling through a window for help, the Fayette County Sheriff's Office said.
The children, ranging in age from 3 to 9, told investigators they had been locked inside a bedroom by their mother's boyfriend, Joshua Steinbronn, 28. They said Steinbronn locked them up several times — sometimes for longer than 24 hours, deputies said.
The children reported that they weren't able to eat or use the restroom. One girl told investigators she injured her leg trying to escape.
"The children stated they had to urinate into cups, clothing and baby diapers due to not being allowed to leave the locked room," deputy James Davis wrote in a criminal complaint.
The children's mother, Jonya Smith, 29, said the allegations were "absolutely absurd" and that Steinbronn will contest them. She said she and Steinbronn locked the kids in their rooms for discipline and naps — but never for anywhere near 24 hours.
"He's not a bad person. I have five uncontrollable kids. When it's time for a nap or something, they don't listen to me," she said. "At least he enforces respect."
Smith said deputies were called because she and Steinbronn were arguing loudly. Deputies didn't allow her to be present when questioning the children, she said.
Smith disputed authorities' claim that the Iowa Department of Human Services took the children into custody. She said she has custody but social workers are checking on the kids daily. Three were in school Monday; two were at home. A DHS spokeswoman declined comment.
Smith said she would continue disciplining her children as she sees fit.
Deputies said they're investigating what role the mother played in the alleged mistreatment.
Steinbronn left jail Saturday after Judge Margaret Lingreen set an unsecured $5,000 bond. He's charged with five counts of false imprisonment, a serious misdemeanor carrying up to one year in jail; and five counts of child endangerment, an aggravated misdemeanor carrying up to two years in prison. He's also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia after deputies found a glass tube and a scale that both tested positive for methamphetamine.
Two others renting a room at the home — a 22-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man — were charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.
Lingreen ordered that Steinbronn, who isn't the children's biological father but has helped raise them, have no contact with them.
Westgate is a town of 200 people, 65 miles north of Cedar Rapids. In a successful application for a public defender, Steinbronn said he worked part time at a farm and earned $500 per month.
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