Police: Parents Charged After Special Needs Teen Zip-Tied, Abused, Denied Food

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PLEASANT HILL, Iowa — A Des Moines husband and wife are facing kidnapping and neglect charges after investigators say their 16-year-old special needs son was restrained using zip ties, confined to his bedroom for months, and denied food.

According to Capt. Amy Kramer with the Pleasant Hill Police Department, the charges stem from an investigation into potential child abuse after a concerned citizen contacted the Iowa Department of Human Services on February 22.

A criminal complaint in the case claims the citizen said 48-year-old Jennifer Ryan was bringing her 16-year-old special needs son to work with her at Smith Automotive in Pleasant Hill and zip tying him to a chair. Investigators found the teen zip tied by an ankle and a back pants belt loop to a chair that was adjacent to Jennifer’s desk at the reception area at her workplace. Investigators say he was deprived of water and not allowed to use the restroom for up to eight hours while at work with his mother.

The teen was taken to Blank Park Children’s Hospital where doctors diagnosed him with severe malnutrition. The complaint says he weighed only 78 pounds when he was admitted.

The investigation revealed the teen was “routinely confined to his bedroom for several months and on occasion restrained to his bed frame by zip ties.” He could not leave his room without permission and there was an alarm on his door. The complaint says he was often denied permission to leave to use the bathroom, which meant he would urinate out the window or wet the bed. He was punished for wetting the bed by removal of his mattress and bedding and forced to sleep on the floor.

The complaint also reveals he was not allowed to eat breakfast and his meals for lunch and dinner consisted of leftovers from the previous day. The teen snuck food and when he was discovered was punished by being deprived food.

Doctors found several non-healing abrasions and bruises on the teen that investigators came from being struck in the face or head with a wooden back scratcher or repeatedly being thrown to the floor. Bone deformities in a foot were also believed to be caused by the teen being forced to wear shoes that were too small for an extended period of time.

Jennifer Ryan and her husband, 47-year-old Richard Ryan, are now charged with first-degree kidnapping and neglect or abandonment of a dependent person.

The couple was booked into the Polk County Jail early Monday morning.

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