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Sequoyah County Times
Nov 24, 2007
A Tennessee couple accused of child neglect after police discovered the couple’s injured 7-week-old baby lying on the ground outside their vehicle in July received a five-year deferred sentence Thursday.
Ashley Marie Cleek, 21, and Kenneth Cleek, 35, each pleaded no contest to one count of child abuse and neglect in connection with the incident.
Kyle Waters, assistant district attorney, said the pre-sentencing report recommended the deferred sentences for the couple, who have no prior convictions.
According to court records, Vian Officer Denis Thomas was first on the scene July 7 after receiving a call from dispatch to conduct a welfare check at a vehicle. When Thomas arrived, all four doors to the vehicle and a spare tire rack were open.
Sequoyah County Sheriff’s Deputy Lance Yoakum reported that Thomas saw what appeared to be a baby doll on the ground underneath the driver’s side door. But when Thomas approached the vehicle, he saw the doll was actually an infant. An 18-month-old was also discovered in a car seat in the back of the vehicle, police reported.
Authorities believe the mother, who was sitting in the vehicle, may have been holding the baby and dropped it.
According to court records, the baby had a knot on its head, scratches, and was covered in dirt when it was initially taken to Sequoyah Memorial Hospital in Sallisaw. The baby was later transferred to a Tulsa hospital, where it was diagnosed with a bi-lateral skull fracture.
The children were placed in the state’s custody following the incident.
Sequoyah County Sheriff Johnny Philpot said following the incident that it appeared prescription drugs, alcohol, or both may have been involved in the incident. Kenneth Cleek was reportedly disoriented at the time of his arrest.
The Cleeks’ attorney, Frank Sullivan III, said after the Thursday hearing that his clients had maintained the incident was a mistake on their part and was unintentional.
“They have paid the price for this 100 times over,” Sullivan said.
He said the couple has already completed a parenting class, which usually takes months to complete, and they have begun all the requirements the court has place on them.
“They are doing everything they can to be reunited with their kids,” he said.
Sullivan said the pre-sentencing report demonstrated to the district attorney and court that the July event was not an accurate representation of who the Cleeks are as parents or as people.
Sullivan said the two had been traveling for a long time and stopped on the side of the road to feed their baby. Ashley Cleek had taken a prescribed medication for post-partum depression – a medication she had taken prior to the July incident. The medication, combined with the lack of sleep, caused her to pass out, Sullivan said.
No type of illegal drugs were involved or found in the vehicle. The other child, strapped in a car seat in the back seat of the car, was never in any danger, Sullivan said.
“They made a grave mistake,” he said. “They have proven up to this point, they will do whatever it takes to prove they’re good parents. Kenneth and Ashley Cleek are good people. They just made a mistake.”