IOWA CITY, Iowa – An Iowa mother was arrested after allowing her boyfriend back in the home where investigators say he locked her five children in a bedroom for 24 hours at a time, a sheriff said Thursday.
Joshua Steinbronn returned to the Westgate home he shares with Jonya Smith and her five children this week in violation of a no-contact order, Fayette County Sheriff Marty Fisher said.
Steinbronn, 28, hid in a crawl space when social workers and deputies came to check on the children and investigate tips that he was there in recent days, he said. After discovering the hiding spot, deputies arrested Steinbronn and Smith on Wednesday afternoon. Two other roommates were arrested on drug paraphernalia charges.
The Iowa Department of Human Services has removed the children — ranging in ages from 3 to 9 — from the home after previously allowing them to stay with Smith under its monitoring, Fisher said. DHS has refused to explain how it's handled the case, noting child abuse investigations are confidential.
A judge ordered Steinbronn to have no contact with the children Saturday, when he was allowed to leave jail on an unsecured bond on child endangerment and false imprisonment charges.
Deputies had arrested Steinbronn after they said they found the children crying and begging for help inside a locked bedroom. The children told deputies that Steinbronn locked them up without food or a bathroom on several occasions, sometimes for longer than 24 hours. One girl reported that she injured her leg while trying to escape.
Fisher said deputies didn't have enough evidence to charge Smith then but that changed when they learned she allowed Steinbronn to return.
"Her allowing him back in the home was putting the children in a dangerous situation," Fisher said.
Smith, 29, is charged with five counts of child endangerment and aiding and abetting the violation of a no-contact order. She and Steinbronn remained in jail after making initial court appearances Thursday.
Smith's court-appointed attorney, Beth Becker, declined comment.
Smith had called the charges "absolutely absurd" in an interview Monday and defended Steinbronn, saying he was enforcing respect against her "five uncontrollable kids." She said the children had been locked in the room for naps and disciplinary reasons, but never for 24 hours.