The outside of the two-story home on 43rd Court near Bent Pine Golf Club is ordinary enough. The lawn is green and well-manicured. The burnt orange siding and stucco roof match the other houses along the lane.
Children play freely on the street and adults greet each other as they walk their dogs in the middle-class subdivision, a gated community, the kind where everyone is supposed to feel safe.
It wasn’t until a probation officer visited the house in Vero Lago that authorities realized life within the concrete-block structure was dangerous and innocent children were at risk.
Their mother, Rachel Jones, 41, was sentenced in January after pleading no contest in December to one count of felony child neglect after a 2016 investigation revealed the kids were being raised by hoarders in filthy, unsanitary conditions. Their father, Courtney Jones, 44, who was on probation at the time of his arrest, pled no contest in March. Both were sentenced to jail.
“The home was filled with trash, dirt, feces and small roaches that were seen on the floor and walls,” wrote Indian River County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Matthew Davis in a November 2016 arrest report.
Davis responded to the house not far from the Bent Pine Golf Club along with an investigator from the Florida Department of Children and Families. “Mounds of clothes and junk were piled throughout the home,” he continued. “Some rooms were unusable.”
It was so bad, Davis writes, the child protective services investigator “was overcome by the smell of urine at the completion of the walk-through, gagging outside [and] becoming sick.”
There were four adults living in the home with the three children – their mother, their father and their paternal grandparents.
The day police arrived the 10- and 9-year-old girls and 7-year-old boy had stayed home sick from school. The child protective services investigator was convinced their illness was due to the condition of the home, Davis writes.
“The children were barefoot and filthy on scene,” the investigator advised police.
The minors were removed from the home by the Florida Department of Children and Families. Their mother and father were both arrested on three counts of child neglect. As part of their plea agreements with the court, they were only prosecuted for one.
The grandparents, George and Sandra Jones, who paid for the home and lived in a bedroom upstairs, were not arrested or charged.
The two testified at Rachel Jones’ sentencing hearing Jan. 18. The explained they currently have custody of the children and are helping their son complete the terms of his sentence.
They acknowledged living in the home with the family and watching the environment deteriorate. They said they worked long hours and begged their son and daughter-in-law to keep the house clean.
“We tried cleaning it, but it was a constant battle,” George Jones said in the courtroom.
Later, Rachel Jones’ lawyer said he felt the grandparents were minimizing their culpability as they testified for the state.
“What really needs to be considered, as much as anything else, is the welfare of the kids,” said Edward Mosher, a Fort Pierce-based defense attorney assigned to the case after the mother was found to be indigent.
Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Cox sentenced Rachel Jones to four months in the county jail with credit for 40 days already served.
Upon completion of her incarceration, she must undergo 24 months of house arrest and an additional 30 months of probation. Mental health support and parenting classes are required for her to successfully complete her sentence.
Courtney Jones was sentenced by Cox in March to 6 months in jail, followed by 24 months of house arrest and 30 months of probation. The 44-year-old father received 105 days credit for time-served and has since been released. He, too, must undergo a mental health evaluation and comply with the conditions of the court.
“Both parents have 100 percent obligation to take care of their children whether the other one does or not, so your culpability, as far as I’m concerned, is 100 percent, and there is no excuse, no excuse at all,” the judge told Rachel Jones at the hearing.
Jones claimed the children’s grandparents brought much of the stuff into the home when they could no longer afford storage units. She also said she was a victim of abuse and that she had no money and nowhere else to go.
George and Sandra Jones declined to comment after the hearing.
This isn’t the first time these parents put their children at risk, argued prosecutor Brian Workman, requesting the mother serve time in jail, just as their father did.
The couple was criminally charged for felony child neglect in Gainesville in 2011 for similar circumstances, he said.
At the time, Rachel Jones plead no contest to the lesser misdemeanor of contributing to the dependency or delinquency of a minor. Adjudication was withheld pending the completion of probation and other programming. Courtney Jones went to trial and a jury found him guilty.
“The conditions in that house were atrocious,” Workman told the judge. “No child should have to live like that.”