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BCSO: Children found living in filth

by LAUREN REICHENBACH
Staff Writer | June 18, 2024 1:00 AM

ATHOL — A Bonner County pair have been sentenced after they were arrested this spring on two counts each of injury to a child after Bonner County Sheriff’s deputies say they discovered two children were living in an RV filled with rotting garbage and human feces.

Deputies were attempting to check on the well-being of the children of Paula Halseth and her partner, Shayden Farris, as well as a grandmother who also lived at the residence.

One of Halseth’s charges has been dropped due to a plea agreement, while the other ended as a misdemeanor charge. She was sentenced to 180 days in jail, but 168 days were suspended, and only 12 days were served.

Farris, who allegedly is not the children's father, originally pleaded not guilty to both charges but later changed his plea to guilty on both counts. He was scheduled to be sentenced Monday, June 17.

Deputies were called to an Athol property after receiving calls of a weapons offense between two neighbors. Upon arrival, the concerned parties told deputies that a brief verbal altercation had been amicably resolved, but the police were called because the two children of one of the involved parties were frightened by the confrontation.

“Shayden and Paula were hesitant about this idea, suggesting instead, they go retrieve the three and bring them outside to me,” a deputy wrote in the probable cause affidavit. “I began to become suspicious of possible poor living conditions that Paula and Shayden may be trying to conceal from the eyes of law enforcement.”

That suspicion, along with alleged foul smells of rotting garbage and feces wafting through the air and mounds of garbage around the house, caused deputies on scene to again ask to be allowed inside the home. Additionally, deputies voiced concerns in the affidavit that the travel trailer seemed too small to properly house three adults and two children, plus multiple pets.

Deputies were eventually allowed inside, although they noted that Halseth and Farris allegedly began making comments that law enforcement would not like what they saw.

“When Shayden opened the door, my senses were shocked at what I observed and smelled,” a deputy wrote in the affidavit. “When the door first opened, many flies and gnats flew out from inside the trailer. Inside the trailer, I observed approximately three to four feet high of compacted, decomposing garbage, including trash, rotten food, human feces, and animal feces.”

The deputy continued on to say the entire floor of the trailer was invisible, covered in waste. Also noted were large numbers of bugs crawling over nearly every surface in the trailer, court records said. Deputies described the smell coming from the trailer as “overwhelming and horrific.”

The bathroom of the trailer was also allegedly covered in garbage, the affidavit said, rendering it unusable.

“On top of the garbage were multiple plastic milk jugs,” deputies wrote in the affidavit. “The tops of the jugs had been crudely cut off, the jugs full of fly-infested human fecal matter.”

When the children were summoned, they allegedly had to crawl on their bellies over piles of garbage to get to the door, according to court records. Both children allegedly appeared filthy and after being evaluated by paramedics, were deemed to have poor dental hygiene as well.

Court records indicate that the grandmother also had to crawl over “a mountain of garbage” to exit the trailer.

Court records indicate that an uncle who was on scene told deputies he was thankful that these living conditions had finally been discovered and that Halseth has allegedly been investigated by health and welfare agencies in the past for poor living conditions.

Both Halseth and Farris were each arrested on two counts of injury to a child, and the children were transported to foster care for the time being.

“Paula and Shayden admitted to being aware that their unsanitary living circumstances would be unacceptable to the eyes of law enforcement,” deputies wrote in the probable cause affidavit.