Authorities first approached the rural California home of Ramon Zendejas and Mercadies Williams to address a simple citation.
What they found last week has thrust the Tulelake-area couple, their twin toddlers and the Modoc County justice system into the national spotlight.
First, County Highway Patrol officers saw empty shell casings scattered about the property, which authorities said sent up a red flag because Zendajas, a felon, is not supposed to have weapons. Next, sheriff’s deputies obtained a warrant to search the home — uncovering more than 100 rounds of ammunition, three firearms, a small amount of suspected methamphetamine and evidence of an illegal butane honey oil lab, authorities said.
They also found two children — twin 2-year-old boys — in cribs that looked like cages.
Modoc County Sheriff William “Tex” Dowdy told local TV station NBC 52 that the boys were in “two modified cribs that were attached to the wall.” The wooden cribs had been stacked on top of each other, appearing more like layered dog crates in an animal shelter than beds for babies.
Metal hooks had been added to keep the toddlers from escaping, BC 30 reported.
“I suspect it was a way to keep them away from the other items that were located within the residence,” Dowdy told ABC 7 KRCR News.
The boys were taken into custody by Modoc County Child Protective Services on Friday, and their parents, Zendejas and Williams, were arrested and taken to the county jail, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
Initially, Zendejas and Williams were booked on preliminary charges of unlawful firearms and ammunition possession. Zendejas faced additional charges of possession of a controlled substance, manufacturing a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Both parents also faced preliminary charges of child endangerment.
But at a hearing Tuesday, the county district attorney dropped the child endangerment charges — indicating the situation had been blown out of proportion.
“There’s no kids in cages and it’s not a child endangerment case,” District Attorney Sam Kyllo said, according to ABC 7. “They’re cribs, you can buy them on Amazon.”
Kyllo said the sheriff’s office agreed with his decision, ABC 7 reported. The district attorney also announced Tuesday that he would not be pursuing charges related to the alleged butane honey oil lab. Those labs have become increasingly popular in California — and increasingly dangerous.
Operators use butane gas, which is odorless and flammable, to extract concentrated THC from marijuana. A small mishap can cause a catastrophic explosion.
Zendejas and Williams will still face misdemeanor charges for methamphetamine possession.
Kyllo did not return a request for comment from The Washington Post, nor did the sheriff’s office. It was not immediately clear whether Zendejas and Williams had lawyers.