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Child neglect nets 8-year prison term


– Thirty-one-year-old Tawoenyna Portee had a look of disagreement on her face while the grandfather of two small boys injured in her care described the scars they still carry.

The grandfather told Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull the two boys still have scars from the beatings they endured. Gull sentenced Portee to eight years in prison and two years on probation for a single charge of neglect of a dependent.

The children were the sons of Nichole Gruss, 24, who was sentenced this week to six years in prison for neglecting her children by leaving them with Portee, her partner.

Prosecutors initially charged Portee with battery causing serious bodily injury, battery with a deadly weapon, and neglect of a dependent. But she admitted only to the neglect.

The pair were arrested and charged in April, nearly a year after officials with the Indiana Department of Child Services went to their home to check on Gruss’ 3-year-old son.

When officials arrived, they found the boy with scrapes and bruises on his face and substantial swelling of his right elbow.

The boy told the investigators that his “mommy/daddy,” later identified as Portee, hit him with a belt, a spatula and shoes, according to court documents.

When doctors examined him, they found he had limited movement in his elbows, which prevented him from touching his elbows, according to court documents.

Later, Gruss told investigators her son had fallen and injured his arm, which was put in a wrap. She said he fell again, injuring his other arm, which was also put in a wrap. Neither Gruss nor Portee sought medical treatment for his broken arms.

Doctors said that the fractures were consistent with “repeated inflicted injuries” and were at least a month old, according to court documents.

The 3-year-old’s brother also suffered a broken rib, and again Gruss and Portee failed to seek medical care.

Portee told police she “was not trying to be funny, but I kinda consider myself to be a ghetto doctor,” meaning that she treated the injuries herself.

She then said she did not know the boys had become injured, according to court documents.

Later, one of the boys saw a baseball bat inside the garage at his foster home. He asked his foster mother to not “hit me with a bat like my mommy/daddy did,” according to court documents.

During Friday’s sentencing hearing, Gull asked her if she had anything to say. Portee said she should have paid better attention to the children.

“I should have been a mother to my own,” she said. “I should have taken them to the hospital.”