Police: Barefoot tot in diaper roamed York-area motel unsupervised for months
A woman living in a Manchester Township motel repeatedly allowed her 2-year-old son to wander around the property unsupervised — usually wearing only a dirty diaper — while she prostituted herself, according to police allegations.
Northern York County Regional Police allege that at least one employee at the Super 8, located at 40 Arsenal Road, was aware the toddler was in the habit of wandering the hallways and property, but say motel staff didn't call 911.
The boy's mother, 22-year-old Jonishia A.L. Dotson, will be charged with second-degree felony child endangerment. She had not been arrested as of Thursday, Chief Dave Lash confirmed.
According to charging documents, detectives began investigating May 13 after a complaint was made to Pennsylvania's ChildLine.
ChildLine is part of a mandated statewide child protective services program that accepts information and referrals for child abuse then alerts appropriate police departments quickly, according to its website.
A foster mother made the complaint, alerting officials that a friend called her about the boy and asked if she could take him in, documents state.
That friend, a man who lives at Super 8, then told detectives that the boy had been "very regularly" wandering around the motel complex unsupervised for several months, according to charging documents.
The man said Dotson rented one room on the third floor where she and the boy lived, and would rent a second separate room on the same floor when working as a prostitute — leaving the boy unattended, documents allege.
While Dotson was working, her toddler "easily" escaped the motel room, police said.
The man said the boy would knock on his door in the middle of the night, always barefoot and usually in a diaper that needed to be changed, according to documents.
He told police that he called his friend, the foster parent, about the situation after seeing the boy sitting alone in an unoccupied third-floor room with a burn on the tip of his nose, charging documents state.
He confronted Dotson, who told him her child accidentally burned himself while chewing on a lighter, according to documents.
Another motel guest told investigators he also would find the boy wandering the halls and take him in until the boy could be returned to Dotson, police said.
Yelled for 'mommy': A Super 8 employee told police that Dotson has been staying at the motel since January and that since she arrived, the motel has received numerous complaints about the toddler walking the halls unsupervised, clad in only a diaper.
She also told police that motel guests often call the front desk to complain because the toddler would yell loudly late at night, police said.
The employee said some guests reported hearing the child calling for his mommy, "as if he is unsure where Dotson had gotten to," charging documents state.
The employee said Dotson rented a second room on the third floor to "work" about every other night, documents state.
A message left at the Super 8 on Thursday afternoon was not immediately returned by the motel manager.
Police spoke with Dotson outside her room. She admitted leaving her son alone while she engaged in prostitution, and she allowed a detective to take a quick look at her son by opening her motel-room door a crack, documents state.
Not malnourished: "Dotson did not appear to have issues with leaving (her child) unattended and stated, 'It was never for more than 15 minutes at a time,'" charging documents state. "While (police were) speaking with Dotson, (the tot) then exited the room wearing a heavily saturated diaper and a sweatshirt. He did not appear malnourished or unclean."
At that point, Dotson refused to answer any more questions and asked police to leave, according to documents.
Detectives then obtained motel surveillance footage of the child, which showed him wandering the halls unsupervised, clad in only a diaper, police said.
After obtaining the video footage, police filed charges and obtained a warrant for Dotson's arrest, documents indicate. At this point, police said they believe the boy remains in Dotson's custody.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.