Charges: Couple kept teen in dark room, forced workouts - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

Charges: Couple kept teen in dark room without bed, forced workouts

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EAGAN, Minn. (KMSP) -

Dakota County attorneys have filed gross misdemeanor charges against an Eagan couple accused of taking away a 15-year-old's bed, lights and forcing him to remain in his room under video surveillance at all times except for extreme exercises.

Both Angela and Gregory Danner are facing one count each of malicious punishment of a child and neglect of a child after an investigation that began in April.

The boy, who is now 16 and suffers from Asperger's syndrome, is now living with his natural father, David Nalls.

"He gets to have a good childhood now. He's not in a dark room, he can shower when he wants, he has clean clothes -- not just a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of water," Nalls said.

Nalls told FOX 9 News his son was 5 feet 9 inches tall but only weighed 120 pounds when he came to stay with him.

The case against the Danners began on April 2, when the boy told an Eagan police officer that his mother and stepfather had taken his bed and lights from his bedroom as a punishment, leaving him only a pillow and blanket to sleep on. He told police that the two also blocked off the window to his bedroom in the basement so no light could shine in.

The boy also told police that his mother and stepfather installed a video camera in his bedroom that allows them to monitor his every move.

Prosecutors say an investigation into the conditions of the boy's room found the light bulb was removed, foam had been placed over the windows and there was no bed. Follow-up investigations found the couple eventually uncovered the windows and put the light back in after authorities told them to do so.

However, the boy said after the two were instructed to change things by officials, Gregory threw things about his room and forced him to do pushups until 1 a.m. By April 25, he told officials he still did not have a bed.

In interviews conducted through May, the teen told police he was required to stay in his room at all times when at home, except to use the restroom, complete chores, or do ordered exercises. He told officers his sister brings him a peanut butter sandwich nightly and he is expected to leave the plate on the stairs when he is finished.

According to the charges, the boy also told police that the couple severely limited his showers, telling him to use the shower at his father's house during visits. The boy had also been told that he should ask his father to buy detergent if he wanted clean clothes but would have to wash them in a bathtub or sink, according to the criminal filing.

The charges also allege that when the boy's father asked for the teen's medicine to be brought with him on a visit, Angela Danner refused until he gave her some money.

Social Services workers spoke with the boy again on May 2, and he said the pair planned for him to run three miles that day, but they no longer called the exercise "discipline" and were using the word "therapy" instead.

The charges say the teen disclosed that he has to do hundreds of military-style pushups daily, and said the soreness made sleeping difficult. He estimated that he often has to do 1,500 to 2,000 pushups each day, with the lowest number being 500. He explained that the "wall chair" exercise usually lasts between 20 minutes and an hour, and he has been required to run several miles in the cold.

"This is a 15-year-old boy, not a Marine recruit being put through that type of discipline on a daily basis," said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. "That is an unusual circumstance that crossed the boundary of what is appropriate under law."

The charges say the boy has been forced to do those sorts of exercises since he was 12 or 13.

Neighbors told FOX 9 News they often heard Gregory Danner yelling at the boy during the exercises outside, and they say Danners are unusual in other ways. In fact, one took a picture of Gregory Danner working in the backyard while wearing only a pink thong.

The boy also told officials that he is not often spanked, but he recounted an incident where Gregory Danner had spanked him 40-50 times -- once for each swear word found in some lyrics he had written down.

The boy told officials the exercises and punishments have made him very angry with his step father, but his mother threatened not to speak to him again if he said something bad about the family. The charging documents allege he has suffered significant psychological stress due to how he has been treated.

If convicted, the Danners each face a maximum penalty of up to two years in jail and fines of up to $6,000.

The Danners have given up custody of the boy, but they have a young daughter that still lives in the home.

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