RED WING — A married Red Wing couple is facing a litany of charges related to the alleged extensive abuse of their four children under 10 years old, according to new charges filed in Goodhue County District Court.
Benjamin Taylor Cotton, 41, and Christina Ann Cotton, 38, are each facing two counts of child torture, seven counts of neglect and four counts of malicious punishment of a child, all felonies. The couple is also facing an additional three gross misdemeanor charges of malicious punishment of a child.
A warrant was issued for their arrest Thursday, June 15, 2023.
According to their criminal complaints:
The couple routinely held their young children in locked cages for 13 to 14 hours a day, beat them with a belt and withheld food and access to a bathroom.
The Goodhue County Health and Human Services began investigating the couple last year following a report that they were keeping a 5-year-old locked up in a wooden "cage" and subjecting the child to extreme forms of punishment, along with three other children in the home, ages 9, 7 and 2. The report stated the mother suffered from mental health issues.
A social worker and a Red Wing Police Department investigator found three of the children locked in various homemade cages during an Aug. 18, 2022, inspection of the couple's Red Wing home.
The mother, Christina Cotton, told the investigators the children were locked up for their own safety.
Inside one of the home's bedrooms, investigators found the 2-year-old inside a playpen with a "dog gate" tied to the top, making it impossible for the child to get out.
Next to the playpen, the 7-year-old and 5-year-old were found in a bunk bed designed for small children that was converted into a cage by the placement of a wooden door and slats that the children could look through but not get out. The door also had a sliding metal lock. The height of the cage did not allow either child to fully stand up.
The 9-year-old was found in the home's basement and was not caged or confined.
Investigators found a "puke bowl" in one of the cages and it was discovered that the children were not allowed to go to the bathroom once they were put to bed in the cages.
After a police officer told the mother that it was not acceptable to lock her children up, she said she did it to prevent them dying. She added the children were only locked up at night and they were still in their cages because she had slept in. The children had been kept in their cages for 13 hours that day.
Further investigation found the 2-year-old had a soiled diaper that was duct taped to the child's skin, and the other children were found to have extensive bruising on their bodies that appeared consistent with being struck by an object.
One of the children told a social worker that he is spanked with a black belt if he does not do his chores.
"He stated that his dad hits him 'hard' but that his mom 'hits him really, really hard,'" part of the criminal complaint reads.
Additional investigation found pictures that showed extensive bruising of the 9-year-old that the child had taken with a cell phone the day before the home inspection.
All four children were evaluated by medical staff at the Midwest Children's Resource Center at Children's Hospital in St. Paul.
A licensed psychologist determined that this abuse goes well beyond what is typically viewed as physical and emotional abuse and could fit into a category of abuse called "intrafamilial child torture."