Mother of dogs' victim is charged

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Jessica Lynn Chavous, the boy's mother, was taken into custody at the hospital.

An Augusta mother whose 2-year-old son was mauled by dogs will remain in the Richmond County jail without bond after her arrest on a charge of cruelty to children.

Jessica Lynn Chavous, 24, was arrested about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital, Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Scott Peebles said.

Richmond County Sheriff's Office, Augusta Animal Services and the Department of Family and Children Services began an investigation after her son, Damien Chavous, was attacked by four dogs in a fenced yard next door to her grandparents' home in the 3600 block of Belair Road Friday night.

Police have said they don't plan to charge the owner of the dogs, Shirley Barnes, in connection with Friday's incident. However, Augusta Animal Services Director Diane Downs said her office is still investigating.

Ms. Downs said Tuesday that some of the dogs have mange and that she has asked Ms. Barnes to come to their office today to show proof of vaccination and other veterinary records on the dogs.

Police discovered in their investigation that just a week before the mauling, Damien was nearly hit by a passing motorist in front of the same Belair Road home, according to a statement released by Lt. Peebles. The motorist, who called the sheriff's office, said no adults were outside and they were not aware that the toddler was outside.

Officers were also told by family members that Ms. Chavous was aware that her 2-year-old could open the gated deck where he was left unattended Friday night before the dog attack. She also knew that the child could climb the gate and had done so many times, according to witnesses.

Bill Swint, Ms. Chavous' grandfather, said her 2-month-old child is now being cared for by a friend and the family is no longer allowed to visit Damien at MCG. A spokeswoman for DFCS would only confirm that an investigation was ongoing.

"It's getting awfully rough now," Mr. Swint said. "My wife is pretty worried about the baby, but they won't let any of us see him now."

As of Tuesday morning, Damien was continuing to improve, Mr. Swint said. He remains in critical condition at MCG.

Ms. Barnes used the Belair Road house as a rescue mission for abandoned pets called Heart of Animals, but she is not licensed as an animal rescuer in Georgia, Ms. Downs said.

The dogs will remain at the animal shelter, Ms. Downs said. Ms. Barnes could face charges of animal cruelty if she cannot show that the dogs had proper rabies vaccinations.

Mr. Swint said he hopes the family will soon be able to visit Damien.

"We're all shook up over this," he said. "We just want to see about the baby."

Staff Writer Preston Sparks contributed to this article.

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.