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Babysitter charged in Prairie City dog attack death

4-year-old Jordyn Arndt died as result of ‘severe bite’ injuries from American Staffordshire

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 11:40 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 12:25 p.m. CDT
Caption
Jena Marie Wright

A Prairie City girl has died as the result of injuries sustained in a dog attack. The woman responsible for her care — and an owner of the dog — has been charged in connection with the child’s death.

Four-year-old Jordyn Arndt died at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. Nearly four hours later, Prairie City police arrested her babysitter, Jena Marie Wright, 24, at her home at 300 S. Marshall St. in Prairie City.

Wright was taken into custody and booked into the Jasper County Jail on charges of child endangerment resulting in death, a Class B felony, and neglect or abandonment of dependent person, a Class C felony. She faces up to 35 years in prison, if convicted on both counts.

At her initial appearance this morning, Wright learned she faced additional charges of interference with official acts and assault on a peace officer causing bodily injury, both of which are aggravated misdemeanors. Court documents detailed law enforcement officers’ case against her.

“[T]he defendant was the person having custody or control over [Jordyn Arndt],” the criminal complain with regard to the child endangerment charge stated. “The defendant was acting as her babysitter. The defendant knowingly acts in a manner that created a substantial risk to the child’s physical safety by leaving her unattended with a large American Staffordshire dog. The dog attacked the child, causing severe and life ending injuries.”

The criminal complaint with regard to the neglect or abandonment of a dependent person charge stated Wright “knowingly and recklessly” exposed Arndt to a hazard by leaving her unattended with the dog. The additional misdemeanor charges were with regard to the manner in which Wright was arrested Tuesday.

“Jena came downstairs and advised me that she was not going to answer any questions,” Modlin said in the criminal complaint. “I advised Jena that she was under arrest. Jena yelled, ‘NO,’ and started to go up the stairs. I grabbed her shirt and told her several times to put her hands behind her back.”

Modlin’s affidavit stated Wright then attempted to pull away from him and fell to floor at the top of the stairs. She then turned over and kicked him in the chest, before struggling to crawl away toward a bedroom.

“Jena was eventually handcuffed and taken into custody,” Modlin stated. “I received a strain to my left shoulder during the struggle, causing pain.”

At the hearing this morning, Wright appeared without counsel. Associate District Court Judge Steven Holwerda set her bond at $50,000. If released, she must also maintain “good behavior” as a condition of her release.

As of press time, she remained in the Jasper County Jail in lieu of the bond.

Police and paramedics were dispatched at 2:01 p.m. Monday to Wright’s home on a report of a child who had been attacked by a dog, later identified as an American Staffordshire named Brutus. Arndt was discovered to have suffered “severe bite wounds” to her head and neck area and was airlifted to Mercy in Des Moines.

Jordyn is survived by her mother, Jessica; father, Jason; and her 7-year-old brother, Aden.

Other media outlets have reported Wright and her husband, Harmon Wesley Wright III, were issued a letter from Modlin that declared Brutus as a “dangerous” dog that cannot be allowed back into the city limits. It currently remains under quarantine at a Newton veterinary office.

Prairie City Police Chief Louis Modlin said that letter is not a public record, as it is part of his criminal investigation file. He declined to supply the Daily News with a copy of the letter on those grounds.

Jena Wright was arrested a little more than a year ago on multiple felony charges in connection with a marijuana growing operation raided by the Mid-Iowa Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, and several local law enforcement agencies. She was charged with neglect or abandonment of a child, possession of a controlled substance and three counts of failure to affix a drug tax stamp.

She also faced two misdemeanor charges of possession of a controlled substance. In a plea deal with prosecutors, she was found guilty on one of the misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance counts.

Harmon Wright III and his father, Harmon Wesley Wright Jr., were also arrested as a result of the drug raid. According to court documents at that time, investigators found three marijuana plants growing, as well as bags of marijuana, amphetamine tablets and marijuana smoking pipes.

Police said the controlled substances were accessible to the Wrights’ then-2-year-old child, who was removed from the home by authorities while the three adults were taken to the Jasper County Jail.

Wright received a two-day jail sentence with credit for time already served, plus a $315 fine and suspension of her driving privileges for 180 days. Wright III also pled guilty to drug possession charges and is currently serving a two-year probation as part of a plea arrangement with prosecutors.

Modlin said officers from the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office and Monroe Police Department assisted in his investigation.

The City of Prairie City also issued a press release at the same time Wright’s arrest was announced. The unsigned press release stated city officials were reviewing city code with regard to the incident.

“In all cases when a major incident occurs, the city reviews its policies, procedures and ordinances to ensure that they meet the needs of the community,” the statement said. “The city, along with actively assisting in the criminal investigation, is working with the city attorney to review our current ordinances in regards to the incident that occurred at 300 S. Marshall St.”

Daily News Editor Bob Eschliman may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at beschliman@newtondailynews.com.

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