- Ellen Eldridge The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A Gwinnett County mother accused of child cruelty in connection with leaving four children alone in a dirty motel room faced a judge Thursday.
Sardegia Elliott left for two hours to get food at a Walmart, causing her young children excessive mental and physical pain, police told Magistrate Judge Bob Mitchum in court.
Channel 2 Action News was in the courtroom as Mitchum openly debated the basis for the charges.
"We are getting very close to criminalizing being poor," Mitchum told the courtroom.
Elliott has been in jail since Wednesday.
Venisha Dawson called police after finding four of Elliott’s five children, ages 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.
Lawrenceville police found only one diaper and no food in the room when they arrived.
Prosecutor Drew Unger described the conditions to the judge:
"The two children lying in soiled diapers. The one child confused and crying, the other child eating the biscuit like it was his first meal,” Unger said. “Starving, hungry."
Mitchum questioned the mother's options.
“Go get some food and be a felon or stay there and starve?" the judge asked.
Elliott's attorney asked for the case to be dismissed, but Mitchum let it continue, noting that she can get out on bond.
"Let's do some help, rather than harm,” Mitchum said.
At the time of her arrest, the children were taken into state custody, partly because the father was already locked up in Clayton County on unrelated charges.
Records show Elliott remains in the Gwinnett County Jail, even though a deal has apparently been worked out for her release, Channel 2 reported.