Lynden man pleads not guilty to charges he left grandson, elderly man living in deplorable conditions

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Police accuse a father of leaving his family to fend for themselves in deplorable conditions.

Investigators said what they found inside a Whatcom County home was not only disgusting but also dangerous.

Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies said it referred a 77-year-old man and his 13-year-old grandson to protective services after they were both found living in a home without running water or toilets. Medics told police the incident was one of the worst cases of neglect they have ever seen.

Mitchell O’Donnell, 45, appeared in court Friday morning for an arraignment hearing. Prosecutors allege he neglected his father-in-law and threatened to kill his 13-year-old son. He pleaded not guilty to cruelty and criminal mistreatment charges

“It was a critical situation where we needed to get them out of there,” said sheriff's spokesman Jeff Parks.

It all began about two weeks ago with a phone call to 911. Police said O’Donnell’s 13-year-old son called for help, claiming his father beat him and threatened to kill him.

When police arrived, they discovered a confused and disoriented 77-year-old man wrapped in a sleeping bag lying on a couch on the front porch.

Court documents said the elderly man was coated head to toe with human feces and urine and the man had redness and irritation from remaining in a prolonged stationary position, but it’s what detectives discovered inside their Lynden home that made the situation even worse.

“Feces on the floor, feces smeared around the house, both animal and human,” said Parks. “No food, refrigerator that was chained shut.”

According to investigators, O’Donnell said he was the sole caretaker of the elderly man, who is his former father-in-law from a previous marriage.

The two lived with O’Donnell’s 13-year-old son and a st. bernard, who also suffered abuse and neglect.

O’Donnell plead not guilty to criminal mistreatment, abandonment of a dependent person, domestic violence harassment and animal cruelty charges.

O’Donnell and his attorney refused to speak about the case publicly.

Investigators said similar cases are rare, but this one serves as a reminder for everyone to keep an eye on their neighbors.

“The biggest message is to look out for each other,” Parks added.