DALLAS - A Dallas father is behind bars for allegedly abandoning his young children in a filthy and unfurnished apartment. When officers found them, they seemed to not even know their own names.
Police and CPS removed the four children from the squalid living conditions at an apartment complex on Meadow Street in South Dallas.
Robert Preston, 31, was arrested Saturday and charged with four counts of child endangerment after one of his neighbors found his 3-year-old son wandering around in the cold wearing only a t-shirt and one shoe.
Preston spoke exclusively to FOX 4 from the Dallas County Jail Friday afternoon. He said the family normally doesn't live like that and he was going to clean it all up. From jail, he claimed he's not a bad father, but he contradicted some of what he told police when he was arrested.
"I am not a bad person. I am not a bad father," he said. "I love my kids. Anybody that knows me, my family will tell you that."
According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Preston walked up to officers as they were interviewing the neighbor and asked them if they had found his child.
Police said Preston had outstanding warrants, so the officers put him in a squad car. That's when he told them they should probably also check on the other children in his apartment. He said he had gone to the store to get food for the children and had only left them alone for about 10 or 15 minutes.
During FOX 4's jailhouse interview with Preston, he gave a different explanation.
"I was just going to go to the mailbox, but I kind of got sidetracked because of somebody I talked to for about a minute or two," he claimed. "That was the first time I ever did that."
But when the officers got to the apartment, they found it unlocked and noticed the oven was on. The three other boys - ages 2, 3 and 5 - were sitting on the floor. There were no tables or furniture in the apartment, only filth, feces and alcohol bottles, the arrest warrant affidavit states.
"The apartment reeked of feces, and the toilets of both bathrooms did not appear to have been flushed in weeks even though the water in the apartment was in working order," the document states.
Police said the kids did have access to some food but there were no clean dishes or utensils in the apartment. When one officer asked a boy to show him his cup, the little boy went into another room to get a used Sunny D bottled that had dried chocolate milk inside.
"The kitchen sink was about to overflow with stagnant water that smelled like a dead animal, old food was floating in the water and the water had become opaque," police wrote in the affidavit.
Officers also found a small malnourished puppy in a closet filled with feces. The puppy had no access to food or water and had protruding ribs and hip bones. The children reacted as if they had never seen the animal before, running around and screaming after the officers brought it out.
Police noted in the arrest warrant affidavit that the kids had odd language patterns and did not appear to have much socialization or much contact with people outside of their family.
They used facial expressions, gestures and screams to communicate with each other and referred to each other as "Robert." They couldn't tell officers their own names and the most the 4-year-old said was "get dog."
"We teach them their names," Preston said. "My kids are premature, so they really don't know how to answer questions or anything like that."
Preston had excuses for the living conditions, too.
"My youngest son, he'll go in there and put toilet paper in the toilet and flush the toilet all day," he claimed. "My girlfriend at the time was at her mother's house. Because if she was there at the time, it wouldn't have looked like that."
Preston says they've been living in the unit without furniture since last October. He claims he and his girlfriend, who is never mentioned in the arrest affidavit, were waiting on their income tax return to buy furniture.
"I was gonna clean it up. I was tired because I've been running around with them," Preston said. "We do not live like that on the regular. We are not bad people. That was just a situation we were in at that moment and at that time."
Neighbors said they had never seen any kids with Preston and had no idea there were children living in the apartment.
"I never saw any children." neighbor Catherine Slade said. "The only time I ever heard was like a kid's whistleblowing coming from the apartment, but I never saw any kids or really heard much."
"No one should live like that, with little kids living like that," neighbor Maranda Green said. "It breaks my heart because who would have anybody living like that? Not even a dog should live like that."
Child Protective Services took custody of all four boys, as well as their 9-year-old and 6-year-old sisters, who were in a different home when their father was arrested. Dallas Animal Services seized the puppy.
A spokeswoman with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services would not say if they've had any contact with the family before. But Preston said they have a few years back for a similar complaint.
"Sometimes they'll get up before we do," he said. "My kids are adventurous. They like to go outside and play and all that type of stuff."
Preston, who police said acted as if everything the officers found in his apartment was normal, had his bond set at $80,000.
"Please don't make us seem like we're just bad parents because we are not," Preston said. "We try to do the best for our children. We just don't have help."
Police also noted that two girls were removed from another home. Preston says they were at their grandmother's house, but police have not confirmed that. All six children are currently in foster care.
Preston's outstanding warrant was for a probation violation related to an aggravated robbery. He has been arrested multiple times for aggravated robbery, assault and burglary of a habitation.