An Evansville, Ind., couple were charged with child neglect on Friday after police discovered two cellphone videos that showed a 1-year-old putting a .40-caliber handgun in his mouth.
The videos, which Evansville Police Department Task Force detectives said they found on the phone of Michael L. Barnes, 19, on Friday, show the toddler mimicking Barnes, mouthing "Pow! Pow!" as he points the gun in the air with several of his fingers on the trigger.
"A lot of things we see are very upsetting, frustrating or disgusting, but this is sad," said Sgt. Jason Cullum. "When people ask us why do we think there’s an uptick in gun crime in the city of Evansville, this (video) shows why there is and will continue to be."
Barnes, who is not the child’s father, was arrested Thursday after police said he tried to sell an undercover officer a handgun through Facebook.
According to police, detectives spotted a Facebook post from Barnes on a trade-and-sell page asking for ammunition for a .40-caliber handgun. During correspondence with police, Barnes allegedly agreed to sell the handgun Thursday afternoon in exchange for another weapon and cash, and set up a meeting near the intersection of Columbia and Garvin streets.
In a joint investigation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Evansville Police Department Task Force arranged to meet Barnes Thursday at the agreed-upon intersection, near an elementary school police said.
Barnes fled when officers approached him, according to Cullum, and the handgun was found at the scene of his arrest following his apprehension by a K9 unit.
Barnes was treated at Deaconess Hospital for bite wounds before he was booked into the Vanderburgh County jail Thursday evening.
Police said they located the loaded weapon Barnes had agreed to sell to detectives near where he was arrested. Police believe the handgun Barnes agreed to sell to detectives is likely the same gun seen in the videos, Cullum said.
Barnes did not have a permit for the handgun. He also had an active warrant for his arrest.
Barnes was out on bond from a robbery case when he was arrested Thursday. His warrant, which was issued in November, was for failing to appear for a hearing in the robbery case, court records show.
According to Cullum, Barnes will also face felony charges for having the handgun within 500 feet of a school and for "resisting law enforcement with a weapon."
In both videos, Barnes can be heard repeatedly telling the child to say "pow!" while the child handles the gun. At one point, the child places the muzzle of the gun in his mouth. In the video, no adult tries to intervene.
Detectives noted the gun’s magazine appears to be removed in the video, but Cullum said that alone has no bearing in this case, since the handgun could have had a single round still in the chamber.
"Gun ownership is a right in America, but it’s also a responsibility," Cullum said. "If you see a 12-month-old being taught to play with a gun, by the time they’re 10 or 12 years old, they have no qualms to pick up a gun. They have no issue pulling the trigger."
Investigators determined the child’s mother, Toni Wilson, 22, was present when the video was made. She can be heard encouraging the 1-year-old to say "pow," as well, police said.
Wilson had been with Barnes during his Thursday night arrest, but was released at the scene. She denied knowing Barnes had a gun at that time.
When confronted about the video Friday afternoon, she claimed the handgun was a pellet gun.
She faces preliminary charges of child neglect, criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon, and allowing a child to possess a firearm. Barnes is also facing those charges in addition to his original charges from his Thursday night arrest.
The 1-year-old and the couple’s 1-month-old twins were placed into emergency care Friday. Barnes is not the father of the 1-year-old, but is the father of the twins.
Barnes is being held without bond, according to jail records.