Police arrested 38-year-old Stephanie Ann Broten and 34-year-old Darnell Alan Landrum on suspicion of gross-misdemeanor malicious punishment of a child. Lt. Mike Monsrud said the two adults laughed as they were hauled off in a squad car and apparently didn't understand why officers had intervened.
A neighbor called police earlier that evening after a crowd of about 50 people gathered to watch the girl, who was wearing only the diaper and a tank top and was begging to be let back inside their townhouse in Fridley about 7 miles north of Minneapolis.
"When the officer found her, she was crying and hysterical," Monsrud told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Investigators believe she had been outside for about half an hour before the neighbor alerted police, Monsrud said.
Broten and Landrum were being held in the Anoka County Jail pending charges. The girl and three younger children were placed in foster care.
Broten and Landrum told police they were punishing the girl because she had bad grades and failed to do her homework.
"They told her if she didn't, they would shave her head and put her on 'diaper duty,' which I guess meant running up and down the street and cleaning up trash as a form of public humiliation," Monsrud said.
The lieutenant added that the couple questioned the police's decision to intervene.
"Through the whole contact, and even on the way to jail, both were laughing and thinking it was ridiculous police would get involved in what they said was their parental decision," he said.
Officers had responded to four calls in the past two years at the family's townhouse. At least one of the calls triggered notification to a county child protection worker, Monsrud said.