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The apartment was littered with cat feces, flies and urine and had an “unbearable” smell like that of a decomposing animal, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

The three boys, ages 4, 5 and 6, could not speak and only grunted, and the officer could not detect any developmental differences among them, authorities said. Hospital exams showed they were malnourished and not toilet-trained.

All four boys were also placed in protective custody.

Bailey said she thought the apartment was safe, according to the affidavit, and she denied that the boys had any developmental delays. She said she had been living alone in a separate unit of the building for the past two months but saw the children every day except Saturday and Sunday, when she worked. Officials confirmed that she worked as a parking lot attendant at a nearby event hall.

Sperling told investigators he was unemployed and has been the boys’ primary guardian. He said he mopped frequently but that with four boys, he had trouble keeping the apartment clean. He said he intended to begin home-schooling the 6-year-old.

The parents told police the children have their own language and grunt at each other. But the couple insisted the children were able to speak to them.

Neighbors said they had complained to authorities about the boys’ conditions, but nothing was done.

David Allen, who lives in the same building, said he had called police or child services in July.

“We thought they were going to come out immediately, given the circumstances, and they never came out,” he said.

David Littman, an attorney whose office is across an alley from the apartment building, said he called 911 last year when he saw three of the boys, in diapers, hanging out a first-floor window throwing toys out.

Police went to the residence in April 2012 — apparently in response to Littman’s call — and issued Sperling a citation on a charge of wrongs to minors.

“What struck us more at that time was … the children would appear angry and defiant, and they would look at us as they were throwing things onto the driveway,” Littman said.

“If there’s a regret that I have, (it) is perhaps that was a cry for help, and while we made a report, we didn’t go beyond making that report,” he said.

The state Department of Human Services is reviewing the handling of the case because it meets “egregious” criteria, agency spokeswoman Liz McDonough said.

McDonough said she could not comment on specifics of the review but said it would include case notes and whether procedures were followed.

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