The Star  

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MUNCIE — Police believe a Muncie couple put the lives of hundreds of children — including three of their own — in danger by maintaining a meth lab in their southeast Muncie home near a school and a day care center.

Jerry Edward Browning, 33, and his wife, Barbara Annabelle Browning, 30, are each preliminarily charged with manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug precursors and three counts of neglect of a dependent.

According to a probable cause affidavit, officers were dispatched to the Brownings’ East Ninth Street home about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday after a person called 911 to report a “chemical odor” being emitted from the residence.

Upon searching the home, police reportedly found a meth lab in a back room, as well as a substance that later field tested positive for methamphetamine.

Muncie police officer Mike Nickens wrote that as he arrived on the scene, Jerry Browning had just arrived home with his three kids, each of whom are younger than 11.

Interviewed by investigators Wednesday, the Brownings allegedly admitted to having knowledge of the meth lab within their home.

According to the report, Jerry Browning told officers he would often be in the room while the meth was cooking, and that he would often purchase materials for the lab.

Barbara Browning told detectives that she “would take the three kids and leave the house” when the meth was cooking within her home.

“Barbara stated that she never let the kids go to the back room and told them to stay out because she knew what was back there,” Nickens wrote.

A unit from the Indiana State Police’s Methamphetamine Suppression Section was called to the scene to dismantle the lab, according to the report.

Officer Nickens also wrote that the Browning’s house was also “very unkempt” and had five dogs living inside the residence.

“The room with the meth lab had a curtain covering the door, but was easily accessible to the children in the house,” Nickens wrote. He said Child Protective Services took custody of the Browning’s three children.

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The Browning’s home is also next door to an Indiana state-licensed day care center and is 187 feet away from Sutton Elementary School, according to the report. Officers also noted the day care “was open and parents were picking up children while we were on scene” of the meth-lab bust.

Muncie police Sgt. Brad Wiemer said in an interview Thursday that the children within the home — as well as the children nearby in school and at the day care — were the No. 1 priority of officers during Thursday’s bust and resulting arrests.

“Our main focus is to try to help people that are in need, and the children really don’t have a choice when they’re put in that environment,” Wiemer said. “That’s a big deal when children are involved in something substantial like this.”

According to court records, in 2011, Jerry Browning was convicted in Delaware Circuit Court 3 of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. He also has recent local convictions for driving while suspended (twice), nonsupport of a child and theft.

Local court records reflect no recent charges or convictions for Barbara Browning.

The couples were being held without bond Thursday at the Delaware County jail.

Contact reporter Andrew Walker at 213-5845. Find him on Twitter at