Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tragedy averted - at least for now

Sometimes I'm torn between wanting to notify the community about a perpetrator by plastering his/her face all over the blog so that everyone knows what sort of people are in our midst, versus respecting the privacy of their victim(s), particularly when the victim is a child.

I'll opt for protecting the privacy of the victim - in this case a 3-year old boy I'll call Frankie, his mother and siblings.

Today I was in Judge John Adams' court to monitor a Motion to Modify Victim Contact in a case where the father is accused of Aggravated Child Abuse against Frankie. Dad was babysitting his four children, ages 8, 4, 3, and 2. The arrest affadavit contains the following information:
Mom contacted the chidrens' daycare one morning in April to ask the owner if she had observed bruises and lacerations on Frankie's lip and the left side of his face. The mother told the owner that her husband had caused the injuries the previous day and had threatened to kill her if she called police. She asked the daycare owner to help her. DCF was immediately called.

Eight year old Susan (not her real name) told DCF that her dad had been babysitting all the children the previous day while their mother was at work. Frankie had attempted to unlock the front door several times, causing their father to become upset. The defendant took a belt and began beating Frankie in a bedroom. His sister did not witness the beating, but heard the cries of her little brother and saw bruises on his face and blood coming from his mouth when he came out of the bedroom. The father later left the children home alone when he went to work.

When mom returned home, she asked Susan what had happened. Mom wept when she learned what had transpired, but had the presence of mind to take Frankie to a neighbor's house to look at his injuries ask their advice. Apparently, the neighbor told her to do nothing, because no calls were made to law enforcement, nor was medical attention sought that evening.

The officer who responded the following day documented the following injuries:
  • A 5" long bruise on the left side of Frankie's face,
  • A 4" laceration and bruise on the left side of his neck,
  • A small laceration on his lower lip, which was "extremely swollen and bruised with dried blood on his chin," and
  • A small abrasion on Frankie's chin
A criminal history check was conducted on the parents and a domestic violence report had been completed in January. In that incident, Susan reportedly witnessed her father repeatedly striking her mother with a stick (results of that investigation are unknown - there is no court case pending on it).

When detectives interviewed the father that evening, he told them that he had been attempting to take a nap and that Frankie tried to unlock the front door 3 times. During Frankie's third attempt, the father exited the shower, grabbed a belt and tried to strike his son on his lower legs. Frankie then ran into a door in the living room, causing him to fall. Dad claimed he then accidentally twice struck his son in the face with the belt. There were several other inconsistencies in the father's statement, and no evidence to support his story, so he was arrested.
As mentioned earlier, a Motion for Modification of Victim Contact was heard in court today. Since his arrest, the defendant has been residing with his brother in Orlando. When his attorney asked him why the judge should grant his request, the defendant said that he needs to go home - he needs his children and wife, that they need him, and that his wife wants him home.

The wife testified, although she seemed quite reluctant. Defense counsel asked her three times if she feared for her son's safety. She twice answered that she needed her husband home because she needs help with the children. Her body language and hesitancy screamed to me that she felt she had no other choice but to request he be allowed to come home. She finally answered "no" the third time the question was asked.

Judge Adams reminded the defendant that he was accused of beating this child until he was bloody.

Assistant State's Attorney Camelia Coward objected to the modification and reminded the Court that the defendant had threatened to kill his wife if she contacted the authorities. She also mentioned that the defendant had been responsible for caring for the children when this incident occurred.  Nothing else really needed to be said.

The judge denied the defendant's request. No trial date has been set.

Two things about this case strike me as tragic:
  1. The mother feels she needs her husband in the home - putting herself and her children at risk for future abuse. I don't know if she has family support in the area, but I do know that victims of domestic violence often feel trapped because of how difficult it is to provide for their needs and the needs of their children.
  2. The neighbor did nothing to help this woman when she asked for advice. Thankfully, she turned to someone (the children's daycare) who is mandated to report abuse when it is suspected.
I hope that anyone who reads this refrains from criticizing this mother for supporting her husband's request to come home. And I hope we all reach out and help our neighbor in whatever capacity possible if they come to us for assistance.

By the way, most child abuse cases are either dismissed or are pled out. Defendants typically receive a probationary sentence that includes counseling, following a DCF case plan, no hostile contact, and completion of an anger management class.

Nationally, nearly 5 children die each day due to child abuse and neglect.
Source: Childhelp website.


  1. I wish you could put the fathers picture and details above so that we can see who is behind this!

  2. These folks will likely have another day in court at the Juvenile Justice Center. Adjudicatory hearings in dependency court (DCF cases of child abuse, neglect and abandonment) are open to the public under section 39.507(2), Florida Statutes. Under 39.507(3), publication of the proceedings in the adjudicatory hearings is not prohibited.
    Phil Townes