Charges not filed despite ‘substantiated child abuse’

7-month-old suffers spiral fracture of femur at day care
Charges not filed despite ‘substantiated child abuse’
Sam in his cast

A Columbia County mother is frustrated no criminal charges have been filed after her 7-month-old son suffered a spiral fracture of his femur at a day care.

One of the leading child abuse doctors in Wisconsin told police Sam Stanton’s injury was consistent with abuse, and Columbia County Child Protective Services substantiated child abuse against the owner of the day care for her alleged actions on July 19, 2013. However, Columbia County District Attorney Jane Kohlwey last week determined she did not have a criminal case she could prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

“It’s saying if you can’t speak and you can’t point to the person who did something, they’ll never be caught,” said Heather Stanton, Sam’s mother. “I mean, he was 7 1/2 months old. It’s not like he can call 911.”

Stanton said when she picked Sam up from the Bunny Hop Day Care in the village of Fall River nearly a year and a half ago, her parental intuition and a look on her son’s face let her know something was seriously wrong.

“I will never, ever, ever, ever forget in a million years the look of terror on his face and the noise that he made,” she said. “There were no words for him at 7 1/2 months old, so this noise, you can only describe it as ‘I can’t handle this, something’s wrong and this is how I’m telling you something’s wrong.'”

Stanton brought Sam to the UW Children’s Hospital where he was treated by Dr. Barbara Knox, an internationally known expert in cases of child abuse. Her medical report said a spiral fracture of the femur is gravely concerning for non-accidental trauma.

The injury happens when a child’s leg is twisted. It can happen accidentally if a child is climbing down from a high chair and their foot gets caught, but Sam was immobile at that point, leading Fall River police to launch a felony physical-abuse-of-a-child investigation.

Officers first explored Stanton as a possible suspect, giving her a forensic voice stress analysis test which she passed. Then, they questioned the day care owner and her adult-aged daughter, both of whom were in the home-based day care when Sam was there.

They told wildly disparate stories and when Fall River police read the day care owner her Miranda rights, she obtained a lawyer and did not correspond with them further. Stanton remains frustrated over not knowing what happened.

“Who did it? That’s the question,” Stanton said. “No one’s admitting there was an accident. No one’s saying anything about anything.”

That’s one of the reasons that Kohlwey said she is asking anyone with information about this incident to come forward, but that she does not feel she knows conclusively what happened to Sam.

“We don’t have proof here that Sam was injured deliberately or in a criminally-negligent manner and we also don’t have proof beyond a reasonable doubt who injured him,” Kohlwey said. “I would love that every crime would get solved and even more so when it’s a baby that’s getting injured, but we don’t solve all crimes.”

The State of Wisconsin’s Division of Children and Family Services (now known as the Division of Children and Families) allowed the day care to close voluntarily in September, 2013, after concluding that corporal punishment, defined by state law as spanking, hitting, pinching, shaking, slapping, twisting, throwing, happened at Bunny Hop.

A spokesman for DCF said it is on a case-by-case basis that the state determines whether it would shut down a day care or allow the provider to voluntarily close. Compliance history plays a factor. Earlier allegations of improper discipline from 2001, 2004 and 2006 were not substantiated by Columbia County Child Protective Services.

Sam Stanton is coming up on his second birthday. After spending six weeks in a cast, he’s gone through physical therapy and he is now moving well. Yet, his mother said she will continue to advocate for justice, if not for Sam, then for the next kid she fears may come through those caregivers. State law allows the former day care owner to look up to three kids up to the age of 7 without any state regulation.

“How do you let go? Do you just walk away and forget? I can’t,” she said. “If somebody else’s kid (gets hurt), I’ll never sleep again.”