Category Archives: Physical Abuse

One of the 5 forms of Child Abuse

FL Law Maker Likes TX Law Makers Decision

.jpg photo of Florida law maker concerned about misdiagnosis by medical professionals
Representative Anna Eskamani (D) of Orlando, Florida.

Florida parents wrongly accused of Child
Abuse by state experts is ‘shocking,’ says
lawmaker

TAMPA, FL  –  A Florida lawmaker believes the state’s medical experts on child abuse need more checks and balances after an I-team investigation revealed several pediatricians have made questionable calls against parents who appeared to have done everything right.

“Any position of authority that isn’t checked by something is concerning,” said Florida Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani of Orlando.  Eskamani was responding to our investigation that found several cases where child abuse pediatricians, who were hired to be the state’s experts on abuse, wrongly accused Florida parents of child abuse.

Child abuse pediatricians are a recent specialty medical field and hold enormous influence over whether a child’s medical condition is the result of abuse.  Their conclusions can also determine if a child needs to be removed from their parents. But court records show, these doctors don’t always make the right call causing children, often babies, to be removed from their parents for months unnecessarily.

Our investigation also found cases where doctors appeared to have come to far reaching conclusions without thorough investigations and, in other cases, where parents were arrested after a doctor’s conclusion of abuse.  In 2015, it happened to Jeremy Graham.

Graham, a firefighter and paramedic on Florida’s west coast, was arrested and charged with aggravated child abuse after a child abuse pediatrician determined his 4-month-old son’s seizure was caused by a brain bleed, the result of physical abuse, according to court records provided to us by Jeremy and his wife Vivianna.

About a month leading up to the seizure, the Grahams had visited several doctors because their son was vomiting and “wasn’t acting right,” said Vivianna.

After an 8-month fight, the state dropped its case against the Grahams over “insufficient evidence.”

Last year, Nydia Ortiz’s son and daughter-in-law were torn about from their newborn daughter after a child abuse pediatrician in Miami concluded their newborn daughter’s bruises were also the result of abuse.  Turns out, it was a rare genetic disorder.

It’s a problem impacting families around the country.

In Texas, recent media scrutiny has led some state lawmakers to consider introducing a bill next year that would require an independent second medical opinion in some cases before a child is separated from their parents.

“That system would provide the oversight and accountability that parents deserve in facing the potential of a false accusation of abuse,” said Eskamani.

Representative Eskamani believes the additional measure could make sense in Florida.  We found child abuse pediatricians who serve as medical directors of child protective teams in Florida often answer to no one and operate independently from region to region.

THE FLORIDA INVESTIGATIVE TEAM

Last summer, Vadim Kushnir and his wife found themselves on the defense after seeking help for their newborn son, who was having seizures.  A state child abuse pediatrician determined their newborn’s seizures were “the result of shaken baby or blunt force trauma,” according to court records.

“It took them two minutes of investigation to say we were abusers,” said Kushnir.

The Kushnirs fought back spending $30,000 on attorneys and experts who argued the baby’s condition resulted from a complicated birth not abuse.

The judge agreed and in the final order, even criticized the state’s doctors for not knowing their month old son wasn’t breathing at birth, the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his neck.  One doctor who provided testimony admitted he “never reviewed all his medical records,” according to court records.

With the legislative session starting this week, Eskamani says it may be too late to file legislation here this session, but she vows to bring up the issue in Tallahassee and invites other families to share their stories with her of being torn apart and wrongly accused.

Contact Representative Eskamani

“The doctor was probably in the room with us less than 10 minutes,” said Vivianna Graham.  “It’s just sad,” added her husband Jeremy whose son, Tristan, is now a healthy 4-year-old.

The Florida Department of Health oversees child abuse pediatricians who serve as experts for the state.  According to an agency spokesperson, their top priority is the health and safety of children but says child protective teams are open to receiving input from others who are also involved in protecting the health and safety of Florida’s children.

No More Pancho Villa, Robin Hood, Zorro, Only Violence Remains

.jpg photo of ms-13 gang member that killed young girl
Josue Fuentes-Ponce, 17, of Bladensburg, MD.

17-year-old gets 50 years for MS-13 gang
murder of 14-year-old MD girl

UPPER MARLBORO, MD  –  A 17-year-old MS-13 gang member was sentenced Monday in the beating death of a 14-year-old girl in Riverdale last April.

Josue Fuentes-Ponce of Bladensburg was one of four gang members charged in the murder of Ariana Funes-Diaz of Adelphi.

.jpg photo of young girl killed by ms-13 gang members
Ariana Funes-Diaz, 14, of Adelphi, MD.

He entered a guilty plea in October to first degree murder.  He was sentenced to life in prison with all but 50 years suspended.

Prosecutors said that the gang members drove together to an apartment complex in the 6300 block of 64th Avenue in Riverdale on April 18, 2019.

The group then lured Funes-Diaz into a wooded area behind the complex where she was killed.  Police found her body in a creek on May 15, 2019.

.jpg photo of ms-13 gang member that killed young girl
Joel Escobar, 18, entered a guilty plea in November and is scheduled for sentencing on February 26.

She was killed because the others thought that she was going to report them for a crime they committed together in D.C., police said.

Co-defendant, Joel Escobar, 18, entered a guilty plea in November and is scheduled for sentencing on February 26.

A trial is scheduled in April for co-defendant, Edwin Rios, 19.

The charges against a 14-year-old girl were handled in juvenile court.

CO Man Pleads Guilty To Child Abuse

.jpg photo of colorado man whose son was found encased in concrete
Leland Pankey, 40, pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human body.

Father of Denver boy found encased in
concrete pleads guilty to Child Abuse;
murder charge dropped

DENVER, CO  –  The father of a 7-year-old Denver boy found encased in concrete in 2018 has pleaded guilty to a child abuse charge in the case, in exchange for prosecutors dropping the murder charge against him.

Leland Pankey, 40, was charged with murder in Caden McWilliams’ death in May.  In a hearing on Thursday, he pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human body.

The murder charge was dropped in the deal.  Pankey now faces up to 72 years in prison.

“This agreement provides justice for Caden while ensuring that Mr. Pankey will serve a significant amount of time behind bars,” Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said in a news release Thursday.  “This is one of the most horrific cases ever handled by the Denver DA’s Office and we were acutely concerned about re-traumatizing Caden’s family as well as the jury, judge and everyone else involved should this case proceed to trial.”

Pankey is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 28.

The body of McWilliams was found encased in concrete in a storage unit in the 5000 block of East Evans Avenue in Denver on Dec. 23, 2018.

McWilliams’ mother, Elisha Pankey, also pleaded guilty in August to one count of child abuse resulting in death.

The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner ruled in a report in March that Caden had been malnourished and had cocaine metabolite and methamphetamine in his system.  The boy also had numerous injuries to his head, torso and extremities, according to the autopsy.  He may have suffered from asphyxia, dehydration or hyperthermia, but that couldn’t be confirmed, the autopsy said.

In an interview with police in March, Elisha Pankey told investigators that Leland Pankey abused Caden while they were living in an extended-stay hotel, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.  The couple and their two children had moved into the hotel in May 2018, and Leland Pankey watched the children while Elisha Pankey went to work, she told investigators.

Elisha Pankey said Caden died in July 2018 after his father kept him in a dog kennel, the affidavit said.  A woman who had been in the Arapahoe County Jail with Elisha Pankey in December said Pankey told her that she believed her son suffocated in the dog kennel.

Leland Pankey kept Caden in the kennel overnight – with blankets on top of it – and the boy cried out that he was hot and thirsty, Elisha Pankey told her fellow inmate, according to the affidavit.

On the day Caden died, his mother and father bought Quikrete, trash bags and water, drove Caden’s body to the storage unit on Evans Avenue, and mixed the concrete and poured it into the kennel, the affidavit said.

The boy’s body wasn’t discovered until December, when officers responded to a domestic violence call involving the Pankeys.

Police learned that the couple had two children, and Elisha Pankey told officers that the children were with their father.  When police contacted Leland Pankey, he said one child was in daycare, but he avoided answering questions about Caden, eventually telling officers the boy was with his mother, the affidavit said.

When officers interviewed a woman whose name was redacted in the affidavit, she told police that Leland Pankey had lost his son and that Pankey said her family could have their storage “because it had too many memories,” the affidavit said.

Investigators obtained a search warrant for the Pankeys’ storage unit and found Caden’s remains inside.

WI Parents Charged With Felony Neglect

.jpg photo of Anger Management graphic
Violence is out-of-control, and Domestic Violence can not be justified.

Seymour father, stepmother face neglect
charges, accused of locking kids in room,
limiting bathroom access

SEYMOUR. WI  –  The parents of children who told police they weren’t allowed to leave their bedroom for hours at a time or use the bathroom more than three times a day were charged with felony neglect.

The children, a 12-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl, who lived in a house with their father, stepmother and siblings in Seymour, also said they weren’t fed anything other than peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in Outagamie County Circuit Court.

The windows in their bedroom were screwed shut and the door was equipped with an alarm that went off if it was opened, and the rest of the house was monitored by security cameras, the complaint says, and both children were punished if they tried to leave.

Gregory Hietpas, 33, and Elizabeth Hietpas, 33, both of Seymour, are each charged with two counts of chronic neglect of a child, a felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and five years of extended supervision.

A police officer for the Seymour Police Department spoke with both children at school.  The 12-year-old boy was “very soft spoken” and “appeared very tired and sounded depressed” as he spoke, the complaint says.

The boy told the officer he and his sister share a bedroom, where he is forced to sleep on the floor without a blanket or pillow and is only allowed to use the bathroom three times a day.

“If he has to use the bathroom more than that, he has to go inside his bedroom,” sometimes “in a bucket or on the floor,” the complaint says.  He also told the officer he is only given five minutes to take a bath and the door to the bathroom has to stay open.

The other children in the house are allowed out of their rooms and can leave the house, but he and his older sister are forced to stay in their bedroom, “unless they need to take the dogs outside or do chores,” the complaint says.

The boy described an incident in which he left his bedroom and “walked around the city,” the complaint says, and when he was found and returned home, his father, Gregory Hietpas, “screamed at him, hit him and threw him across the room.”

He also described how his stepmother, Elizabeth Hietpas, used the clock on the oven to time the five minutes given to him and his sister to make and eat their meals.

“When asked the last time he was given something other than a peanut butter sandwich to eat, he could not remember,” the complaint says.

The girl later told an interviewer at a child advocacy center that the alarm was placed on the door because they would sneak out and take food from the refrigerator, which she said her parents considered stealing, the complaint says.

When he was punished, the boy said he was forced to carry a weight over his head “and is not allowed to let it rest on his head or chest” and “if he lowered it, he has to start over,” the complaint says.  His sister described an incident in which the boy dropped a weight on his head and injured himself.

Both children also described being forced to write sentences hundreds of times as punishment for not listening to their parents.

The girl, who was also interviewed at school, told the officer that she and her brother are not allowed around the other children because “her parents think they are bad influences,” the complaint says.

The girl also said “there are days that she does not feel safe going home,” the complaint says, and that her father “hurts her when he is mad or frustrated.”  She also described days on weekends when she and her brother were forced to stand in their bedroom from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

When a police officer visited the house on Dec. 4, 2018, he found at least two large loaves of bread and large container of peanut butter, and saw the alarm attached to the bedroom door, the complaint says.

The officer asked whether the boy was able to use the bathroom at night, the complaint says, and Elizabeth Hietpas told him “no, not right now,” and explained that the boy runs off and “we don’t know what else to do.”

When asked why they hadn’t told anyone what was happening, the girl said “they were afraid of getting in trouble,” the complaint says, adding that “it is never good at home” and “it is painful to have to deal with it all of the time.”

The boy told the interviewer that when other people are around, his parents will be nice to him and his sister and “act like nothing is going on.”

When Elizabeth Hietpas was interviewed by police, she denied the two children weren’t allowed to use the bathroom when they wanted, the complaint says.  She also claimed they had stopped using weights as a punishment after the boy hurt himself.  But when asked about her honesty during the interview, Hietpas said she didn’t want talk more about the issues and accused an officer of “backing her into a corner.”

Gregory Hietpas told police that the boy and girl were forced to sleep in the same room because the two children would intentionally go to the bathroom in their pants, the complaint says, so they decided to put them in the same bedroom “so only one room was destroyed and not the whole house.”

Hietpas said both children could go to the bathroom whenever they wanted during the day, but not at night, when the alarm on their door is activated, the complaint says.

He also told police that when things started to “go south” at his house, he began to “tune things out and found things to do to get out of the house.”

TN Man Indicted For CA, Neglect, Domestic Violence, and Child Sex Abuse

.jpg photo of Foster Parent indicted for child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and child sexual battery
John Stanley Reece, 55, was indicted in Jackson County Criminal Court, TN

Foster parent indicted for Child Abuse

The father of a Jackson County family known for fostering children has been indicted for a host of child abuse charges.

John Stanley Reece, 55, was indicted in the Jackson County Criminal Court earlier this month for child abuse and neglect, aggravated domestic assault by strangulation and sexual battery by an authority figure.

The victim was a child in his care, according to the indictment.

Reece was arrested Nov. 4 with $25,000 bond, which he posted and has since been released.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will not confirm or deny if the children are still in the Reece’s care.

“Due to the ongoing nature of this investigation, we’re limited as to the information we can provide at this stage,” said TBI Public Information Officer Susan Niland.

The TBI began investigating Reece in September.

“During the course of the investigation, agents developed information that indicated the victim was a child in Reece’s care,” the TBI release states.

According to an article published in the Herald-Citizen in June, the Reece family has 11 children in their care — some are foster children while others were adopted by the family.