Battle Creek stepmother charged with
Child Abuse of twin girls
BATTLE CREEK, MI – A Battle Creek stepmother is facing up to life in prison if convicted of child abuse of twin sisters.
Ashley Swartout, 25, was arraigned Thursday in Calhoun County District Court on one count of first-degree child abuse and one count of second-degree child abuse.
She faces up to life in prison on the first-degree charge and 10 years in prison on the second-degree charge.
Swartout was arrested Monday after Battle Creek police obtained a warrant following an investigation which began Dec. 16.
Police said Swartout and her husband, Nathaniel Callahan, 28, the father of the twin seven-year-old girls, brought one of the children to Bronson Battle Creek hospital at 9:49 p.m. Dec. 16 for treatment.
Doctors notified police after finding severe bruising and swelling to both sides of the girl’s face as well as bruises on her arms, front and back of her torso and a bloody lower lip.
The girl said her stepmother was angry because the child was not doing her chores and grabbed her by the hair and banged her head against the walls and floor. The girl said the woman also twisted her arm behind her back and told the girl she would break it.
Swartout told police she has seizures and does not recall the incident. She said she remembers being angry at the girl about homework and chores but blacked out and remembers nothing until she was on the bathroom floor and her husband was over her.
Callahan told police his wife has a long history of seizures and doctors have been unable to diagnose the cause. She is not able to have a driver’s license because of the condition.
However the girl said her stepmother was talking to her when the reported assault first began and then had a seizure and began to throw up.
Callahan came home from work and both he and Swarthout took the girl to the hospital.
North Texas hotels ignore sex trafficking,
exploitation of children, lawsuit says
Three national hotel chains are accused of being complicit in sex trafficking at hotels across the country including various ones in North Texas, according to a federal lawsuit filed in Dallas this week.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a woman identified as F.M. who says she was sexually exploited at North Texas hotels beginning when she was 4 years old. The woman is now in her 20s and lives in Tarrant County.
The lawsuit, filed by Houston-based Lanier Law Firm on Monday, includes Best Western, Hyatt and Red Lion hotels, and says that the companies ignored criminal activity occurring on their property and failed to protect victims of sex trafficking from exploitation.
“The hotel industry plays a crucial role in the sex trade,” said Lanier Law Firm founder Mark Lanier in a statement released Wednesday. “For too long, the industry has profited by looking the other way when sex trafficking has been happening right in front of them. We’re filing this lawsuit to get some justice for victims and to let these businesses know that their lack of action is unacceptable.”
In a statement Wednesday, BWH Hotel Group said, “Best Western International, Inc. condemns human trafficking. It is a despicable crime and the criminals who intentionally inflict this suffering on their victims should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Best Western supports the industry’s efforts to raise awareness and fight against this inhumane and horrific crime.
“While Best Western branded hotels are independently owned and operated, we require that each member hotel complies with all laws and treats all hotel guests consistent with our core values of integrity, honesty, and respect for others’ dignity,” the statement continued. “We provide information and training resources to member hotels on this serious issue such that hotels can educate their staff about how to recognize and report instances of trafficking.”
Officials at Red Lion and Hyatt could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
The suit specifically names Best Western Plus DFW Airport Suites, Hyatt House Dallas/Frisco, Best Western Irving Inn & Suites at DFW Airport, and the America’s Best Value Inn Irving/Dallas.
Sex trafficking generates an estimated $99 billion each year, making it the second-largest illicit crime industry behind the sale of illegal drugs, according to the lawsuit. More than 60 percent of sex trafficking offenses occur in hotels, while eight out of 10 arrests for human trafficking occur in or around hotels, the lawsuit says.
VICTIM SAYS SHE WAS DRUGGED AND ASSAULTED FOR YEARS
In the lawsuit, F.M. gave this account of being exploited:
Her father, to sustain his drug addiction, sold her to traffickers in Irving for sex when she was 4.
She was given unidentified pills by her trafficker on average to five to 10 times each day, according to the lawsuit. Her traffickers would tie her and other children up and place them blindfolded in the back of a van.
When they arrived at a hotel, a hotel bellmen would be there to meet them and send them to assigned hotel rooms where buyers would be waiting for them, the lawsuit stated.
F.M. was bound, blindfolded and sent to rooms where “johns” were awaiting her and other children. She was then tied to a bed and sexually assaulted, according to the lawsuit.
From age 4 to 18, F.M. was trafficked to buyers for sex and abuse at the Best Western Plus DFW Airport Suites, the Best Western Irving Inn & Suites at DFW Airport in Irving and the Hyatt House Dallas/Frisco in Frisco, she said in the suit.
By the age of 20, F.M. was in the possession of her third trafficker and being trafficked at America’s Best Value Inn Irving/Dallas in Irving, the suit says.
She was advertised on Craigslist.com
At the age of 20, F.M. was hospitalized and could not work. Her trafficker punished her 2-year-old son by raping the child while F.M. watched, according to the lawsuit.
Her trafficker controlled her by making her dependent on methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.
A number of nationwide campaigns recognized trafficking in the hotel industry and several hotel companies took initiative to combat the problem, but the lawsuit says Best Western, Hyatt and Red Lion have repeatedly failed to thwart sexual exploitation at their hotels.
The lawsuit listed some indicators of sex trafficking at a hotel. They include:
An excess of condoms in rooms.
Individuals carrying large amounts of cash.
Renting two rooms next door to each other.
Declining room service for several hours.
Men traveling with multiple women who appear unrelated.
Guests checking in with little or no luggage.
Women known to be staying in rooms without leaving.
Hotel guests who prevent another individual from speaking for themselves.
The lawsuit listed more than 20 incidents of arrests and rescues of people and children in sex trafficking or exploitation cases at hotels operated by Red Lion, Hyatt and Best Western.
SHALER TOWNSHIP, PA – A Shaler Township mother is facing felony charges for allegedly abusing her child in “one of the most violent cases” Children’s Hospital doctors have seen.
Katie Easley is now facing charges alongside father Jamie Easley for the alleged abuse of their newborn daughter, who was admitted to UPMC Children’s Hospital with severe injuries in September.
According to police, the 4-week-old girl was taken to Children’s Hospital after her primary care doctor found multiple bruises on her face and abdomen.
The child’s mother allegedly told the doctor the little girl had not eaten in nearly two days.
At the hospital, doctors found the girl had skull fractures, subdural hemorrhages, 19 rib fractures and other fractures to her left arm and her legs. She was admitted in critical condition to the hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
According to the criminal complaint, Jamie told investigators during a police interview that the baby’s older sibling pulled her off a bed. However, doctors said a fall from a bed would not cause the kind of injuries she had.
Police say Jamie later told them he grabbed the baby girl by the arm while she was crying, held her up, squeezed her and gave her “a quick shake.” Soon after, the baby stopped crying.
Now, police are charging Katie with a felony endangering the welfare of children. The criminal complaint accuses Katie of not taking her critically injured baby to the hospital until the 31-day-old newborn stopped eating all together.
It also says detectives later searched Katie’s phone history and allegedly found Google searches from earlier in the month including “bruising on baby” and “why isn’t my baby eating?”
Police say Children’s Hospital doctors said “given the age of the victim, it was one of the most violent cases of child abuse they have seen, bone in arm completely snapped in half, and the worst rib fractures they have seen.”
KDKA’s Meghan Schiller reports charges against Jamie still stand. Katie was released on non-monetary bond and is slated to go before the judge for her preliminary hearing on Dec. 19.
Ashford man in custody following
Child Abuse investigation
DANIELSON, CT – A man is facing several charges after an investigation into his suspected abuse of a seven-month-old female child.
The investigation led to the arrest of 37-year-old Joseph Mullikin, of Ashford on a warrant Tuesday.
State Police say the child was being treated at Connecticut Children’s back in September, when physicians reported to DCF that the child had suspicious injuries they believed were indicative of abuse or neglect.
According to a release, the seven-month-old has bruises on both sides of her face, eyes and eyelids. The bruising also extended to her ears.
After a lengthy investigation, State Police were granted a warrant charging Mullikin with 1st degree Assault, 2nd degree Strangulation/Suffication and Risk of Injury.
Mullikin was held on $200,000 bond and is due in Danielson court Wednesday.
Texas lawmakers want to protect families wrongly accused of Child Abuse
In response to an NBC News investigation, lawmakers want families to be allowed a second medical opinion before a child is taken from a home.
HOUSTON, TX – Texas lawmakers are calling for stronger safeguards in the state’s child welfare system after an NBC News and Houston Chronicle investigation found children had been taken from their parents based on disputed medical opinions from doctors trained to spot child abuse.
The reporting showed that child welfare workers removed some children from homes after receiving reports from state-funded child abuse pediatricians that were later called into question, leading to traumatic family separations and months-long legal fights.
Rep. James Frank, chairman of the Texas House of Representatives committee that oversees the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, said the investigation exposed serious problems.
“I’m very concerned with the premature, unnecessary removal of children, and I think it happens a lot more than people in Texas understand,” said Frank, a Republican from northern Texas.
Frank said he plans to call for a series of legislative hearings in the coming months to explore potential improvements. Some legislators have suggested creating a way for courts, child welfare workers or accused families to request a second medical opinion before the state removes a child from a home.
Texas provides $5 million in grants each year — including $2.5 million from the agency that oversees Child Protective Services — to support the work of child abuse pediatricians, a small but growing subspecialty of doctors who examine children who come into hospitals with suspicious injuries. The Texas grants deputize some of the doctors to review cases on behalf of child welfare investigators, who then rely on their reports when deciding whether to remove children from parents.
Frank acknowledged that these state-supported physicians have a difficult job and that they play a critical role in protecting abused children, likely saving lives. But he said he’s heard from numerous parents in recent years whose children were removed by Child Protective Services based primarily on a report from a child abuse pediatrician and despite contradictory opinions from other doctors.
In those cases, Frank said he thinks child welfare workers are sometimes too deferential to agency-funded abuse doctors and fail to complete a thorough investigation before taking children.
“In most cases, the doctors aren’t saying ‘This is child abuse,’” Frank said. “They’re saying that they are concerned that it’s child abuse. And so I don’t know there are enough checks and balances to make sure that we have confirmed that it really is child abuse.”
Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., a Houston Democrat and lawyer who has represented a mother who says she was wrongly accused by a child abuse pediatrician, said he has begun discussions with Frank to figure out potential improvements.
“We haven’t come up with anything yet, but we’re working towards it,” he said. “One of the things that needs to happen is we need to better define when CPS should remove children. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”
In a statement, Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services, said the agency relies on the expertise of child abuse pediatricians when its caseworkers and other medical specialists are unable to determine if a serious injury is a result of abuse.
“We believe this process has worked well to detect abuse in complex cases and has protected children,” Crimmins said. “But any process — particularly one with the lives of children and their families at stake — can be improved, and we want to work with legislators and stakeholders to do just that.”
In interviews, leading child abuse pediatricians said they are careful to rule out underlying medical conditions and accidental causes before issuing their opinions. The doctors acknowledged that a mistaken child abuse diagnosis can result in a child being taken from caring parents. But overlooking warning signs, they said, could lead to a child being left in a dangerous home, with potentially fatal consequences.
To state Rep. Gene Wu, the issues raised by the NBC News and Chronicle reporting were familiar. Wu, a Houston Democrat and lawyer, sometimes handles cases involving Child Protective Services and allegations of abuse.
“I have personally dealt with a couple of cases … where you had day-to-day physicians who said, ‘This is a typical type of bone break that is common in children of this age because they’re learning to walk,’” Wu said. “Then the case gets looked at by the child abuse expert and they say it might be child abuse, and then everyone sort of freaks out.”
In those instances, Wu said, “CPS is sort of caught in this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation.”
Child abuse pediatricians are trained not only to identify abuse, but to identify medical conditions that can mimic abuse. The doctors say they rule out or fail to confirm abuse more times than not.
But Wu said when medical specialists are focused on finding and preventing child abuse, it’s natural that some run-of-the-mill injuries may appear more sinister.
“If you’re a hammer, then everything is a nail,” Wu said.
In many cases, the only doctor consulted by Child Protective Services and called to testify in court is the child abuse expert who initially flagged the concerns, in part because many families do not have the money to hire seasoned lawyers or outside medical experts.
To address that, Frank and other lawmakers have suggested requiring Child Protective Services to seek additional medical opinions in some instances before removing children. Another fix, Wu said, might be to create a mechanism for courts across the state to bring in independent experts to evaluate medically complex cases and offer a second opinion.
“We could create a pot of money that courts could dip into,” he said. “One party could make a motion to the judge to request an independent expert, and the state could have a list of medical experts to take a look at it.”
There are no “easy solutions,” he cautioned.
“I’ve described the CPS system as a very finely balanced seesaw,” Wu said, “and if you tip it too much you’re going to take kids away from good parents, and if you tip it the other way, you’re going to have dead kids. … Whatever we do, we need to make sure that this policy solution doesn’t tip the balance.