Child Abuse: Documented, substantiated, so why not prosecuted?

Photos of the injuries to Raleigh Becker (Source: Becker family)
Photos of the injuries to Raleigh Becker (Source: Becker family)
Jason Becker
Jason Becker
Christy Becker
Christy Becker
Ed Vaughn
Ed Vaughn

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – "I got a call from Raleigh's babysitter saying she woke up from her nap and her head was swollen," said Christy Becker, Raleigh's mother.

Becker said she had no reason to ever suspect abuse at the sitter's house. The registered nurse knew something was very wrong at the hospital, before the injuries got worse.

"I noticed behind her ear there is a classic, what they call 'battle sign,' which is bruising behind the ear, an indication of head trauma," Becker said.

The pediatric forensics report, signed by the director of UofL pediatrics and a certified child abuse pediatrician, called it a "well recognized form of injury in child maltreatment," and concluded the "timing of the injury was more likely to have occurred while Raleigh was at the babysitter's home."

They also found a "healing radius fracture" that "raises our concern for her safety."

And it was their "firm recommendation that the parents of the other children (cared for by the same sitter) are notified of potential risk for other children."

"Blunt force trauma to the side of the head with either the back of a fist or she got thrown up against something very hard," Becker said.

The Child Protective Services investigation of what it called an "illegal daycare" concluded "child physical abuse and neglect - substantiated - against Raleigh's caretakers."

But the Beckers then learned that while a child abuse case may be documented, and substantiated, it might not get prosecuted. The Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office refused to pursue the case. The prosecutor who made the decision refused to explain why.

"We've just been told, 'Sorry, we can't prove it,' so there she is trying to get her daycare going," said Becker.

The couple who live there are appealing the abuse substantiation. This reporter repeatedly tried to talk to them, but they refused to answer the door. A man at the residence who identified himself as a relative said nothing happened. He was there that morning. He believes the child came there that way.

"I was just very alarmed that a two-year-old could be assaulted, beaten that badly, have these head injuries, black eyes, broken arm, and no one prosecuted that," said former child abuse investigator Ed Vaughn. "I think it's more evidence than you typically have."

Vaughn helped prepare abuse cases for prosecution and examined the findings in this case.

"Imagine you and I and a two-year-old victim in this room, and we can beat the tar out of that child and neither one of us can be prosecuted for it?" Vaughn said. "I find that to be very alarming."

"What we've learned is, you can abuse a child," said Raleigh's father Jason Becker. "As long as they can't say it was you, then you can get away with it. And that's wrong."

The chief medical director of UofL pediatrics said that based on her experience, only a "small minority" of child abuse cases ever get charged or prosecuted in many Kentucky counties.

"She said, 'You know, I see hundreds of cases like this a year. But this is only the second time I've been to court this year.' She said these cases never get prosecuted," said Becker.

WAVE 3 requested any information the Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office could provide on the number of child abuse cases it pursues each year and how many it doesn't try to prosecute. This reporter was told the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office doesn't track those numbers.

Anyone who believes a child is being abused or neglected should call Child Protective Services. In Indiana, the number to call is 800-800-5556.  In Kentucky, the number is 877-KYSAFE1 (8077-597-2331). Kentucky also has a new monitored, confidential and convenient website to report the abuse of a child or an adult. Click here for the Kentucky Child/Adult Protective Services Reporting System.

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