PASCO — A Pasco father has been charged with shaking his 3-month-old daughter so severely that the baby may have permanent vision loss and other long-term damage.
Miguel Garza II, 27, initially claimed the girl stopped breathing after choking on milk, then told doctors he accidentally dropped a bottle on her face and she had gone limp, according to court documents.
But doctors who examined the nearly comatose baby in October said her brain injury was the result of "inflicted head trauma," or shaken baby syndrome.
The baby survived and reportedly is living with a foster parent while continuing treatment, in-cluding a feeding tube surgically inserted into her stomach.
Garza is charged in Benton County Superior Court with first-degree assault of a child. He has been out of custody while Kennewick police investigated, and has been sent a letter to appear in court Feb. 24 to enter a plea.
His is one of two cases filed in Benton County in the last week involving allegations of significant child abuse.
Nathaniel Duane Smith, 33, is expected in court Thursday on charges that over the past few years he has punished a pre-teen girl in his household by forcing her to stay awake for 24 hours, slammed her against walls and into the ground and punched her in the face. The girl's injuries reportedly included bruises, black eyes and a broken arm.
Smith, of Kennewick, is in the Benton County jail on $10,000 bail for second-degree assault of a child, along with a failure to comply.
In Garza's case, police and paramedics were called to a Kennewick home Oct. 19 for reports of a baby not breathing. Garza was alone with the baby.
Officer Drew Sneyd was the first to arrive and "administered multiple palm strikes to the baby's back and she then began making gurgling noises," Deputy Prosecutor Kristin McRoberts wrote in the court documents.
Garza told Sneyd he had given the baby a bottle while she was lying on the bed and she started choking. The girl's mother later told police her daughter had been born several weeks premature but otherwise had been healthy.
At Kennewick General Hospital, Garza allegedly told a doctor his daughter went limp after he accidentally dropped a bottle on her face, and suggested that was why her lips were swollen. The doctor, however, told police the injuries were not consistent with that explanation.
The baby was flown to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane after tests revealed she had bleeding on the brain.
Kennewick police again talked to Garza. In a recorded statement, he said he had forgotten to warm up the milk so the baby began crying while he was feeding her. He said he removed the bottle from her mouth to warm it up and it dropped on her face.
He said he warmed the bottle in the kitchen and returned to the bedroom to find the baby still crying.
Garza "stated that he put the bottle in the baby's mouth, and while she was drinking, she continued crying and then started to choke," documents said. "He patted her back and she started vomiting milk out of her mouth and nose. She then went completely limp and he shook her for a second to see if she was OK."
Garza said he then called 911.
Doctors who examined the baby in Spokane diagnosed her with a head injury, noted her swollen lips and bruising on her right eye and put her on a ventilator. An ophthalmologist found the eye "extremely worrisome because the baby was at risk for permanent limitation of vision and retinal scarring," court documents said.
Another doctor described her brain injury as "widespread and severe" and was concerned she might not survive.
The baby was moved to Oregon Health and Science University Hospital in Portland on Nov. 4, where doctors confirmed bleeding on her brain and in her retinas, and discovered she had an inflamed trachea and seizures. After surgery on her eyes, the baby was described as having a poor visual prognosis. A neurosurgeon also inserted a shunt into the baby's brain.
She was released to a foster parent Nov. 12, documents said.
Detectives repeatedly interviewed Garza. He allegedly said he may have shaken his daughter for as long as 10 seconds, and described holding her head with the bottle in her mouth so she couldn't turn away.
Garza allowed investigators to record a video while he re-enacted his story. The video was shown to one of the Spokane doctors who worked on the baby, and the doctor said Garza's actions as he claimed could not have caused the brain injury, documents said. The doctor noted there was no damage to the little girl's lung as would be expected if she had choked on milk.
In Smith's case, Kennewick officers went to his South Arthur Place home Feb. 4 to do a welfare check on the pre-teen girl. It is not clear what her relationship is to Smith.
Police found her with two black eyes, a swollen face, scratches on her neck and bruises on her arms and elbows, court documents said. Officers questioned her and learned Smith allegedly had disciplined her the previous night "by forcing her to stay awake for 24 hours. Sleep deprivation is a common form of punishment for her."
The girl told police she was forced to clean the house, and when she fell asleep on the couch, Smith woke her up by pulling on her shirt and slamming her back on the couch.
Prosecutors also allege Smith trashed the girl's room and made her clean it up. When she was fixing the bed frame, he slammed the boxspring into her spine, pushed her up against the wall and punched and slapped her on the face multiple times, Deputy Prosecutor Anita Petra wrote in court documents.
"Throughout her interview, she appeared to be very frightened of (Smith) and began crying during description of the various incidents," Petra wrote.
The girl recounted stories of being punished in the backyard and thrown to the ground, one time breaking her arm in 2009 when she tried to break her fall. She said Smith didn't believe her arm was broken and made her get into a pushup position but she was unable to, court documents said.
The girl said she went to a hospital and told the doctor she had hurt it playing football with her brother, documents said. Police got copies of the medical reports confirming her story.