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Children at Risk: The Complex Case Surrounding an 8-Week-Old Infant with 19 Fractures

February 13, 2017 11:15 PM

Cindy and Landon Overby haven't seen or held their first and only child for more than one year.

The child has been considered a victim of child abuse for most of his young life.  

The investigation to learn what happened to him started when he was only 8 weeks old in May of 2015. His mother, Cindy, had brought her newborn to the emergency department at St. Paul's Children's Hospital due to nasal congestion, according to court documents.

However, x-rays taken that day revealed something much worse.

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Doctors found 19 fractures throughout the baby's 8-week-old body. Sixteen of them were on his ribs. He had two broken legs and evidence of a broken collarbone.

Doctors at the Midwest Children's Resource Center indicated the "injuries are most likely the result of inflicted trauma, and are non-accidental" and that the "rib fractures are clinically diagnostic of child abuse," according to documents in the case.
 
The boy's parents denied causing any injuries to their son and Ramsey County Child Protective Services began an investigation. The case to terminate the baby boy's parents rights went to court five months later.
   
By the October 2015 trial, the baby boy had been through a number of genetic tests. Judge Mark Ireland ruled the injuries were "not the result of a medical condition" and were instead "the result of intentional and egregious harm."

"This diagnosis and opinion was based, in part, on the fact that there was no other explanation given, such as a car accident or a fall, and that (the child) was an immobile infant at the time he sustained the fractures," Ireland wrote in his order.

However, since "the specific perpetrator of the injury (was) unknown," Judge Ireland ordered that the baby be placed in the foster care of his maternal grandparents and gave the boy's parents visitation. The county made the grandparents responsible for supervising those visits instead of putting its own, trained case workers in charge of keeping watch.

"In my mind, how can a child be safe if they are with someone who potentially was their abuser?" asked Dr. Lisa Hollensteiner. She sat on the Governor's Task Force on Child Protection and reviewed the case for 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

Hollensteiner didn't treat the child involved in this case, but she does treat child victims of abuse at Fairview Southdale's Emergency Department.

"I believe that probably the court thought that they were giving the parents a second chance but the parents weren't the victims in this situation," she said.  "I believe strongly that child protection advocated for the safety of this child in asking for termination of parental rights and I think the system still failed the child."

She blames the system failure on something that happened just about one week after the judge's ruling to investigate further. Cindy Overby had brought the baby back to the hospital after noticing a bump on his collarbone during a visitation with her son while he was in foster care with his maternal grandparents following the trial.

Doctors found yet another broken bone.
   
In public court documents, a case worker wrote the little boy "once again, has an abusive injury, which is unexplained."

The county highly suspected his parents "intentionally broke (their baby's) clavicle while (he) was placed in foster care ... to prove that (he) was also getting injuries while in foster care" and that the injuries "appeared to be intentional, planned out and calculated."

The director of Mitchell Hamline School of Law's Child Protection Program tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that the case worker drawing this kind of conclusion makes it seem as though the county may not have been open to any explanation other than parental abuse.

The Overbys again denied causing the injury and immediately lost their visitation rights.

In an affidavit, his mother wrote, "If I had ignored (the) bump, I would have been neglectful. However, in calling (his) injury to the attention of medical professionals, I have seemingly had my rights terminated with no due process."

Ramsey County Child Protective Services also later learned the grandparents weren't properly supervising those visits.  One reason why: no one can explain how the baby suffered a total of 20 broken bones.

"Someone should be there monitoring how the baby is reacting as the mom and dad intersects with the child and number two, monitoring that there's no ongoing injury," said Victor Vieth, founder of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State University.

Vieth is one of the nation's leading experts on child abuse.

Had the county been supervising visitation instead of allowing the maternal grandparents to monitor visits with the baby's parents, there may be an answer as to how this baby suffered such horrific injuries during his first few months of life.

Right now, there is not.

"As I read the judge's order, he did find egregious harm and he did indicate that he was on the cusp of termination of parental rights," said Vieth regarding the November 2015 judge's order.  "My gut feeling is, if they delayed it a little bit... maybe you could have that permanency bond."

Judge Mark Ireland didn't return any of our calls for comment and Ramsey County tells us they cannot offer any comment on a specific case.

Baby Overby turns two next month and is on track to be adopted by his paternal grandparents.

Experts tell 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS this permanent and familiar home setting is now the best case scenario for this child who has been trapped in the system nearly his entire life.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has learned the baby's adoption is scheduled to be finalized in March. Once the adoption with the baby's paternal grandparents is official, the county can close the case and the baby would be in the custody of his paternal grandparents. They would then decide how much time, if any, he can spend with his birth parents moving forward.

Cindy and Landon Overby continue their search to find another explanation behind their son's extensive injuries.
They denied our request for an interview so 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS instead relied on public documents to share their point of view.

In a statement, The Ramsey County Attorney's Office said at this time, "a criminal investigation against the child's parents remains ongoing and a case for charging consideration is currently under review."

However, it's been more than 20 months since this initial injuries were found, and to this day, no one can explain what exactly happened to Baby Overby in the first place.

 

Credits

Katherine Johnson

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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