STANTON — Two-year-old Brooklyn didn’t want to play with her toys.
According to court testimony, that’s why her mother’s boyfriend put the toddler in the bathroom for a timeout, which ended with an ambulance rushing to the home of the little girl who was barely clinging to life.
Samantha Slater, 26, appeared in 64B District Court on Tuesday afternoon for a preliminary examination to determine whether she should go to trial on first-degree and second-degree child abuse charges involving her daughter, Brooklyn.
Slater’s boyfriend, Benjamin Wilkins, 26, also appeared in court Tuesday to waive his right to a preliminary examination on the same charges.
Wilkins is currently considering an offer from the Montcalm County Prosecutor’s Office. If he pleads guilty to second-degree child abuse and being a habitual offender second offense, the first-degree child abuse charge would be dropped and he would face up to 15 years in prison, instead of the possible life sentence he and Slater are currently facing.
Wilkins seemed unsure about what to do Tuesday and kept shaking his head to himself as Judge Donald Hemingsen was asking him whether he wanted to waive his preliminary exam.
“I believe so,” Wilkins replied.
“You can’t believe so, it’s got to be a yes or a no,” Wilkins’ attorney Randy Norton told him.
After a long pause, Wilkins answered, “Yes.”
“Does your client have some hesitancy about doing this?” the judge asked Norton, who replied, “No.”
Wilkins continued murmuring to himself, including “Everything that’s been brought to light …”
Norton and Wilkins conferred again in whispers and Wilkins finally agreed to waive the preliminary exam.
“I’ll trust him,” Wilkins said of Norton, adding, “I hope you’re right about this.”
Wilkins will be arraigned in 8th Judicial Circuit Court at a later date while he considers whether to take the prosecutor’s offer or go to trial.
‘A significant amount of force’
Dr. N. Debra Simms, a child abuse specialist who works at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, was the lone witness in Slater’s preliminary exam Tuesday afternoon. Simms said Brooklyn remains in the intensive care unit at the children’s hospital with a vast array of life-threatening injuries, including intercranial hemorrhage, swelling of the brain, laceration to her liver from abdominal injuries, encapsulated bruising on her abdomen, lower chest and adrenal gland, injuries behind her eyes from swelling of the brain and bruising along her jaw line and lower back. Brooklyn is not breathing on her own.
Simms said “a significant amount of force” caused Brooklyn’s injuries. Slater became upset during this testimony and began weeping. She continued to weep throughout testimony while also taking notes next to her attorney, Monica Tissue-Daws.
According to Simms, Brooklyn’s brain swelling was so severe, doctors had to cut into her head and create a “bone window” for the swollen brain to push out of, so the swelling wouldn’t push into other areas of the little girl’s body.
Simms conducted a lengthy interview with Slater and Wilkins the day after Brooklyn was brought to the hospital to learn more about the child’s medical history. Simms said during the interview Slater was “incredibly distraught” to the point of crawling underneath a table and later becoming nauseous. Simms said Slater’s reaction was not like those of other parents who have had children with injuries, accidental or abusive.
“I’ve never had this type of reaction, never,” Simms said. “She was folded over and under the table and kept looking away. You could tell that she didn’t want to talk to me, that she didn’t want to deal with this. She kept turning away from me and toward Mr. Wilkins who was comforting her.”
According to Simms, Slater said Brooklyn was fine on March 23. Brooklyn was put to bed around 10 p.m. that night and Slater went to bed also. Simms said Wilkins told her he stayed up until about 3 a.m. and that Brooklyn got out of bed several times throughout the night, which Wilkins said was common for the child.
Simms said Slater said Brooklyn complained of a stomachache the morning of March 24, didn’t want to eat breakfast and vomited a little. Simms said Slater said Brooklyn had just a few bites of food for lunch, developed a fever and mostly laid around the house with Slater that day.
According to what Slater and Wilkins told Simms, Slater was sleeping sometime during the afternoon or evening of March 24. Wilkins told Simms that Brooklyn didn’t want to play with her toys, so Wilkins put Brooklyn in the bathroom for a 10-minute timeout with her face against the wall. Wilkins told Simms he heard a noise and went to check on Brooklyn, only to find her unresponsive on the bathroom floor. Wilkins said he attempted to revive Brooklyn by placing her in a bath of cold water, but she didn’t respond. Wilkins said he then woke up Slater.
Simms said Slater told her Brooklyn later began vomiting out of her mouth and nose and was “cold, unresponsive, but fine.” Simms said she didn’t understand why a child’s mother would think a child who was cold, unresponsive and vomiting was “fine.”
An odd series of calls
A series of telephone call recordings were played in court on Tuesday.
Wilkins called Spectrum Health United Hospital around 8:35 p.m. on March 24, saying his friend had jumped off a roof and was breathing, but unconscious. Wilkins asked what he should do. A nurse told him to hang up immediately and call 911. The nurse then called Montcalm County Central Dispatch to express her concern about the phone call.
Central Dispatch called Wilkins at 8:37 p.m. to ask about his phone call. Wilkins changed his story, saying his friend had not fallen off the roof, but that he and his friend had been wrestling and his friend got knocked out but was conscious now. However, Wilkins kept asking if there was anything he should do for his friend. Central Dispatch encouraged him to take his friend to the hospital.
At 9:02 p.m., Wilkins called Central Dispatch to request an ambulance for Brooklyn, who Wilkins said had been unresponsive for about 10 minutes. According to court documents, Wilkins later told police that he had put Brooklyn in the bathroom for a timeout at 7:50 p.m. and later found her unresponsive. He said he had fabricated previous stories because he did not want police or the Department of Human Services involved.
During Tuesday’s testimony, Simms said Wilkins told her Slater didn’t want him to call an ambulance.
Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause tried to prove a conspiracy between Slater and Wilkins, but Hemingsen denied this motion, saying the prosecution failed to prove this with testimony.
Krause then asked for a two-week continuance of the preliminary exam before Hemingsen decided whether Slater should go to trial or have the charges dismissed. Hemingsen agreed to adjourn the matter for another week. Slater’s preliminary exam will resume next Tuesday afternoon.
A related case is currently pending in Montcalm County Juvenile Court to determine whether Slater, Wilkins and Slater’s ex-husband Brent Slater should have their parental rights terminated.
Samantha Slater is out of jail on bond, while Wilkins remains in jail custody on a parole violation.
Brooklyn’s biological father is currently in prison. Attorney Tammi Shaw of Lakeview has been court-appointed as Brooklyn’s advocate.
History of abuse
The March 24 incident was not the first time Brooklyn was harmed.
The Department of Human Services received a referral on May 15, 2012, alleging physical abuse of Brooklyn, who was then 1 year old. According to court documents, Brooklyn had a left cheek bruise in a “classic slap mark” and bruising on her right cheek, forehead, above her right eye, behind her right ear and around her neck in the shape of thumb prints. She also had scratches on her neck, abrasions under her nose, blood pooled underneath the skin behind her right ear and black and blue swollen lips.
According to court documents, Slater told DHS officials she thought the bruises might be the result of an allergic reaction to medicine. She could not give DHS officials or police a consistent account of the previous day’s or night’s events.
Brooklyn was brought to DeVos Children’s Hospital for an examination. According to court documents, a doctor said “it looks like somebody smacked the hell out of her” and determined the injuries were a result of abuse. Brooklyn and her sister were removed from Slater’s home on May 17, 2012.
Brent and Samantha Slater were awarded joint custody of their two girls last June while going through divorce proceedings, with Brent Slater being awarded primary custody.
The Slaters were allowed shared custody of the girls in February after undergoing counseling sessions via Lutheran Child & Family Service and being contacted and communicated with numerous times by DHS officials since last May, according to court documents.
No one was ever charged with last year’s abuse of Brooklyn.