Lake Mills daycare provider on to trial
JEFFERSON — A 30-year-old Lake Mills daycare provider has pleaded not guilty to child abuse.
Amanda J. McGowan is charged with one count of child abuse-recklessly causing harm to a child who was in her care.
In March, a then-four-month-old infant for whom McGowan was caring sustained head trauma from an unknown incident. Injuries included a subdural hematoma, bifrontal hemorrhage, bruising on the head, bruising on the right arm in two locations and retinal hemorrhages.
McGowan told authorities that she lost her balance and fell down the stairs into the basement while carrying the infant. Based on medical analysis, the injuries sustained by the child did not match her description of the alleged incident.
Appearing Tuesday for a preliminary hearing before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Randy Koschnick, McGowan entered a not-guilty plea to the charge and was bound over for trial. She faces a maximum sentence of a year-and-a-half in prison and two years on extended supervision if convicted.
McGowan’s next court appearance is a status conference on Thursday, Jan. 26.
During the hearing Tuesday, Lake Mills Police Department Officer Jessica Johnson testified about the details of the case, and that was sufficient for Koschnick to bind McGowan over for trial.
According to court records, Lake Mills police were dispatched to respond to a call to assist Lake Mills EMS on a report that a four-month-old child was injured at 7:31 a.m. on March 14, 2016.
Johnson was not the first officer on the scene, but she was actively involved in the investigation. She spoke with McGowan on two consecutive days following the incident, as well as few other times by telephone.
At the time of the alleged fall, she said, McGowan had called 911, as well as the parents of the infant.
McGowan offered her description of the alleged incident in which the child was injured.
Johnson said the defendant stated that her cat was bothering her beneath her feet so she went downstairs to make sure the cat had been fed that morning. McGowan reportedly indicated that she slipped down the stairs as she turned around because her young son was trying to walk down the stairs holding onto the rail.
“She transfered holding the infant and turned around and that’s when her feet slipped out from underneath her and she fell backward and tried to overcorrect stumbling forward, striking her head on the drywall and then doing a side-somersault down to the end,” the officer said.
Johnson described the steps as being concrete, but carpeted. She also described the stairs as having a wood trim along the edges surrounded by drywall.
She said no markings were observed on the drywall where McGowan allegedly struck her head.
The officer said McGowan indicated that she held onto the child during the extent of the fall.
Johnson said that the daycare provider offered differing accounts of the incident with discrepancies noted during each interview in the days following the incident.
First, she said, McGowan suggested the child had suffered kind of a whiplash effect.
“Then she said he had struck his head on the wood portion (trim) next to the carpet,” Johnson said.
There was no indication from McGowan that the child had struck his head on any other section of the stairs.
Also, the officer testified that McGowan was not 100-percent sure if the child lost consciousness due to the fall.
“In one instance, she told me he was unconscious and that’s when she started rubbing his back, taking him upstairs and started chest compressions. The other time she did say he was crying,” Johnson said.
Johnson reviewed her recollection of the injuries to the child described in the reports from Fort Memorial Hospital and UW Hospital. She said he had subdural hematoma or bruising on the brain. Continuing, she said the child had retinal hemorrhaging, which is blood in the eyes.
Johnson noted that the examinations also found bruising on both of his arms and a bruise on the interior of one of his ears and on the side of his head.
“Ultimately, the conclusion was that the injuries did not match the story given by the caregiver and it was nonaccidental head trauma,” the officer said.
Another doctor from the Department of Pediatrics of the UW School of Medicine was asked to review the police and medical records and video re-enactment. Johnson said that doctor also concluded that the injuries sustained by the child were consistent with nonaccidental, abusive head trauma and not with the alleged description of the incident by McGowan.
Upon learning the extent of the injuries alleged by the physicians, McGowan declined to speak with authorities on a third occasion.
“Her response was something like he was fine and she had gotten a message from the mom that he was doing much better,” Johnson said.
McGowan herself reportedly refused any medical treatment. Johnson noted that she observed no visible signs of injury during an examination of the daycare provider.
“She had a couple of discrepancies; she told me she landed on her knees rather than on her back, as she told us during the initial interviews,” Johnson said while discussing the two in-person sessions at McGowan’s home.
McGowan complained about neck and back pain for a few days after and also referenced suffering a migraine headache on one of the days when investigators stopped by.
Johnson testified that as part of the investigation, other members of McGowan’s family, including her daughter, were interviewed.
Based on her review of the reports of that interview, the officer said, McGowan’s daughter indicated that the infant was very fussy and was crying that morning and that her mother (McGowan) felt “overwhelmed.”
McGowan had been caring for the child for approximately two months. During one of the interviews with Johnson, McGowan reportedly described the child as being a “great” baby that was always laughing and talking.
“She had not had any problems with him being fussy,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the parents of the child were not aware of the child suffering from any trauma at the time they dropped him off at the house. Both of the child’s parents were questioned and neither had any concerns about how each other handled the child.
The officer testified that McGowan acknowledged a previous time where the child had been hurt. The daycare provider reportedly said another child had thrown a toy plastic hammer at the infant, causing a bruise on his jawline.
Johnson could not testify to the date on which the second incident occurred, only that McGowan had told her about it and then the child’s mother confirmed the story.
McGowan remains free on a $10,000 signature bond.
As conditions of her release, she is not to have contact with the injured child or his parents. In addition, McGowan is not to provide childcare for any child other than her biological children.
The exception to the latter condition is that McGowan will be allowed to care for her fiancé’s four-year-old son. However, per a related family court ruling, she is not allowed to be alone with him.