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Two Hawaii state legislators say they plan to seek answers and perhaps push for reopening the case of a Honolulu toddler whose near-fatal assault never resulted in criminal charges, as detailed in a Civil Beat story on Wednesday.
Rep. Matt LoPresti, whose district includes Ewa Beach, where the assault apparently occurred, wrote a letter Wednesday to state Attorney General Douglas Chin asking him to reopen the case of 17-month-old Peyton Valiente.
LoPresti said he also wants to speak to the Honolulu Police Department major in the precinct where Peyton was injured “to explain his department’s actions or inactions.”
Sen. Will Espero said he also would like to talk to the attorney general about the case. On Wednesday, he brought it to the attention of the Honolulu Police Commission and the Honolulu City Council. He said he may discuss it with Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro, whose office declined to press charges.
The Civil Beat story described how 17-month-old Peyton Valiente was rushed to the hospital in early 2015 after suffering seizures, apparently from injuries he suffered at an Ewa Beach day care operated by Manuela Ramos, whose husband, Mark Ramos, is a corporal in the Honolulu Police Department. The three people with access to the child during that time were Manuela Ramos and her two teenage children, Theresa and Markus, then 18 and 16.
Peyton sustained a subdural hematoma, a dangerous build-up of blood on the brain, as well as bruises suggestive of hand prints on his back and bleeding in his retinas, a pattern that child abuse professionals say indicates assault. After extensive medical treatment, Peyton, now 3, is doing well but may face future challenges, such as a susceptibility to seizures.
A panel of child abuse analysts exonerated Peyton’s parents, Rey and Chelsea Valiente, and concluded that the abuse had occurred at the day care.
State Child Welfare Services officials wrote that they “will not confirm Physical Abuse by parents, Rey and Chelsea Valiente, and confirm Physical Abuse by baby-sitter, Manuela Ramos.”
HPD investigated the case as a first-degree assault, but the three who were present said they saw nothing that would explain the toddler’s injuries. Kaneshiro’s office eventually declined to take the case, saying the admissible evidence did not pinpoint any one suspect.
A Civil Beat review of the HPD investigation found that it failed to employ techniques thought by experts to be the best practices for identifying a suspect. Detectives from HPD’s child and family violence detail did not interview the three people with access to Peyton until several months later. Experts say it’s important to separate those who were present as quickly as possible and to interview them extensively, looking for inconsistencies in their stories.
“One would think with a thorough, properly done investigation, they might have figured it out.” — State Sen. Will Espero
Likewise, the police report provided to Civil Beat does not indicate that HPD spoke to three other children, ages 9, 6 and 3, who were present at the time. Experts say that even very young children, interviewed by trained professionals, can help determine what happened.
The police report does not show that detectives examined the scene of the assault. One expert also told Civil Beat that the fact that one of those targeted by the investigation was a family member of a police officer raised questions about a conflict that might have led the department to seek an outside agency to take over the case.
“It appears the investigation may have been impacted by the fact that this was a police officer’s wife,” Espero said. “Because of the person involved, there might have been shortcuts.”
Espero said HPD “probably should have brought in” an outside agency to investigate.
“At the end of the day, it appears like it could have been one of the three,” he said, referring to Manuela Ramos and her two teenage children. “One would think with a thorough, properly done investigation, they might have figured it out.”
In his letter to Chin, LoPresti wrote, “the investigation as described by the article was, in my opinion, lacking in that police did not interview key witnesses in a timely manner, if at all, and the scene of the alleged crime was not examined. It is also noteworthy that the husband of the baby-sitter is a Honolulu police officer.”
The attorney general’s office can investigate local crimes if it makes a request and gets consent from the county police chief, spokesman Joshua Wisch said. Local police departments also can request that the attorney general’s office take over a case.
LoPresti urged Chin to reopen the case “and seek justice for Peyton Valiente and his parents.”