The Honolulu Police Department may reopen a criminal case involving the suspected assault of a toddler at a day care run by the wife of a Honolulu police officer in response to a Civil Beat story that uncovered serious flaws in the investigation.
On Wednesday, acting Police Chief Cary Okimoto told the Honolulu Police Commission that he ordered a full review of the case of Peyton Valiente, who had seizures for days and almost died. The review will determine whether the case can be prosecuted and find out if any of the officers involved should be disciplined.
“When I was looking at the article and reading the facts of the case I was very concerned,” Okimoto said. “I have serious concerns about this case, so much so that I ordered an administrative investigation regarding what happened. I want to look really hard at reopening the case to see if it’s salvageable.”
Okimoto said the department will also review other cases involving suspected child abuse to ensure that all department protocols and procedures are being followed. He said that the result of that review could be used to bolster future training for officers.
Okimioto did not provide any other details about the department’s response. But he is expected to provide the police commission with an update eventually.
Peyton’s mother, Chelsea Valiente, said she was pleased by the department’s actions but is waiting to see if they bear fruit.
“I’m glad we’ve finally got some action as far as possibly reopening the case,” she said. “But at the same time, I’m more interested to see what the outcome is.”
“Are they really going to do it?” she asked. “I’m skeptical. I’ve been told so many things in the last two years and there’s no good outcome yet. Until someone has been held accountable, I won’t be completely satisfied.”
One week ago, Civil Beat detailed Peyton’s case and the shortcomings of HPD’s investigation.
The toddler, then 17 months old, was fine when he was dropped off at an Ewa Beach day care run by Manuela Ramos, who is married to HPD Cpl. Mark Ramos, on the morning of Jan. 9, 2015. Her teenage children, Theresa and Markus, then 18 and 16, were also home at the time, but had no part in taking care of Peyton and three other children at the day care, according to statements Manuela and Theresa later made to HPD.
Shortly before 3 p.m., Ramos called Chelsea Valiente to say that Peyton, who had been lying on the ground near her, suddenly rolled to his side and became unresponsive, his legs and arms stiff. She later told police that Peyton had not fallen and that nothing unusual had occurred. Valiente told Ramos to call 911 right away and rushed to the house to meet the ambulance.
Medical examinations revealed that Peyton had sustained a large subdural hematoma, a dangerous build-up of blood on the brain. Surgeons cut out part of his skull to relieve pressure on his brain. The toddler also had bruises on his back suggestive of fingerprints, and extensive bleeding in his retinas. All of these injuries point to intentional abuse.
The state’s Child Welfare Services took away custody from Peyton’s parents, Chelsea and Rey Valiente, until a panel of child abuse experts exonerated them two weeks later. CWS pointed instead to the babysitter.
In a court filing, officials wrote that the state “will not confirm Physical Abuse by parents, Rey and Chelsea Valiente, and confirm Physical Abuse by baby-sitter, Manuela Ramos.”
HPD’s child abuse detail investigated the case and eventually submitted it to the the office of Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro, which declined to prosecute, saying the evidence did not point to any one suspect.
Civil Beat’s review found that HPD’s investigation fell well short of what’s recommended in such cases. Experts, for instance, say it’s important to separate those who were present as soon as possible and question them closely to identify any inconsistencies in their stories.
HPD’s child abuse detail did not interview the three people who had access to Peyton, Ramos and her two teenage children, until months later.
In the case of Ramos’ son, Markus, police delayed an interview for weeks so he could finish up the school year and attend a baseball tournament on the mainland.
The police report provided to Civil Beat did not indicate that detectives tried to interview the three other children who were present, ages 9, 6 and 3. Experts say that interviews with even very young children, conducted properly, can turn up valuable information. It’s also unclear whether the other children were screened for abuse, as recommended by a panel of child abuse professionals that reviewed Peyton’s case.
Likewise, the report does not mention any assessment of the scene, also considered a crucial step.
In addition, Chelsea Valiente told Civil Beat that the day after Peyton was injured, an HPD detective interviewing her in the hospital took a call from Mark and Manuela Ramos. The detective told his HPD colleague that his wife shouldn’t worry, that the investigation was just protocol, Valiente recalls.
The article generated widespread outrage and led two state lawmakers — Sen. Will Espero and Rep. Matt LoPresti — to contact various agencies to see what more could be done. They were told that one possibility was for Kaneshiro to convene an investigative grand jury. Also, the prosecutor could ask state Attorney General Douglas Chin to do a new investigation.
The lawmakers were also told that the agreement between the city and the police union only allows an administrative investigation of a complaint against an officer for one year after an incident. Both Espero and LoPresti said this provision should be revisited in a renegotiated contract.
It was unclear Wednesday how this provision would play out in the new administrative review ordered by Okimoto.
HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu told Civil Beat that the department must comply with the provision of the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
“The statute of limitations prohibits the department from taking disciplinary action,” Yu said. “But it does not prohibit the department from conducting an inquiry to see if changes in department procedures should be made.”
Criminal cases against officers are not subject to the one-year limit for administrative investigations.
After extensive medical treatment and therapy, Peyton is now a lively 3-year-old. But his parents have been told that the long-term consequences are uncertain, and that he may be unusually susceptible to seizures. In January, they filed a civil lawsuit against Manuela and Mark Ramos.