The Honolulu Police Department admitted Wednesday it botched the case of a toddler who almost died from apparent abuse at an Ewa Beach day care, but said it was highly unlikely that anyone will ever be brought to justice for the crime.
Acting Police Chief Cary Okimoto told the Honolulu Police Commission that the investigation into the assault of Peyton Valiente, then 17 months old, took too long. Now, he said, witnesses and potential suspects have secured lawyers, making it difficult to get to the bottom of what occurred at the day care run by Manuela Ramos, who is married to HPD Cpl. Mark Ramos.
“It kind of makes me sad, because I know if it was my child, I’d be upset,” Okimoto told the commissioners.
HPD Assistant Chief Richard Robinson said the case is old enough that witnesses are no longer coming forward.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a positive outcome in this investigation,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to obtain enough proof for prosecution. …
“We are going to try every possible option, but I do not want to give anyone false hope. It’s going to be an extremely difficult case.”
Pressed by commissioners, Robinson said an investigative grand jury convened by Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro could compel witnesses and suspects to testify.
Chuck Parker, a spokesman for Kaneshiro, declined to comment on the possibility of a grand jury, but added, “A reinvestigation has not been presented to this office. We have not been presented with any new evidence.”
In emotional testimony, Chelsea Valiente, Peyton’s mother, admonished the HPD to keep pushing.
“There’s always something else that can be done,” she said. “You’re saying that the case is still open. Then please, do not tell us that it doesn’t look good and there’s nothing else that can be done about it.”
Noting that Okimoto said he was “disappointed,” Valiente continued, “So are we, more than you can imagine, because we don’t have answers to this day and we may never have answers. And I’m not too sure how many of you are parents here, but to know that my son will never be the same, and have no answers for when he grows up and asks me, ‘Mommy, how did I get this scar?’ I have no answers to give him.”
Valiente also questioned why no officials contacted the parents of other children at the day care, as reported by Civil Beat on Wednesday. She pointed out that she contacted the detective handling the case and state officials who oversee child care to ask them to do so.
“Everyone raised up their hand and said, ‘This is not my job.’ So who’s job is it?”
Peyton was injured Jan. 9, 2015, on his third day under Ramos’ care. Shortly before 3 p.m., Ramos called Valiente to report that Peyton had become unresponsive. She said he had been lying on the ground near her when he rolled to his side and his limbs became stiff.
At the hospital, part of his skull was cut out to relieve pressure on his brain from a large subdural hematoma, a dangerous build-up of blood. He suffered seizures for several days. He also sustained bleeding in his retinas and finger-shaped bruises on his back, all classic signs of intentional abuse.
Peyton is doing well now, but the long-term prognosis is uncertain. Doctors have told the Valientes he may be susceptible to further seizures.
Several aspects of the investigation fell short of recommended protocols, experts told Civil Beat. Manuela Ramos and her two teenage children, who were both present when Peyton was hurt, were not interviewed by the HPD child abuse detail for several months. Experts say all of those present when a child is abused should be separated and interviewed to detect inconsistencies in their stories as soon as possible, preferably within a day.
Other children at the day care were not interviewed, despite the fact that even very young children can provide valuable information. And despite a recommendation from a panel of child abuse experts, HPD and other authorities never screened the other children for signs of abuse. In addition, the police report does not indicate that police ever examined the scene of the assault.
Okimoto did announce on Wednesday that a review of other child abuse cases in the past three years has led the department to reopen three cases that merit further investigation.
HPD did not provide further details on the three cases that it will reinvestigate, except to say that two were from 2014 and one from 2015.
The department also has been reviewing its procedures in such cases.
“We really don’t want this to ever happen again,” Okimoto said.
HPD plans to update the commission on the case at its next meeting.