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Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin is reviewing the 2015 assault of a toddler at an Ewa Beach day care after Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro declined to pursue the case, saying he had received no new information from the Honolulu Police Department despite the department taking a fresh look.
“I’m hopeful the attorney general can do something,” Chelsea Valiente, mother of the injured toddler, said Thursday.
The decision by the HPD to submit the evidence to Chin’s office is the latest turn in a case that sparked public outrage after Civil Beat wrote about it in February. More than two years after Peyton Valiente, 17 months old at the time, almost died from brain injuries, no one has been held to account.
Peyton was hurt while under the care of a babysitter, Manuela Ramos, who is married to a Honolulu police officer who has since retired.
After the police, by their own later admission, botched the investigation, Kaneshiro’s office in early 2016 declined to prosecute, saying that the evidence did not isolate any one suspect.
Ramos’ two teenage children were also in the house when Peyton was hurt, although Manuela Ramos and her daughter, Theresa, both told police that only Manuela was caring for children that day.
After Civil Beat detailed shortcomings in the investigation, HPD Acting Chief Cary Okimoto ordered a full review. But apparently that effort did not yield any fresh leads.
“It is my understanding that the police was (sic) going to re-investigate the case,” Kaneshiro wrote in a March 7 letter to state Sen. Will Espero, whose district included Ewa Beach. “However, no new evidence was presented to our office.
“The convening of an investigative grand jury would not be productive if the witnesses are not cooperative. Witnesses have a right to not incriminate themselves and cannot be compelled to testify.
“Though I concur that justice must be achieved for the victim, we are bound by ethical and legal responsibilities to proceed only when there is sufficient evidence.”
“Please attempt to find the truth.” — State Sen. Will Espero
Espero questioned Kaneshiro’s decision.
“A little boy was assaulted in a home and it appears like there are 3 suspects,” he wrote in response to Kaneshiro’s letter. “The injuries to Peyton are evidence enough. The hospital stay is evidence enough. What do you mean there is no evidence to proceed?”
He continued, “If you do not even try to ask or find justice through a grand jury, I question your decision-making. How do you know they will not be cooperative under a grand jury setting? People respond when put under certain situations.
“Please attempt to find the truth.”
Espero planned to hold a press conference urging Chin to pursue the case at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Capitol.
Chin spokesman Joshua Wisch could not say Thursday how frequently the attorney general’s office has intervened in such cases or what criteria it uses.
Espero said he thought it was rare for an attorney general to take over a local criminal case.
“I’m sure they’re going to take a look at it,” he said. “We’re going to be asking that he use the full authority of his office to see what’s possible, because at this stage the family doesn’t want to sit back and say it’s OK … We want to make sure this person is put away and never in a position with children, period.”
Peyton was fine when he was dropped off at the Ewa Beach day care on the morning of Jan. 9, 2015. Then, shortly before 3 p.m., Ramos called Chelsea Valiente to report that Peyton had suddenly rolled to his side and become stiff and unresponsive. Medical tests showed that Peyton had suffered a life-threatening subdural hematoma, a build-up of blood on the brain. Surgeons had to cut out part of his skull to relieve pressure.
He also had bruises on his back suggestive of finger marks and bleeding in his retinas, all classic signs of abuse.
After initially taking custody of Peyton from his parents, the state’s Child Welfare Services determined two weeks later that the abuse had occurred at the babysitter’s.
Civil Beat’s analysis of the investigation found that it fell far short of what experts recommend. All of those who had access to the abused child should be separated and questioned closely as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours. But it took several months for HPD’s child abuse unit to interview Ramos or her daughter. HPD never interviewed her son, who also was present, or any of the other children in her care that day, some of whom were old enough to be verbal.
The police report does not indicate that police investigated the scene, which experts believe to be a crucial step.
After ordering a new consideration of the case, Okimoto told the Honolulu Police Commission two weeks later that it was unlikely to go anywhere because it was too old. HPD reassigned the primary detective on the case, and is taking another look at three other cases he handled after a review ordered by Okimoto showed that they may not have been investigated thoroughly enough.