DA’s office declines to press charges in suspected child abuse case three years later

Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 04/21/2020, 9:35 AM
Edited: 03/11/2021, 10:22 AM
(DURANT, Okla.) “I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” a woman is heard saying at the end of a 911 call on January 12, 2017. An 11-week-old baby in her care had stopped breathing. She was performing CPR. Colbert EMS arrived and transported the baby to Texoma Medical Center. He was then flown to Dallas Children’s. That child was Tyler Meade. Despite a severe head injury, doctors were able to save his life. An investigation into what happened began soon after. The woman who called 911 was Diana Thomas of Colbert, Oklahoma. Days after the incident, she told an investigator with the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office that she had been walking with Tyler and tripped over her flipflops, causing them both to fall onto a blowup mattress. But Tyler’s grandfather, Scott Ridling, tells a different story. He told VNN he came straight from work at the Bonham Fire Department and was the second family member to get to TMC the day Tyler was hurt. “When Diana got there, I had asked her what happened,” Ridling said. “She said that he fell. And I said were you holding him? Were you holding him, and tripped and fell with him? Did he fall off something high, something like that? She said no, he just fell off the couch.” Ridling said he then asked if she was sure, because his injuries seemed a lot worse than a baby falling off a couch. “And she says no,” Ridling said. “He rolled off the couch.” “I talked to her the day after it happened,” Tyler’s mother, Sarah McCartney, said. “She told me she had no idea what was wrong with Tyler. That he just started acting funny. She didn’t tell me that she had fallen with him with him until two days later.” Dr. Kristen Reeder with Referral and Evaluation of At Risk Children (REACH) in Dallas told a Bryan County investigator later that month that the injury was consistent with shaken baby syndrome. Oklahoma Department of Human Services found it to be a substantiated case of child abuse. They told Thomas she was not allowed to care for any more children. “CPS told me if I took my children back there, my children would be taken away from me,” McCartney said. Tyler was released from the hospital, but continued treatment at Dallas Children’s for more than a year. Page after page of medical records listed Tyler’s injuries as “concerning for child abuse”. In fact, Tyler’s diagnosis is listed as “shaken baby” on one of the hundreds of pages of records relating to his case. McCartney said the REACH team told her multiple times it was an obvious case of child abuse. But Bryan County Assistant District Attorney Whitney Kerr told VNN there was not enough evidence to file charges. “The family is understandably frustrated about the length of time this is taking, but given the severity of injuries to Tyler, and the uncertainties about how they’ll affect him long-term, I’m not rushing to file charges without knowing fully what all aspects of this case look like,” Kerr told VNN via email in January 2020. In February, more than three years after the incident occurred, Kerr hired a medical expert to go over all of the medical records and make a decision as to whether someone “maliciously and willfully” committed an act of abuse against Tyler. We’re told she made a determination to not file charges in the case the following month. McCartney said despite the decision being a big letdown, she was not surprised. “It’s already been this long and they didn’t do anything,” McCartney said. “So, it don’t surprise me at all. He lived, you know. So, I think they just pushed it under the rug.” Email requests for comment to Kerr were not returned, but VNN was able to obtain an email Kerr sent to Tyler’s parents, explaining why she would not be filing charges in the case. It reads in part: “The medical records initially received from the CARE Team said that Tyler’s injures were concerning as related to being possibly caused by abuse but did not definitively say that was the cause. The sheriff’s office eventually interviewed Dr. Reeder again and when interviewed again, after having been given Ms. Thomas version of events, she would not say that Tyler’s injuries could not have occurred as Ms. Thomas described them.” The email stated Kerr’s medical expert came to a similar conclusion after reviewing Tyler’s records. VNN obtained a copy of the medical expert’s report completed by Dr. Ryan Brown on March 3, 2020. It in, Brown wrote, “At this time, I am unable to determine if abuse has occurred or not. It is highly suspicious that the child developed subdural hematomas with a fall described, but I am not able to determine, without a shadow of a doubt, that the event could not have caused this.” The findings have become a lot less certain the longer the case has progressed. The initial offense report submitted to the Bryan County District Attorney’s Office on January 30, 2017, stated Thomas told Investigator Jeff Wilson she had the baby cradled in the nook of her elbow when she fell with him, and his head never hit anything. After speaking with the doctor, Wilson said, “Dr. Reeder stated there was no way possible that T.M. suffered this amount of damage to his brain based on the fall I described. Dr. Reeder stated she could possibly understand the injury if the child had gotten tossed onto the bed but even then it would be almost impossible.” The initial report stated during a second interview with Thomas, conducted nine days after the first, Thomas told investigators she later remembered accidently dropping the baby on a couch. But a second report conducted with Reeder by a different Bryan County Sheriff’s Office investigator just after midnight on September 5, 2017, more than seven months after the alleged abuse occurred, contradicted the doctor’s earlier statements. The supplemental statement reports stated in part, “REEDER was not aware of the claim from the baby sitter, DIANA THOMAS, that she had fallen 3 to 4’ onto a blow up mattress while carrying the infant. REEDER could not positively say that the injuries sustained to the infant were not caused as a result of the fall. REEDER stated the infant at that age, has no control over their head, if THOMAS did fall on the infant, the injuries could have been a result of the fall.” We got in touch with Wilson who initially investigated the case, to see if he remembered interviewing Reeder more than three years ago. He did. Wilson, now an officer with the Calera Police Department, told VNN he spoke with Reeder while driving up to Oklahoma City for another abuse case, and stands by everything he put in his report, including his explanation of the fall to Reeder and her response. “I’m sure she went through a thousand other cases by September,” Wilson said. “So, I don’t know. I put down what she told me over the phone.” Wilson recalled it was a hectic time at the sheriff’s office, as current Bryan County Sheriff Johnny Christian was still in the process of taking over following former Sheriff Ken Golden’s retirement. A follow-up email from Kerr to McCartney confirmed Tyler’s case is now closed. “While we were there (at the hospital), seems like three or four different doctors, which there’s a ton of doctors there, every one of them said basically there’s only two ways this happened: car wreck or child abuse,” Ridling said. “Shaken baby, you know. So, we’re thinking something happened. And never got any closure on any of it, I guess.” McCartney said she hopes, at the very least, their tragedy will serve as a warning for others to do extensive research into who is watching their children, and not let saving money be a factor. “If I could take it back I would,” McCartney said. “I would never leave my kids with anybody.” Links to related stories: https://app.verifiednews.network/articles/share/962 https://app.verifiednews.network/articles/share/1005


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