Father charged with abuse loses rights
ESCANABA — A 22-year-old Escanaba man charged with first-degree child abuse in criminal court, had his parental rights taken away from him in civil court Friday after “clear and convincing evidence” was presented at the Delta County Probate Court hearing.
Jerry Jay Munger III was arrested on Jan. 29 following investigations by Escanaba Public Safety and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) into suspicious injuries observed on Munger’s 8-month-old son when the child was brought to the hospital on Jan. 26.
Munger and the boy’s mother, Melisah Marie Jenkins, 21, brought their son to OSF HealthCare St. Francis Hospital for emergency medical attention for a cough and swelling on the child’s left side of his face, according to the hospital report.
After diagnosing the boy with a black eye, a fractured skull and bruises in various stages of healing on his body, hospital personnel suspected child abuse and notified police and health officials. The child was transferred to St. Vincent Children’s Hospital in Green Bay for further evaluations and is currently under the care of a licensed foster home in Marquette County.
During Friday’s civil court proceeding, Probate Court Referee Perry Lund presided over the hearing, reviewing evidence presented to prove there were legal grounds for the court to take jurisdiction over the child and terminate the father’s parental rights.
Munger sat in the probate hearing room with his attorney, Timothy Cain, sitting to his right. To Munger’s left was Attorney John M.A. Bergman, representing the child, and further left was Delta County Prosecutor Philip Strom, representing the state.
Strom had authorized petitions requesting the court take jurisdiction over the child and terminate both parents’ rights. He also authorized the criminal charge of first-degree child abuse against Munger.
Lund first reviewed the police report regarding interviews with both parents. Munger said the child’s crib likely caused the black eye and toys in the crib caused the bruises. Jenkins said she did not know how her son’s injuries occurred.
Police information on the family’s home stated the house smelled of cat urine and garbage, the bedroom floor was covered in garbage, and there were holes in the wall above the crib. The crib’s frame was bent.
Police also reported Jenkins stated Munger was verbally abusive and physically abusive to her and physically abusive to their son. She said Munger would throw the baby in the crib, push down on the child’s back, and slap their son on the back and buttocks while she did nothing to protect the child.
The mother also told Child Protective Services personnel that Munger had pinned the baby to the wall by the child’s neck.
Munger, who was arrested on one count of first-degree child abuse and lodged in jail, later admitted to police he had slapped his son as well as thrown the child in the crib, saying that was likely why the crib was broken.
Following Friday’s review of the reports from the police and the two hospitals and photographs of the child’s facial injuries and the broken crib, all three attorneys — Cain, Bergman and Strom — said they were satisfied with the evidence presented.
Lund concurred, saying “This child was severely injured when this child was taken to the hospital on Jan. 26.”
Lund said Munger’s plea, his admission to injuring his son, and the evidence presented had established legal grounds for the court to be granted jurisdiction over the child. The next step, Lund said, was to look at the legal grounds for terminating the father’s parental rights.
Strom called a witness to the stand — Jessica Gasso, a children’s protective services specialist at DHHS, who was involved in the investigation and signed the petitions requesting the court terminate both parents’ rights.
Gasso told the court the child’s medical records proved the child suffered from physical injury caused by Munger who admitted to harming his son. She also said the child would be at more risk for injury if returned to the father.
During questioning by Strom, Gasso also testified Munger said Jenkins had grabbed their son by the throat and pushed the child into a car seat. In addition to the boy’s injuries, the family home was not fit for the child and both parents failed to reach out to services DHHS had offered them, added Gasso.
When asked by Strom if the child “suffered battering, torturing and other physical abuse” under the parents’ supervision, she replied yes. She also noted the child is “doing better” under foster care but is having difficulty swallowing.
Gasso also testified the child and father do not have a healthy bond. She said the boy was observed shivering and trying not to cry when he looked at his father, explaining the child had learned to not make the “perpetrator” angry in fear of being harmed.
Cain and Bergman said they were each satisfied the court had met the burden of proof establishing legal grounds to terminate Munger’s parental rights and it was in the best interest of the child to do so.
When Lund asked Munger why he believed it was in the best interest for his parental rights to be terminated, the father replied, “I couldn’t physically and emotionally support a child.”
Strom said he appreciated the defendant’s “no contest” plea and asked the court to rely on the evidence that showed the father obviously had abused the child and threatened harm and possibly death. Strom said the proof has been met and asked the court to terminate Munger’s parental rights.
Lund said there was “clear and convincing evidence beyond a reasonable doubt” that Munger had injured his son, admitted to injuring his son, and also failed to provide proper care for him by doing nothing to protect the boy when the mother harmed their child.
Lund added, the child’s injuries were caused by intentional acts by the father at different times. The child also faces risk of injury in the future if he is returned to the father, added Lund.
“The father severely battered and abused this child,” commented Lund, citing the child’s bruised and swollen eye and fractured skull that required hospitalization.
Lund recommended Munger’s parental rights be terminated to Probate Court Judge Robert Goebel, Jr., who shortly after signed the document in his office executing the order on Friday.
Lund advised Munger of his right to appeal the termination of his parental rights then asked Gasso what the department’s plans are for the child.
Gasso replied termination of the mother’s rights would be sought so the child could be adopted.
Jenkins did not appear in court Friday. She chose to not enter a plea but requested a probable cause hearing take place regarding the termination of her parental rights.
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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, email@example.com