Child abuse case heads to court

Jerry Jay Munger III

ESCANABA — Upcoming civil proceedings in Delta County Probate Court will decide if the state will maintain jurisdiction over an 8-month-old Escanaba boy who has been the victim of physical abuse. Termination of both parents’ rights may also be considered by the judge.

In addition, criminal charges have been authorized against the child’s father, Jerry Jay Munger III, 22, of Escanaba, who is charged with first-degree child abuse for allegedly physically harming his son, who is now under the temporary custody of the state.

Munger remains lodged in the county jail as he awaits his district court probable cause hearing scheduled for Feb. 8 and his district court preliminary hearing set for Feb. 15. First-degree child abuse carries a maximum punishment of life in prison.

Munger was arrested Friday, and his son was made a temporary ward of the state Monday after a medical check of the child and further investigation by Escanaba Public Safety showed evidence of physical abuse.

Munger and the child’s mother, Melisah Marie Jenkins, 21, brought their son to OSF HealthCare St. Francis Hospital for emergency medical attention on the afternoon of Jan. 26. After examining the boy, hospital personnel suspected child abuse and notified police and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Child Protective Services.

The child was transferred to St. Vincent Children’s Hospital in Green Bay for further ­evaluations and has since been discharged to DHHS, which has placed him in foster care.

Following questioning by police at Escanaba Public Safety, Munger was arrested on the child abuse charge. He remains lodged in jail in lieu of a $650,000 bond. Jenkins, who was also interviewed by police, was not charged of any crime.

At the request of DHHS and the Delta County Prosecutor’s Office, on Monday, Probate Court Judge Robert Goebel Jr. ordered the child to not remain in the family home and be placed under the temporary care of the state.

The petition requesting the child be immediately removed from the home was submitted to the court by Jessica Grasso, a Children’s Protective Services worker. The petition was also signed by Delta County Prosecutor Philip Strom who admitted a photograph of the child with a black eye as evidence during Monday’s hearing in probate court.

According to the petition, “It is contrary for the child to remain in the home because the child has been physically abused and injured by (his) father. (The child’s) mother witnessed the abuse and failed to protect the child. The child has sustained serious injuries from the abuse including a parietal skull fracture with bruising of the eyelids.”

On Feb. 8, Judge Goebel will consider a request on the petition asking the court to seek permanent jurisdiction over the child.

Strom explained the reasons for wanting the child to be under the control of the court was because the parents failed to provide the necessary care for their son who was subjected to a substantial risk of harm under their supervision.

In addition, the home is an unfit place for the child to live due to “neglect, cruelty, criminality, and depravity” on the part of the parents, he said, citing the petition’s language.

Strom, on behalf of DHHS, will be presenting evidence of the above allegations during the continued dispositional hearing in probate court on Feb. 8.

The petition states Jenkins said Munger has anger issues and has been violent with her and their son in the past. She observed Munger push and strike the child’s head against the wall, throw and drop the child into the crib, and hit the child with his hand while she “did nothing to protect the child” from being injured, according to the petition.

The petition also states the “father was interviewed and confirmed that he did physically abuse the child” prior to being arrested on the charge of first-degree child abuse.

During his arraignment, District Court Judge Steve Parks ordered Munger to have no contact with his son or Jenkins, to not go within 1,000 feet of the family’s home, and to not exhibit any abusive behavior. He cannot have alcohol or illegal drugs, cannot enter bars, and must undergo random drug testing.

Munger and Jenkins, who are each represented by their own court-appointed attorney, may contest the petition’s allegations and request either a bench trial or a jury trial take place to retain jurisdiction over their son.

In addition to removing the child from the family home and requesting probate court make the child a permanent ward of the state, the petition also requests the court terminate the parental rights of both parents.

Strom said he and DHHS want the parental rights taken away due to the father’s intentional abuse causing serious injury to the child and due to the mother failing to protect the boy from the other parent’s physical abuse.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net