Dad appeals child-abuse conviction; doctors, parents differ on baby's injury
01/21/2016 5:19 pm PST
A controversial case in Brighton, Michigan that every parent will want to see: A father arrested, accused of child abuse against his 2-month-old daughter. But what really happened to Baby Naomi? That depends on who you ask.
Detroit affiliate WXYZ reports that a doctor accused Josh and Brenda Burns of abusing their daughter.
Baby Naomi's parents Brenda and Josh Burns treasure their little princess. The couple waited a long time to have a baby, and they were thrilled when Brenda became pregnant.
"Naomi was a very wanted child, we waited a long time to have children," said Brenda Burns.
"I attended 'daddy boot camp' classes as St. Joe's before she even came into the world because I wanted to be the best dad I could be," said Josh Burns, Naomi's father.
Brenda had a difficult labor. The mom-to-be had a Cesarean-section, enduring a vacuum suction during birth.
Two months after Naomi's birth, a dark turn of events for that happy family: Josh, an airline pilot, says Naomi slipped off his knee one day. He caught her by the face to keep her from hitting the coffee table.
Both Josh and Brenda say it was an accident.
"She was smiling and giggling and we went about our normal day," said Josh.
The day after the incident, Naomi started vomiting. Brenda and Josh rush their daughter to the hospital.
"I told the attending physician there about it and he scoffed at it, and said 'Dad, this is nothing you did. Your daughter is suffering from an infection or virus,'" said Josh.
But a doctor at the University of Michigan finds something disturbing: An MRI revealed a subdural hematoma -- bleeding between Naomi's brain and skull. And that's not all. The scans showed retinal hemorrhaging.
WXYZ reports that the doctor accused Josh and Brenda of abusing their infant daughter.
The University of Michigan Health System issued this statement: "The physicians and other health care providers on our child protection team are highly trained in caring for children who may be victims of child abuse or any other conditions that may jeopardize a child's health and wellbeing. Our goal is simple - to keep children safe and healthy."
And then more trouble: Court documents reveal Child Protective Service workers accused both parents of child abuse, and they put Naomi in foster care.
The case went to court. Brenda was cleared; Josh was charged with 2nd-degree child abuse. A shocking outcome, since not only did Josh say he passed a polygraph test, medical experts testified that the bleeding inside Naomi's head was caused by trauma during her delivery.
A jury convicted Josh of felony child abuse. Brenda was granted custody of Naomi and fled the state, hiding out in Colorado with her daughter.
So how could what the Burns family maintains was a simple accident result in tearing a family apart?
The Burns family fell down a legal rabbit hole. It could happen to anyone.
A nanny-camera set up at the couple's home recorded the night Josh's conviction: A worker from Child Protective Services, along with police officers, showed up at the house. They were looking for Josh, suspecting him of sneaking in to spend time with Naomi, violating a court order that blocks him from seeing his own daughter.
Defense attorney Elizabeth Warner says with no warrant, CPS and the police had no right to invade the Burns home.
"Brighton City Police officers and a DHS employee committed a home-invasion of the child's home. The child was there with her grandparents," said Warner.
Warner wasn't going down without a fight. She fired off a letter to CPS telling them that Brenda was moving and they could reach her at a post-office box.
But CPS fired back, following up with a court petition against Brenda, demanding that she give them Brenda's new address.
"People in Livingston County have not acted either honorably or legally," said Warner. "It frankly is the stupidest, most stupid, silly petition I've ever seen filed. It doesn't accuse her of any child neglect, it doesn't accuse her of any child abuse. It accuses her of moving and having an attorney. It's pure hypocrisy and legal terrorism."
And Brenda's attorney discovered that CPS put Brenda on a secret list of child abusers called the "Central Registry," preventing her from continuing her work as a registered nurse.
"So they are trying to destroy her emotionally, financially, legally, any way they can," said Warner.
A letter from CPS told Brenda she's on that "secret child abuser" list, accusing her of causing severe physical injury, Shaken Baby Syndrome and physical abuse. That notice was dated April 23, 2014; but that CPS worker signed the document in January 2015 -- a full nine months later. The law requires CPS to notify you no more than 30 days from your investigation.
"They put here on the registry when there is a 2014 law that says they can't do that," said Warner.
Outside court, Josh Burns supporters gathered to protest his 2nd-degree child-abuse conviction.
Meanwhile the judge gave Josh a break, sentencing him to a year in county jail instead of doing hard time in prison.
"I do find that he has the potential for rehabilitation," the judge said.
Asked if he abused his daughter, Josh said: "Never. I would never hurt my daughter. She was a well-planned baby, a wanted baby. My wife and I cherish her. I would lay down my life for my wife and daughter."
The judge's reasoning for giving Josh a more lenient sentence? The overwhelming community support for Burns and his perfect 15-year record as a pilot.
"It's hard to describe the feelings of going into prison an innocent man, but the blood of my innocence is on their hands and I will walk in holding my head high," said Josh.
With her husband facing jail time, Brenda says she's lost all faith in the judicial system.
"I am in fear, I have nightmares at night," said Brenda.
But for Josh and Brenda, a light at the end of the tunnel: The couple who had endured so much pain appeared before the judge four months after Josh had been sentenced.
In this hearing, she decided not to end Josh's parental rights for daughter Naomi.
"The court cannot overlook the efforts that respondent father has engaged in to date," said the judge. "Prior to his incarceration he has exhibited more effort and commitment to parenting Naomi than many parents exhibit to this court in years of services."
"I think just to hear the judge speak positively about our family is amazing. Her belief that Josh is, that Naomi would benefit from being with her dad, is amazing," said Brenda.
And then in what seemed like an eternity, a moment so many have been waiting for, husband and wife reunited after Josh served an almost nine-month term in the county jail.
"It's been the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life," said Josh Burns.
Naomi is now 2 years old. Josh has lost a year and a half of seeing his daughter grow. He plans to make up for every minute of that lost time.
"Today I am just overwhelmed with thankfulness that I get to see my daughter, and hold her for the first time in 613 days," said Josh.