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December 11, 2013

Arrest at Wis. hospital results in newborn skull fracture

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — The mother of a baby whose skull was fractured after police confronted his father at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin last month was in the hospital's pharmacy when she got a frantic phone call, she said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The baby's father, Ashanti Hendricks, 22, was on the line, telling her he had just been shot by police, said the mother, who asked that her name not be used to protect the family's privacy.

"I said, 'What do you mean?'" the mother recalled. "I was lost for words."

Just minutes earlier, the father had been sitting on a futon, the baby in his arms. The new parents were preparing to take their premature son home after more than seven weeks in the hospital. The mother had gone downstairs to the pharmacy to pick up some vitamins for the infant.

"I was panicking," she said. "I'm like, 'Why did y'all shoot my baby's daddy? Did y'all shoot him while he had my baby? Where's my baby at?' I'm shocked as hell, because I'm like, 'Why would y'all go on a floor full of babies?'"

She rode up the elevator from the pharmacy, screaming. When the doors opened on the seventh floor, she ran out, only to be shoved back in by a police officer. She was detained by police, first in the hospital chapel and then at the District 1 police station, she said. She was not allowed to see her son for seven or eight hours, she said.

"They were threatening to arrest me," she said.

She asked for an attorney, but officers told her she didn't need one, the woman said. They also told her the state would take custody of her son unless she said she knew Hendricks had a gun, she said.

But she didn't know that and wouldn't say it, the woman told the Journal Sentinel. The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare did open a case and required a protection plan for the first two weeks the baby was at home, she said. Under the plan, she was not allowed to be alone with him.

Although the plan is no longer in place, there is still a social worker assigned to her son's case, which will likely remain open for several months, she said.

"I've asked why do I have an open case with them, and they're saying it's a question mark when it comes to me being able to protect my child," she said.

That does not make sense to the mother, considering that the baby is her only child and she was not in the room when the injury reportedly occurred.

She did not even find out that her son had a fractured skull until three days after the Nov. 14 incident, she said.

"The police are still not telling me how my baby got on the floor, how my baby got a skull fracture," she said in an interview late last week, the first time she has spoken publicly since the incident.

After police shot Hendricks in the wrist, the hospital was on lockdown for two hours, leaving parents and employees on edge.

Police initially went to the hospital because they got a call from a woman worried that the baby's father, a wanted felon who was possibly armed, might harm the mother or the baby, according to a law enforcement source and dispatch records obtained by the Journal Sentinel. They didn't anticipate a violent confrontation.

During the phone call, which came from a home on the northwest side, the tipster told police she was concerned because Hendricks had a history of mistreating the mother and baby, according to a law enforcement source. The caller said Hendricks, who was on his way to the hospital to see the baby, was involved with drugs and was known to carry a gun, the source said.

The call, which was neither an emergency nor simply a tip about a wanted felon's location, plunged police into uncharted territory. The Milwaukee Police Department does not have a policy for how to handle an armed -- but not actively shooting -- suspect at a hospital, something experts said needs to change.

Only two Milwaukee officers initially responded to the call, and they didn't show up at the hospital for more than 30 minutes. They didn't immediately request backup or notify the Milwaukee County sheriff's office or Wauwatosa police -- who also have jurisdiction in the 

Things quickly spiraled out of control.

When police entered the room, Hendricks was alone with the baby. As police questioned Hendricks, he grew increasingly nervous, according to a criminal complaint charging Hendricks with multiple felonies, including physical abuse of a child, due to the baby's head injury.

Hendricks, who was holding the baby, repeatedly asked Milwaukee Police Officer Alexis Acosta to take the child, the complaint says. But the officer would not, instead insisting that Hendricks put the baby into a car seat.

"Officer Acosta advised the defendant to show his hands: as soon as he did so, the defendant got up from the futon and ran from the room," the complaint says.

Acosta told prosecutors he didn't know what happened to the baby, who ended up on the floor when Hendricks fled.

A Children's Hospital medical report dated Nov. 21 stated that while officers were subduing Hendricks, a nurse found the infant lying face up on the floor, about three to four feet from the futon where Hendricks had been holding him.

A scan showed the infant had suffered a skull fracture consistent with a short fall, according to the complaint.

The baby was released from the hospital six days after the incident and is recovering, the mother said. The skull fracture will have to heal on its own. It will take about six weeks; there is little doctors can do to speed the process, she said.

The mother disputed the characterization of Hendricks as violent and abusive. Hendricks never harmed her or the baby, she said. Even if he wanted to, it would have been impossible because the child had been in the hospital since birth, the mother said.

"They took the wrong precautions with the situation, and that's why my son got hurt," the mother said of the police and hospital staff. "It's not only my child. It's a bunch of other babies. They put them all in harm's way. They handled the situation wrong. It was totally wrong."

She's not the only one who has questioned the police response.

"Having a baby there just heightens the complexity of the whole thing," said David Couper, retired chief of the Madison Police Department. "The question is, how are you going to approach him?"

Perhaps plainclothes officers, instead of those in uniform, should have been sent in to assess the situation, Couper said. Perhaps officers should have taken a wait-and-see approach, following Hendricks to the parking lot instead of attempting to arrest him inside the hospital.

As long as the suspect wasn't threatening anyone, officers and their supervisors should have taken some time to consider all options, Couper said.

Both the department and the civilian Fire and Police Commission are investigating, which may result in policy changes.

Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. also has criticized the Police Department's handling of the case, complaining that deputies were nearby and didn't know a dangerous felon was at the hospital.

"This is how officers get ambushed or shot in cross-fire situations unaware that other officers are present on scene," Clarke said in a statement.

The sheriff has ordered his commanders to meet with Milwaukee and Wauwatosa police and private security officials at the Milwaukee County Medical complex and compile a critique within 60 days.

Hospital officials and the Milwaukee County district attorney's office also are investigating.

Gerry Steele, spokeswoman for the hospital, did not immediately answer questions Monday.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern said Monday that the DA's office review of the officers' actions would likely be completed by the end of the week.

Acosta was placed on desk duty after the shooting, which is standard procedure, and will remain on that status until the district attorney's investigation is complete, Milwaukee Police Lt. Mark Stanmeyer said Monday.

As for Hendricks, prosecutors quickly charged him with two counts of bail jumping and with possessing a weapon as felon, in addition to the child abuse charge. He was charged with only misdemeanor resisting or obstructing officers, despite allegedly pointing a gun at them.

Hendricks has felony convictions, mostly for drugs, dating back to 2009, according to online court records. He was convicted twice in 2009 and again in 2011, records show.

In December 2012, he was charged with possession of marijuana, second offense, fleeing an officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Hendricks pleaded guilty to the gun charge in September and was set to be sentenced Oct. 31. When he did not appear for that hearing, a warrant was issued for his arrest, records show.

Police were trying to arrest him on that warrant when they went to Children's last month.

"His repeated criminal behavior resulted in a felony arrest warrant, and his decision to carry a gun into a children's hospital resulted in the call for service we received that day," Stanmeyer said.

The mother can't figure out why either the nurses or the police didn't make sure the baby was safe before officers tried to make an arrest.

"We were just getting ready to take my son home. He was going to be released into our care. There were no problems, no nothing. Nothing was wrong until the police came," she said. "No one was harmed, no one was in danger, no one feared for their life until the police came."

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