Experts shed light on investigations involving injured children

How are cases involving serious injuries to children handled by the Honolulu Police Department?

It’s a question we’re asking after the mother of a toddler who nearly died says she was told the investigation was “poorly done.”

Peyton Valiente suffered serious injuries that landed him in the hospital in January 2015.

The toddler’s family believes it happened at a day care run by the wife of a Honolulu police officer who retired just days ago, Feb. 28. So far, no one has been arrested.

Acting Chief Cary Okimoto said he was “very disappointed” over the pace of the investigation into Peyton’s injuries.

In a statement, the department said “even though the policies and procedures were followed, the review showed areas where the investigation fell short of HPD’s investigative standards.”

HPD’s top brass said too much time had gone by with the investigation, making it difficult to nail down a suspect.

The city prosecutor’s office said it turned the case down because police did not provide enough evidence.

University of Hawaii at Manoa law professor Ken Lawson explains the first 48 hours after a child abuse case is opened is important.

“I think the police took too long to prosecute the case, which makes it almost impossible to prosecute at this point,” he said. “After that period of time, people get a chance to lawyer up. They get a chance to be told to remain silent, and the harder it is to find out who the real suspect is.”

Peyton’s mother, Chelsea Valiente, says HPD told the family privately that the 2015 investigation was handled “poorly.”

We turned to retired HPD detective Wilson Sullivan, now a professor at Chaminade University, for a look into HPD’s policies and procedures.

“If it was done poorly, my opinion, it would very possibly be poor communication between the detective, supervisor, other people, doctor, prosecutor, whoever. If they don’t go see these people, no one is going to know what’s happening to the case,” he said.

“In a particular case like this, what I’d be looking for is to get the medical reports and find out exactly what the injuries were and the opinion of the doctor as to what could have caused the injuries,” Sullivan added. “Otherwise, if it’s an accident, you may not have anything to investigate. You make sure the elements of a crime, if involved, are there.”

Chelsea Valiente says her son suffered a subdural hematoma, which is often caused by a severe head injury that causes blood vessels to burst.

Shaken baby syndrome can also lead to the injury.

“That’s one type of injury they could have that would cause a subdural hemorrhage where child is shaken, generally as a small child. That causes that shearing forces that lead to bleeding inside the brain,” explained Howie Klemmer, an emergency room chief.

Some long-term effects include paralysis and speech impairments, or even death.

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