A 28-year-old Olympia man was accused in court Friday of assaulting his prematurely born infant son, causing broken ribs and brain injuries.
Joseph W. Stephan appeared before Thurston County Superior Court Judge Eric Price, who found probable cause for one charge of first-degree assault of a child. Price set bail at $300,000.
“The court is exceptionally concerned about the allegations here,” Price said. “The court has a hard time imagining a more vulnerable individual” than a premature baby, he added.
Deputy Prosecutor Cailen Cecil Wevodau said that Stephan could face additional charges
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According to court documents, Olympia Police detectives began investigating Stephan after his newborn son was taken to Mary Bridge Children's Hospital. The child had been born 5 weeks premature, and weighed about 4 pounds. He had been home with his parents for 11 days before he was hospitalized.
Hospital staff told detectives that the child was suffering from brain bleeding consistent with shaken-baby syndrome, as well as fractured ribs and mouth injuries consistent with a bottle or pacifier being forced into his mouth. He also was suffering almost constant seizures, according to court documents.
When detectives interviewed Stephan, he initially told them that all he did was cuddle and play with the child. He said that he noticed that the child was “twitching” on Sunday night. The child’s mother took him to urgent care the following morning.
Stephan then admitted, detectives said, that many people had accused him of being “too rough” with the infant. Stephan said he held the infant a lot and squeezed him. He also said that he sometimes tossed the baby up in the air for fun, according to court documents.
In a second interview, Stephan told detectives that he would squeeze the baby tight against his chest until the baby made an audible “ugh” sound. He demonstrated holding the child in the air by his torso and shaking him from side to side. He also said that once, while tossing the baby up in the air, he missed catching him and the child’s head hit Stephan’s collarbone with considerable force, according to court documents.
Friends and family members reported that they had witnessed some of this behavior, and warned Stephan about being too rough with the child. One witness also reported that Stephan once said, “I don’t know what the (expletive) I’m doing.”