ROCKLAND, Maine — A 30-year-old Rockland woman accused of kicking her 5-year-old son in the face was acquitted of assault Wednesday afternoon as the judge sharply criticized the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and police for what he called shoddy investigative work.
After a two-day bench trial in Knox County Unified Court, Justice Daniel Billings found Brandi Libby not guilty of felony assault in connection with the May 2014 incident.
The judge said that an initial interview of the child done by a DHHS caseworker was not done professionally and that Rockland police then made a rush to judgment in accepting the DHHS assessment without looking at who else may have hurt the child, leaving the bruise on his forehead.
While initial interviews by DHHS are key to any investigation into allegations of child abuse, Billings said, “This was a shoddy investigation. From this court’s experience, this is all too common.”
He said it was also tragic that the mother has been separated from her young child for more than a year and a half, except for one meeting, because of how slow the criminal justice system operates.
The state maintained that the mother became angry and blamed the boy when his 1-year-old sibling fell off a couch. In an affidavit filed by police with the court in May 2014, the 5-year-old boy said his mother had sent him to his room, then followed him upstairs, pulled him off his bed and kicked him in the face.
Libby has denied the allegation since the beginning and said that the boy’s father had routinely made false complaints to DHHS about her.
In the affidavit, police said the woman said the boy had become increasingly poorly behaved and was spitting on her so she flicked his lips with her fingers and may have inadvertently flicked him in the eye.
Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody maintained in his closing argument to the judge on Wednesday that the evidence was sufficient for a conviction. He cited the boy’s testimony as well as testimony of a physician assistant who examined the child.
Justice Billings said he questioned the credibility of the physician assistant after the witness said it was his opinion as a medical professional and father that 5-year-olds don’t lie.
Defense attorney Kimberly Richardson maintained in her closing argument that police looked at no one else but her client. She also pointed out that the mother had photographs on her phone that show no bruise on her child and that the injury had to have occurred after she had returned the boy to another person. A forensic evidence expert testified that the photos were taken when the mother said they were taken.
The assault charge had been elevated to felony level because the boy was younger than 6 years old.
No mention was made during the court proceeding when or whether the child would be reunited with his mother now that she has been acquitted.