In the wake of 3-year-old Maddox Williams being beaten to death in his home, let’s see how safe officials are keeping the children of Knox County.

First, a deeper look at one of the many domestic violence cases just wrapped up in our local court: Christopher Terrero, 30, of Rockland, aggravated assault in Rockland April 22, 2020, dismissed; domestic violence assault in Rockland April 22, 2020, 364 days in jail with all but 90 days suspended, probation one year.

According to documents in Terrero’s criminal file, it was his 3-month-old baby he almost killed by shaking, and the child will “most likely” have lasting injuries from the assault.

He pleaded guilty to two felony charges, carrying the possibility of 15 years in jail and $15,000 in fines.

But thanks to another one of the plea deals our District Attorney’s Office hands out like Hallowe’en candy to violent men (yes, what they are doing is a horror: When do they ever bring domestic violence cases to trial? Why are our prosecutors, and including one with such a tough reputation as Christopher Fernald, not prosecuting the men who beat up their wives, girlfriends and children?) one felony charge was dismissed, and the other felony charge was dropped down to a misdemeanor.

For almost killing his infant, Terrero’s punishment was 90 days in jail, one year of probation, and (even though the baby required a Life-Flight helicopter ride to a Portland hospital) a fine of $20. The only stipulation for his probation is that he “continue with mental health counseling.” There is no restriction on his being with the baby or four other children in his home.

A bewildering bonus gift to this person is— whoosh!— making the charge of child abuse disappear from his public record.

The six-foot-tall Coast Guard member was originally charged with a felony that occurs in only one situation: “When someone who is at least 18 years old intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to a child younger than six.”

Prosecutor Christopher Fernald and Judge Jeffrey Hjelm on May 27, 2021, approved crossing out “having attained 18 years of age” and “who was less than six years of age,”which in addition to minimizing the heinousness of the deed, dropped the charge from a Class C felony to Class D misdemeanor.

According to a 10-page statement by Rockland Detective Sergeant (now Deputy Chief) Joel Neal, on April 22, 2020, Terrero was watching his baby and her twin as well as three stepchildren while the children’s mother was working at Walmart.

The mother brought her baby to Pen Bay Hospital at 6:30 p.m. because she “was not acting right.” When the detective talked to Terrero at the hospital, Terrero admitted he shook his infant “violently” and the baby’s mother said “sometimes when Christopher has [the baby] and grabs her a certain way he is kind of brutal.” Terrero also admitted to the detective “that two months ago he dropped [the baby] and she was crying kind of the same way as today.”

Pen Bay medical staff told Detective Sergeant Neal the baby’s soft spot on her head was bulging and that she had “a pretty big head bleed.” The baby also had bruises on her back on each side of her spine.

According to Det. Sgt. Neal’s affidavit, Dr. Amanda Brownwell at Maine Medical Center diagnosed the injuries as “abusive head trauma” and “indicated there is a very high likelihood” it will cause “cognitive defects as she grows older,” in addition to possible further “deficits” from medication the hospital administered to control seizures from the injuries inflicted by the father.

Dr. Brownwell, according to Det. Sgt. Neal’s statement, “indicated that the injuries could have killed the baby and [Shaken Baby Syndrome] is a leading cause of infant deaths.”

In March of this year, Terrero requested an amendment to his bail conditions that he “have contact with his children and stepchildren.” Why? “The bail restrictions are placing an unnecessary hardship on the family.”

Christopher MacLean, Terrero’s defense attorney, had this comment to me about the case: “I think the outcome was justified. Although the case seemed serious at the outset, the injury was caused by an accident as opposed to intentional conduct. The injury was temporary and the baby fully recovered. Finally, DHHS worked with Mr. Terrero and determined that there was no intent to harm the baby and that he was a good, loving father. Based on this, the drop down from a felony to a misdemeanor was appropriate. He likely would have been found not guilty at trial, but the compromise reached served the interests of justice.”

Now let’s look at what is happening with a friend of mine I will call Alice who lives and works in Knox County and, due to her daughter’s drug addiction, is looking after her baby granddaughter, “Susie.” Even though “Bill,” the father of the baby, beat up the mother when the mother was pregnant with Susie, Alice was told by the DHHS caseworker to “play nice” with Bill because he might end up with full custody [of Susie] and “it will be up to him” if she sees her granddaughter again.

When Alice’s daughter “Jill” was pregnant with Susie, Bill beat her up so badly that Alice said Jill and the baby “are lucky to be alive.” The plea deal he received resulted in a sentence of seven days in jail.

Bill had a conviction for beating up a prior girlfriend. And now, there is a court case pending for domestic violence assault on girlfriend number three. It is a felony case because of the previous conviction and also, said Alice, “because he strangled her.”

The baby’s grandmother, Alice, said she was contacted by a DHHS social worker when the baby was born about Alice’s family taking over care of the baby due to Jill’s drug addiction. “Since [Susie] was born addicted to drugs, I worried that she would have problems but [another family member] and I came to the hospital right away to step in and all of that love and attention really helped. She is as healthy as any other baby. The doctors can’t believe how on target she is developmentally.”

Alice said the DHHS social worker told her at her granddaughter’s birth that the father “didn’t want anything to do with the baby.” Before the baby could walk, he evidently changed his mind and Alice was ordered to bring her granddaughter once a week to a DHHS office visitation with a man on bail for beating up a third woman.

Alice said the social worker told her Bill sometimes “loses his temper, even with her.” Alice added, “He doesn’t like being told what to do or how things should be. If I tell him she just had a bottle, he will give her another bottle anyway.”

She said, “The last couple of times when we start walking up to the building for the visitation, [Susie] grabs on to me when we get in through the door. She starts whimpering when I give her over to him and then starts crying. When I pick her up, it’s like she’s so relieved.”

Visits between Bill and the baby have increased to twice a week. Her DHHS caseworker told her, “Eventually it will be unsupervised visits, and then overnights.”

A member of Alice/Jill’s family has filled out paperwork to formally adopt Susie, and Alice is clinging to the hope that for Bill’s felony charge of beating up girlfriend number three, he will be sentenced to jail “for a considerable amount of time” and this will terminate his rights as a parent.

And if he ends up with custody of her granddaughter? “Oh my God, I can’t even think about it. I don’t know how we would ever get over it. How can you not think she will at the very least be neglected.”

She said that DHHS “is too focused on reuniting children with an abusive parent.” Her thought when she heard about the beating death of 3-year-old Maddox? “One more child that Maine hasn’t protected.”