On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Cumberland County, Docket No. FN-06-120-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Sabatino.
After a fact-finding hearing, the trial court determined that defendant D.G. had committed several acts of abuse and neglect of a child, J.T. ("Jerry")*fn1 contrary to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21. Defendant now appeals that determination. We affirm the court's finding of abuse and neglect, at least with respect to defendant's infliction of excessive corporal punishment upon Jerry and his failure to provide the boy with adequate medical care, specifically by depriving prescribed epilepsy medication to Jerry.
These are the pertinent facts. On March 4, 2010, defendant attended a hearing in the Family Part concerning his infant biological daughter, M.G. The daughter had been removed from the care of her mother, A.D.,*fn2 by the Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS" or "the Division") shortly after her birth in February 2010. The Division had removed the daughter after an investigation had revealed that A.D. and defendant were suffering from mental health issues, that A.D. and defendant's home was in an unkempt condition and lacking in necessities for an infant, and that there were concerns whether A.D. and defendant could properly care for M.G.
Defendant brought Jerry, who was then four years old, to the March 2010 hearing. Defendant identified Jerry as his "son," although Jerry's biological father was another individual. At the time, Jerry's biological mother, R.M., resided in Baltimore. According to R.M., in December 2009, she had sent Jerry to live in New Jersey with her then boyfriend, defendant, as her residence was being repaired.
A DYFS worker who attended the March 4, 2010 hearing noticed that Jerry had a mark on his cheek indicative of potential physical abuse. The worker and her supervisor went to the home a few days later and were informed that Jerry was then staying temporarily with S.M., a friend of defendant and A.D. Later that same day, the worker and the supervisor went to S.M.'s home, where they interviewed S.M. and also saw Jerry. The worker observed that Jerry still had a bruise on his left cheek about "the size of a quarter," and it appeared to be larger and darker in color. The worker asked Jerry what had happened to his cheek. The boy responded that "Daddy," referring to defendant, had caused it. The DYFS supervisor also learned from S.M. that S.M. had witnessed defendant punch Jerry in the stomach several times with a closed fist and smack him across the face.
The record also shows that on or about March 11, 2010, Jerry had been taken to a hospital emergency room due to an epileptic seizure. Defendant and A.D. admitted that Jerry had not received his epilepsy medication that week. Although defendant claimed that they had been unable to refill the prescription, the medication bottle indicated that the prescription still had two free refills.
The record further indicates that on March 12, 2010, the DYFS worker brought Jerry to a physician*fn3 for a physical examination. The physician observed a "red and blue horizontal mark on [Jerry's] left upper thigh which appeared to be [a] belt mark. It was 3 x 5 inches and appeared to be a new injury." Additionally, the physician found marks on Jerry's "waistline, a linear mark on his wrist, and some scabbing to his ears[.]" The doctor also observed "a big area on [Jerry's] lower back that appeared to be [a] healing bruise[.]" Photographs were taken of these marks.
On March 16, 2010, the trial court authorized DYFS, which had already taken custody of the infant daughter, to take custody of Jerry. Jerry was placed in foster care.
Around that same time, Jerry was examined by Dr. Stephanie
V. Lanese, M.D. of the Child Abuse Research Education & Service Institute. Dr. Lanese also reviewed photographs that had recently been taken of Jerry. The photographs showed bruising on Jerry's left cheek, discoloration around his left eye, purple bruising of his left ear, and bruising on his right forearm. There were also marks on Jerry's left thigh, left ...