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Why are so many Vt. child abuse cases dropped? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Why are so many Vt. child abuse cases dropped?

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ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. -

When Summer Draper was just 3 weeks old, she spent three days in the hospital. Her mouth was bleeding and she had bruises on her upper body.

Earlier this week, a Caledonia County Court found the baby's dad guilty of aggravated domestic assault. A doctor concluded Allen Draper, 28, caused the injuries during a rough feeding by jamming a bottle in the baby's mouth. The Hardwick father also confessed to squeezing and shaking the little girl.

"I live with it every single day," said June Draper, the baby's mom.

June Draper filed for divorce. She says her husband frequently made violent threats when he ran out of marijuana, even threatening to kill her and slit their other child's throat. Draper was previously convicted of threatening a family member with a machete.

June says when their daughter had more unexplained bruises, she knew it was time to press charges.

"She was 3 weeks old. She couldn't talk for herself. She couldn't protect herself," June said.

Now, at 13 months, Summer is thriving. Her injuries healed. But June wants justice for her daughter.

Monday, Allen Draper pleaded guilty to four felonies for hurting the baby, making threats and violating abuse prevention orders. Vt. Superior Court Judge Michael Kainen sentenced him to just 30 days behind bars, pointing out Allen Draper was quick to own up to the crimes, and he suffers a medical condition that would make jail difficult.

"I think justice has been met," Caledonia County State's Attorney Lisa Warren said. "I would have liked to have seen more time, but as the judge indicated and that was what factored into my decision was the 30 days was a good amount of time for him to serve in jail."

The sentence highlights a trend in Vermont child abuse cases. We dug into the numbers and found that in 2015, the state handled 68 cases of child cruelty with victims younger than 10. More than 60 percent (43) of those cases were dropped by prosecutors, one case was dismissed by the court, two defendants were acquitted and 22 child abusers were convicted. Only four of them were sentenced to jail time, all less than 40 days.

"Domestic assault cases can be tricky because they sometimes, the victim backs down and doesn't want prosecution because of fear of further harm or wanting to reconcile with their batterer. So they can be very tough cases," Warren said.

Warren says in Caledonia County, child cruelty charges that are brought in drunk driving cases are more likely to be dismissed. She says, "Oftentimes, when a child has been in a vehicle in which the operator was driving drunk, the trooper or officer would add a count of child cruelty for endangering the child. However, in light of the wording of the child cruelty statutes, we sometimes get pushback."

Warren says when she has the choice between two charges, she pursues the one with the more severe penalty. "In cases in this county in which we charge child cruelty as well as domestic assault, our tendency has been to get a conviction or plea for domestic assault over the child cruelty charge."

Allen Draper will be on probation for at least the next five years. If he reoffends, he would face six months to 10 years behind bars. He must also complete domestic violence programming and undergo mental health and substance abuse screenings.

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