A Garden City woman who was convicted last week of child abuse involving her young special needs son after accepting a plea agreement, was called to testify Monday in Finney County District Court in the trial of a Garden City man also charged with abuse of the same child.
Assistant Finney County Attorney Tamara Hicks and defense attorney Cheryl Stewart gave opening statements Monday in the trial of Elias Allen, 32, and examined the first witness, Kiala Pollman, 27, who was charged with child abuse of her young special needs son alongside Allen.
The two were arrested in August on allegations of attempted second-degree murder, charges that later were reduced to child abuse. Police said the couple neglected the child, resulting in extreme malnourishment and dehydration.
Judge Ricklin Pierce told jurors that to establish a guilty verdict for child abuse, the state must prove Allen “knowingly” tortured the child in question between October 2015 and September 2016. For the purposes of the case, torture is “to inflict intense pain to body or mind for the purpose of punishment.”
Allen faces an alternative charge of aggravated endangerment of a child, where the state must prove he “recklessly” caused or permitted the child to be placed in a situation in which the child’s “life, body or health was in danger.”
During her opening statement, Hicks informed jurors that the child was born in August 2014 in Garden City with Down syndrome before being transported to Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) in Kansas City to be seen at a Down syndrome clinic, where Pollman was provided information relevant to the proper care of the child. The child’s father, Hicks said, was not a part of his life when he was born.
Doctors at CMH determined the child had a feeding issue and placed a feeding tube in his stomach, Hicks said, before advising Pollman and Allen that the child “should only receive nutrients through the tube and not by mouth because he was not able to swallow the food."
Hicks said the child had been going to CMH for seven months, during which time he was “growing and he was getting the nutrients he needed through the feeding tube."
She said the child was to continue seeing CMH specialists, but that the child was last taken to the hospital while in Pollman’s care in March 2015 before being admitted to the hospital in September 2016. Hicks added that the child had not seen his “regular” doctor for approximately 10 months, during which time the child was being fed by mouth.
When the child was admitted to CMH in September 2016, Hicks said, he weighed “slightly over 10 pounds” at 2 years old.
“The doctor from Kansas City will tell you that the weight of the child and the fact that he was not getting the proper nutrients caused him to be in a life-threatening situation,” Hicks said, adding that the child was living with Pollman and Allen during the period when he was not being taken to see doctors as instructed.
Stewart said she wasn’t sure how to characterize the child’s relation to Allen, given that Allen was not married to Pollman and is not the child’s biological father. Hicks used Pollman's testimony to articulate that Allen fathered four of Pollman's five children over the course of five years. Two were adopted out. Allen is accused of abusing the child he didn’t father.
Pollman’s testimony also revealed that the child in question is not the only child with special needs who was in her care. Another child, born healthy, later was diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome resultant of abuse at the hands of someone other than Pollman or Allen, she testified.
She testified that she and Allen have lived together on an intermittent basis, that she has been in and out of a family crisis safe house, and that she resumed living with Allen when the child in question was about a year old.
According to Pollman, the child had a feeding tube surgically inserted in September 2014, a month after his birth. Seven weeks after he was taken to the hospital, she brought him back to Garden City. She said that at the time he was not able to be fed by mouth and needed the feeding tube.
Pollman said she took the child to CMH in November, and again in March the following year, during which time he continued to use his feeding tube to eat a specialized formula. She said she acquired the formula through a program for low-income parents that required doctor authorization every three months.
In November 2015, Pollman said, she was unable to get more formula because her pediatrician, Dr. Leo Altamirano, refused to sign her release form for the formula because the child had aged out of the appropriate feeding period.
Pollman said she had voiced concerns that her son was throwing up, so Altamirano told her he would refer the child to a gastrointestinal doctor. Altamirano declined to authorize her continued use of the formula program until she saw the doctor, she said.
Pollman said she was unable to purchase the formula on her own until January or February 2016. When she couldn’t afford it, she said, she fed the child PediaSure through his feeding tube. Meanwhile, she said, trips to Kansas City only compounded the financial and logistical burden of having three kids, two of which had special needs.
In May 2016, Pollman became concerned about the child’s weight loss. When asked if she or Allen took the child to a doctor, Pollman said they did not. When asked why, she said, “I don’t really have an answer."
By the time she took the child to CMH for a scheduled appointment in September 2016 — shortly after an appointment in Garden City with a new pediatrician who didn’t deem the child to be in life-threatening condition — he had noticeably lost weight, Pollman said.
During cross-examination by Stewart, Pollman noted that she took a plea deal and was granted probation after being convicted of one count of child abuse. She has not yet been sentenced. Pollman said she was given probation in exchange for agreeing to testify in Allen’s trial.
According to Pollman’s testimony during cross-examination, Allen was not authorized to take the child in question to the doctor alone, but was authorized to take his biological children. She said Allen treated all three children that were in their care in the same manner and played with them in an appropriate way. When the child was admitted to the hospital, she said, he had no bruises or broken bones.
Pollman said neither she nor Allen did anything to deliberately hurt the child.
Allen’s trial is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.