A Garden City man was convicted on Wednesday of aggravated endangerment of a child after a 2-year-old child with Down syndrome suffered extreme malnourishment while in his care.
Elias Allen, 32, was on trial this week in Finney County District Court for child abuse for his role in the care of his former girlfriend's special needs son. Jurors found Allen not guilty of child abuse, but convicted him of the alternative charge of aggravated endangerment of a child.
Allen and his then girlfriend, Kiala Pollman, the 27-year-old mother of the child, were arrested in August 2017 on allegations of attempted second-degree murder, charges that were later reduced to child abuse. Police said the couple neglected the child, resulting in extreme malnourishment and dehydration.
Pollman took a plea deal earlier this month and was convicted of one count of child abuse, a level-five person felony. She is expected to get probation and will be sentenced March 6. Allen’s sentencing date has not yet been announced.
Judge Ricklin Pierce told jurors that to establish a guilty verdict for child abuse, the state had to prove Allen “knowingly” tortured the child between October 2015 and September 2016. For the purposes of the case, torture was “to inflict intense pain to the body or mind for purpose of punishment.”
On the aggravated endangerment charge, the state had to prove Allen “recklessly” caused or permitted the child to be placed in a situation in which the child’s “life, body or health was in danger.”
Prior to the verdict and closing statements Wednesday afternoon, additional witnesses testified in the morning, including Liza Murray, a pediatrician specializing in child abuse at Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) in Kansas City, along with Allen’s family and friends.
Murray testified that the special needs child did not see a doctor at the CMH Down syndrome clinic from March 25, 2015, to Aug. 31, 2016, when he was admitted to the hospital for severe malnourishment. Murray said the child was a healthy 16 pounds at 7 months old when he visited the clinic in March 2015, and his weight had dropped to around 10 and a half pounds when he returned more than a year later.
In that time, Murray testified, the child missed six appointments, making it impossible for CMH to monitor his progress.
Murray also testified that the child’s caregivers, Pollman and Allen, had begun to feed him by mouth without medical authorization, even though it appeared that he had developed the ability to feed by mouth. When the child was born, Murray said, he was vulnerable to aspirations that for an infant had a higher likelihood of being deadly, necessitating a feeding tube with which the caregivers could insert food directly into his stomach.
Murray said it was “lucky” that the child didn’t aspirate.
She also testified that medical records showed that in the time leading up to the child’s hospitalization, Allen had been responsible for feeding him during the day while Pollman worked. She added that the child was too weak to eat by mouth when admitted to the hospital, that he had virtually no body fat, and that there was reason to doubt the child was being fed to the extent reported by his caregivers.
Murray also testified that there were no signs of physical abuse or poor hygiene.
Family and friends called as witnesses by the defense were of consensus that the child’s physical condition was not alarming when they saw him in the summer months leading up to his admission to the hospital. A family friend, Jason Wilson, testified that he had seen Allen feed the child by bottle and give him hot dogs and chips at a Fourth of July party.
Allen’s mother, Christine Allen, testified that the child was an active baby, but that she began to notice weight loss in the weeks leading up to his admission to the hospital.
During closing arguments, Finney County Assistant Attorney Tamara Hicks noted the child’s many missed medical appointments, the length of time he went without medical attention, that Allen was staying home with the child in the time leading up to his admission to the hospital, that the couple made little to no effort to find assistance getting the child to his appointments, and that the child ended up in a “life-threatening” situation.
During defense attorney Cheryl Stewart’s closing arguments, she noted conflicting statements by medical witnesses, the absence of cruelty or punishment required for a child abuse conviction, that Allen was sparsely mentioned in medical documentation, that Murray only saw the child once before giving testimony, that Pollman made her appointment with CMH more than two months prior to the visit in late August 2016, and that social workers, family members and neighbors had observed a relatively “normal, happy child.”
In response, Hicks noted that the caregivers lied about medical appointment attendance to doctors, knowingly disregarded medical instructions, missed appointments, stopped giving the child the proper formula in 2015, allowed the child to reach a weight of 10 pounds at 2 years old while under their supervision, engaged in a “joint” caregiving effort, and that doctors didn’t know if the child would survive when he was admitted to the hospital.
Although Allen has been convicted, his trial will continue at 9 a.m. Thursday, when the prosecution and defense will argue for and against the possibility of giving Allen a harsher sentence, also known as an upward durational departure.
The state is seeking a harsher sentence on the basis that Allen had a fiduciary responsibility toward the child, that his conduct manifested excessive brutality toward the child, and that the child was exceptionally vulnerable due to his age and reduced physical and mental capacity.
Aggravated endangerment of a child is a level-nine person felony, and Allen faces up to a year in prison under standard sentencing guidelines. If the jury finds in favor of an upward durational departure, Allen’s maximum sentence could be enhanced to up to two years in prison.
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.