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Tulsa Mother Arrested after Boyfriend Allegedly Abuses Child

28-Dec-2015

We have written before about Oklahoma's "failure to protect" laws, and how a person accused of enabling child abuse or neglect faces the same potential penalties as a person who physically abuses the child or who fails to provide adequate care for the child. In some cases, a woman who herself a victim of domestic violence receives the same--or even greater--penalties than the abuser who harms her and her child. Typically in Oklahoma, a person who leaves his or her child in the care of someone who abuses that child will face the more serious charge of permitting child abuse over the lesser charge of child endangerment.

Such is the case of a Tulsa mother who was arrested on a child neglect complaint after she left her child with her live-in boyfriend, only to find that the child had been severely beaten in her absence.

Reports say Heather Rachelle Terrell, 27, brought her 8-month-old son to the hospital early last week with a broken arm. When doctors examined the baby, they reportedly noticed additional bruising as well as a finger that was swollen and infected after having been broken two weeks earlier. 

Hospital staff told police that Terrell could not adequately explain her child's injuries, saying that her boyfriend told her that he had accidentally stepped on the baby's hand while playing with him. Terrell also reported that her boyfriend, identified as Dustin Ortega, 30, used drugs in the apartment with the child.

Terrell was arrested on a child neglect complaint for leaving her baby in the care of the man who allegedly had been abusing her child. When police approached the couple's apartment to speak with Ortega, he allegedly fled.

When a person knows or should reasonably know that the person with whom they leave a child is abusive or otherwise dangerous, he or she will likely face one of two felony charges: child endangerment or permitting child abuse.

The lesser charge, child endangerment, is defined as one of the following offenses:

  • knowingly permitting physical or sexual abuse of a child
  • knowingly permitting a child to be present where drugs are manufactured
  • knowingly permitting a child to be in the vehicle with an impaired driver, or with someone the person should have reasonably known was impaired
  • driving under the influence, or being in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence, and having a child or children in the vehicle

Child endangerment is a felony punishable by a maximum of 4 years in prison.

Although "permitting child abuse" is a definition of child endangerment, prosecutors typically file the more serious charge of enabling child abuse against a parent or other person responsible for the welfare of the child who leaves the child in the care of someone whom he or she should reasonably know is dangerous to the child. Enabling child abuse is a felony punishable by a maximum of life in prison. 



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