Jury finds man guilty on felony neglect charge

A 22-year-old Brown County man is facing three to 16 years in prison after a jury decided he was guilty of fracturing his 8-week-old son’s skull.

The jury of 11 women and one man returned a guilty verdict Jan. 5 on one of the two Level 3 felony charges that Ryann Clark was facing.

After 100 minutes of deliberation, the jury convicted Clark of neglect of a dependent causing serious bodily injury. He was acquitted of domestic battery on a minor causing serious bodily injury.

“I am very pleased with the result,” Brown County Prosecutor Ted Adams said. “Both charges were the same felony level using different theories.

“I explained to the jury I would not be able to tell them how (the child) was injured, but I could develop reasonable inferences.”

The child was in the custody of Clark and Clark’s mother in September 2016 when the injury occurred.

Clark testified he was stepping over his dog with the child in his arms and the dog stood up. Without thinking, he threw the child onto a bed to avoid falling on him, he said. Clark testified on the last day of his trial that that’s what may have caused the baby to sustain a bump on his head, a skull fracture and a brain bruise.

“I would have crushed him. I didn’t have a choice. I reacted,” he testified.

Clark was represented by public defenders Dan Reuter and Andrew Penman. Reuter called the evidence “speculation” and said that reasonable doubt existed. It wasn’t certain when the injuries actually happened, who was there when they happened and who had access to the baby since he was living in two different homes with multiple occupants.

“No one should be convicted of a crime based on speculation. At the end of the day, that is what the case against Ryann Clark is — speculation,” Reuter said.

The facts

A police report in March 2017 stated that the baby, who is now over a year old, was experiencing some developmental delays that may have been caused by the injury.

Clark and his mother had been caring for the baby between Aug. 30 and Sept. 1, 2016, according to a probable-cause affidavit by Brown County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Shrader.

Clark was living with his mother, who is now deceased. She was battling cancer during the time of the incident and investigation.

Clark told police that he had worked all day Sept. 1 and his mother was watching the baby during that time. He took the baby from her around 10 p.m., the police report said.

The next morning Clark said he noticed a “funny bump” on the baby’s head. He told his mother that nothing had happened.

His mother made a doctor’s appointment for the baby that afternoon. Clark said the baby’s doctor was not concerned based on the information provided at the time, the affidavit said.

Clark went to work for half a day before returning home to take the baby to the doctor, where they were informed he had a skull fracture, the report said.

The baby was transferred to Riley Hospital for Children. A Department of Child Services caseworker contacted police Sept. 2, 2016, to request an investigation.

Clark told police then that he tripped over a dog while walking with the baby in his arms in his bedroom. At first, Clark said the baby landed on the bed, but he later said the baby had landed in the crevice between the head of the bed and the wall, the affidavit said.

When asked if the baby had cried, Clark said, “No, not really,” and he put the baby in the bassinet, Shrader reported.

Clark also told the officer that he had hit the baby’s head on the door frame as he was walking out of his bedroom Aug. 31.

Brown County Deputy Prosecutor Tom Barr said that Clark told the story about the door frame after officials started questioning the story about the dog.

During the trial, Clark said he had told his mother about the door frame incident before being interviewed by police. He later took the stand to apologize for forgetting that he did not tell his mother about the incident until police interviewed him. Prosecutors had a copy of the recorded police interview and were able to prove that.

Clark’s mother told police she wasn’t concerned about the bump because the swelling had gone down throughout the day.

Several physicians reported to DCS that they were concerned these were “non-accidental injuries,” the affidavit said.

Shrader asked Clark on Sept. 7, 2016, to take a polygraph test. He refused without first speaking to his mother and his attorney, the report said.

On Feb. 21, 2017, Shrader followed up with the baby’s mother and maternal grandmother because they had told DCS that Clark told them three different reasons behind the baby’s injuries, the report said. Charges were filed Feb. 27.

Biomechanical specialist and accident reconstruction specialist Andre Loyd testified that the baby’s bump, skull fracture and brain bruise were all caused by the same incident. The baby also had a bruise on his right cheek, which his mother said was from a medical device.

The minimum amount of force to cause the fracture is between 40 to 100 pounds, Loyd testified. He said the baby’s skull fracture was equivalent to a fall from 18 to 24 inches onto carpet.

When asked if the baby could have received the injury from Clark throwing him on the bed, Loyd said not in the way Clark described.

The unknown

Reuter encouraged jurors to think about what they don’t know.

“Ryann never said throwing (the baby) on the bed caused the injury; he said it was possible. It was the only out-of-the-ordinary thing that gone on that day,” Reuter said.

Barr argued that an innocent person would have brought the child to the emergency room as soon as they noticed the bump and shared every possible reason for the injury with the doctors right away.

Reuter said the decision to not take the baby to the ER right away could be based on family culture.

“Some people run to emergency room, where other people are reluctant,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re guilty of doing something wrong or doing something bad. … Being wrong is not a crime.”

Reuter didn’t disagree that Clark had thrown the baby on the bed or hit his head on a door frame but rather if those incidents caused the infant’s injury. “Accidents happen,” he said.

Barr and Adams said that Clark’s actions went against parental instincts to protect his child. Adams asked the jurors to imagine throwing an infant. “(The baby) is not a football,” Adams said.

Adams said he will seek prison time for Clark.

Clark also has a misdemeanor theft matter pending in Brown County and has a prior felony conviction for sexual misconduct with a minor out of Monroe County, the prosecutor said.

Clark’s sentencing on the felony neglect case is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 30.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.