September 17, 2014

Medina
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Attorneys for father: Chiropractor broke 3½-month-old baby’s leg

Defense attorneys for an accused infant abuser argue the chiropractors who cared for the baby are the ones who broke the baby’s leg and are lying about it.

“The alternative is saying, ‘We malpracticed,’ ” defense attorney Noah Munyer told a Medina County jury during opening arguments Tuesday. “And, of course, they’re not going to say that.”

Christian VanMeter

Christian VanMeter

Munyer’s client, 20-year-old Christian VanMeter, of Elyria, is charged with felonious assault and child endangering. If the jury finds him guilty, he could be sentenced to up to eight years in prison.

VanMeter was charged after his 3½-month-old son was found to have a “spiral fracture” of his right femur, a type of bone break doctors said is indicative of abuse.

“We’re not disputing the injuries,” Munyer told the jury. “The reason Mr. VanMeter sits here today is he was involved in the timeline of events. He’s the dad, so he’s easy to point at.”

County Prosecutor Scott Salisbury said during opening arguments that someone broke the boy’s bone — and it wasn’t chiropractors.

“Kids who can’t walk and can’t even crawl can’t break their own legs,” Salisbury said. “Somebody did this to this child.”

Salisbury said the evidence shows VanMeter abused the boy.

The boy’s mother, 18-year-old Rebecca Haun, testified that VanMeter frequently was frustrated with their son. But on June 28, 2013, a Friday, she said she and her sister saw him the most frustrated she ever saw him with the boy.

“I walked into the room and he handed me my son and said, ‘He won’t stop crying,’ ” Haun said, adding that VanMeter had been alone in the room with the boy.

Following that incident, Haun said her son wouldn’t stop crying and seemed pained by his leg.

“He was crying like I physically hurt him,” Haun said, “but I was only holding him.”

“Could you usually calm him down?” Salisbury asked Haun.

“Yes,” she said. “He was very easy to calm down.”

She said she reached out to her family chiropractor, Dr. Matthew Hamilton, and set up an appointment for the next day. The boy had a kink in his neck and misaligned hip from birth and development, so he had been to the chiropractor before.

“(In earlier visits,) did you ever see Dr. Hamilton touch or adjust the child’s femur?” Salisbury asked.

“No, and I was there every time,” Haun said.

Hamilton was out of the office that Saturday, so his colleague handled the appointment.

Haun said she was unhappy with the care provided by Hamilton’s colleague, Dr. Stephen Lash, because she felt he seemed inexperienced or uncomfortable with handling infants.

“He never took my son out of his car seat and he didn’t really do anything,” Haun said.

She said her son’s leg was swollen prior to the appointment with Lash, but began to swell more afterward. Haun said she returned to the chiropractor that Monday, two days later, to see Hamilton about the swelling.

Hamilton, who testified Tuesday, said the swelling indicated something more serious was wrong and referred her to an emergency room or pediatrician. He said the swelling couldn’t have been caused from their chiropractic medicine because he and Lash were very gentle with infants.

“I tell parents all the time that if you take a ripe tomato and you put your finger on it, if your finger goes through the tomato’s skin, you’re putting more pressure than I do on infants,” Hamilton said.

Haun said she took the child to an emergency room and had X-rays taken. Doctors said the boy had a fractured leg and two hematoma “brain bleeds.”

The boy was taken from her custody and remained with county Job and Family Services until February. Meanwhile, after an investigation by police, she and VanMeter broke up and he was arrested.

The prosecutor said Haun’s testimony clearly showed VanMeter was the culprit — but his attorneys said Haun’s testimony contradicted earlier interviews with sheriff’s deputies.

Jeremy Samuels, VanMeter’s second attorney, played recordings of Haun’s interviews, which showed Haun told deputies her son was crying no more than usual after the incident with VanMeter on June 28, 2013.

She also told deputies that Lash — the chiropractor she testified did nothing for her child — removed the boy from the car seat and handled the child, including moving the boy’s legs and knees. Samuels asked why her testimony would differ.

“That was 11 months ago,” Haun said. “I don’t remember everything that’s happened the past 11 months.”

The prosecutor sidestepped the contradictions and asked Haun what she thinks happened.

“Do you think Dr. Lash broke your son’s leg?” Salisbury asked her.

“No, I do not,” she said.

“Do you think it was already broken when Dr. Lash saw him?”

“Yes, I do.”

VanMeter’s trial continues today at 9 a.m. in Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier’s court.

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.