by Grace Jung and Lauren Zaren
Two Witnesses Heard in Child Abuse Case
By Grace Jung
Imagine a father and child. Both are in the living room watching television when the father suddenly forms a tight grip around the child’s neck while covering the mouth and nose area. This is just a glimpse of the abuse that the alleged 6-year-old victim explained had occurred, as shown during an interview presented by the prosecution for the trial of defendant Brian A. Miles. He is charged with two counts: child abuse and corporal injury on a child.
The People called Child Interview Specialist, Patrianit Paragas, who conducted the interview with the alleged victim at the Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center (MDIC) located in Yolo County. She has conducted over 500 forensic child interviews over the course of her career. A child interview specialist is one who is trained to interview children in a “forensically sound manner.”
Paragas admitted that the younger the child is, the higher the possibility there is for suggestibility, making the interviewer more mindful of the questions they ask. She stated that each interview is recorded, conducted in a child-friendly room, with papers, makers, and a small table that helps create an environment for a forensically sound conversation.
Additionally, Paragas mentioned that in the specific room where the interview with the victim took place, there was a mural on the wall with hills, a butterfly, and a one-way window where the team members could watch the interaction.
She said that it is not a “sterile room” like a police station so that children can feel comfortable in the space, and it reduces the amount of trauma to investigate most accurately whether there was indeed a crime.
In order to shed light on the interview process, Paragas explained the approach with children and the stages that interviewers go through to ensure the children have a safe space to talk in.
She mentioned that the first step is to get the child comfortable and ask about their hobbies, family, and ultimately get to know the child in order to determine their language and “use of prepositions” in assessing their language skills.
The second step is “narrative practice” where the goal is to ask the child to say everything they did that day and assess their ability to narrate with as much detail as possible. She also stated how she observes the child’s pace through their demeanor, as there are shy and talkative children.
Paragas added that it is important to clearly communicate to the child that they should not guess answers and it is okay to say, “I don’t know.” Moreover, the child should say “I don’t understand” if they need clarification on a question. Another interesting aspect is the “ignorant interviewer,” which Paragas said was a way for the kids to identify her mistakes and a way for them to correct her when this happens.
The final step is the closure which helps the conversation return to a mutual topic and allows the children to go back to a comfortable state, preparing them to exit the room.
Paragas interviewed the alleged 6-year-old victim for approximately a little over an hour on Jan. 11, 2018.
The prosecution projected a video recording of the interview that took place which included three cameras with different angles: one facing the interviewer, another facing the interviewee, and the last one angled to show the conversation from an overhead perspective.
In the interview recording, the victim expressed her concern about her “daddy” going to jail as she mentioned, “I don’t want him to go to jail.” She stated that “there were some broken blood vessels on my face” as she described how her dad had held her face and neck area which caused her to go to the hospital with her mom. The victim said there were still little bumps left on her face from the broken blood vessels.
In order to understand the incident more clearly, Paragas asked the victim to say everything she could about what happened at “daddy’s house.”
The recording continued with the victim telling Paragas how she was lying down before the incident and demonstrated the position she and her dad were in with two dolls.
The victim stated they were at “daddy’s house at West Sacramento” in the living room ground beside the couch. She said she was hugging him while he lay there watching television, when he suddenly put his legs around her neck, prompting her to scream for help.
The only verbal response the victim stated she received from her dad was “screaming is not necessary.”
She expressed how she was trying to yell help and go to the bathroom but was inhibited from going because her dad was holding her nose and mouth so she could not breathe.
The victim further demonstrated how she struggled to get out of his tight and strong grip and mentioned, “I calmed down, then used all my might to get out.”
When Mr. Miles heard the car of the victim’s mom to pick her up outside, he let her go.
The victim said in the interview recording that her stepmom and sister were also present in the house when the incident happened. She stated that, even though her sister saw everything that happened to her with the legs, she didn’t do anything and “just did her homework.”
Furthermore, the victim mentioned that she talked with a police officer and two different counselors about the abuse but did not reveal any information to her stepmom about what happened in the living room after the incident.
To get a sense of the nature of the incident, Paragas asked the victim whether she and her dad were “playing” before or after it happened. The victim responded that they were not playing at any point of their interaction.
The interview recording ended with a remark from the victim that her dad did not explain to her why he choked her and held her by the mouth and nose in the living room that day.
In the cross-examination by the defense, Paragas alluded to how police officers are generally not trained like specialists to converse with children in a “child developmental/age appropriate way.”
The second witness, a registered nurse working in the emergency department at Kaiser Sacramento, was called to testify as to what happened on Dec. 4, 2017.
She stated that she talked with a doctor and the patient’s mother and filed a report based on a complaint after talking with a police and social worker.
The witness testified that she and a resident doctor spoke with the victim who had said “she could not breathe” as her father had choked her by putting his hand over her nose and mouth and around the neck.
The trial for Brian Miles will resume tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the trial is currently scheduled to last up to next Thursday.
Daughter Testifies as Miles Faces Felony Child Abuse Charges
By Lauren Zaren
Brian A. Miles is undergoing a jury trial for one count of child abuse and a second count of inflicting corporal injury upon a child. Thursday afternoon, his 10-year-old daughter took to the witness stand, accompanied by a woman and emotional support dog to relieve some stress from the intimidating situation.
She described an evening when her 7-year-old sister was choked by her father, the defendant. She felt that if she helped her sister she would be punished, and was told to brush her teeth and get ready for bed. When asked, the witness claimed this “probably” occurred two years ago, but from her other statements it seemed that she did not have a solid understanding of long-scale time spans.
She was questioned by the prosecution but was unable to remember any incidents after she and her sister were playing with Barbies, while watching the movie “The Exterminator,” or dealing with water on the stove. The witness was often confused, asking for most questions to be repeated, pausing for several seconds to formulate her answers, and answering half of the questions with “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.”
The young witness explained that her mother yells when she is in trouble, while her father puts her in time out, standing in a corner.
She continued to describe a time when she and her sister were jumping on the floor and Miles told them to stop. When they didn’t listen, he got mad, and put her face two or three inches away from a nearby standing fan. She explained that it did not hurt but she was scared her hair would get caught in the blades. After this, she claimed they watched TV.
Another time when she disobeyed her father’s request that she stop jumping, she was held down on the ground for about one minute. She believes that she told her mother and grandmother “three or five times” about this incident and another time when he shoved her.
Miles’ daughter also described a time when her dad squeezed and choked her. When asked to clarify the difference, she indicated that her father once placed her between his legs and used them to squeeze her stomach. She crawled away but was ordered to come back to him. She listened, explaining that she was afraid he would choke her “by grabbing on my neck,” which he had done before.
Despite these events, she claimed that it was sometimes fun to stay with her dad and a woman, presumably his girlfriend. She expressed that she wants to go visit again because she has not seen them for a long time. She stated matter-of-factly that she enjoys visits as long as she is not squeezed or choked by her father.
Stephanie Clifton, a private marriage and family therapist in Davis, recounted two sessions with the children’s parents, as well as six sessions with their youngest daughter. When she spoke with Miles, he admitted to using corporal punishment in the past, including flicking his daughters. Clifton is a mandated reporter, but learned that this behavior had already been reported by another party.
Miles’ older daughter testified that her sister would get what she called “tomato freckles,” from eating tomatoes and then spending time in the sun. She seemed to believe the small red dots were some type of allergic reaction.
A later expert witness, Dr. Matthew Maynard, explained that these were actually petechiae, small patches of redness that result from ruptured capillaries, or small blood vessels. He is currently a second year resident physician for UC Davis Health, but previously examined Miles’ 7-year-old daughter when she visited an emergency room in South Sacramento on the evening of December 4, 2017.
Her mother brought her in to be examined and evaluated for injuries after a “potential assault from her father.” She was particularly concerned about any head or neck injuries her daughter might have.
Dr. Maynard conducted a thorough physical exam due to suspected child abuse, but found no evidence of physical harm besides petechiae. He explained that these patches are different from freckles, as they appear quickly and then go away. They can be caused by direct trauma, but he could not definitively rule out bug bites or an allergic reaction as their source.
The trial will resume with the continuation of Dr. Maynard’s testimony at 9am on Friday in Department 7.