By Aziza Nussipov
SACRAMENTO – Videos provided by the mother of a baby allegedly abused by the mother’s boyfriend—showing a man grabbing a one-year-old child by the neck, and flinging the child into a crib—convinced a Sacramento County Superior Court last Thursday to try Chris Etheridge on child endangerment charges.
Etheridge will stand trial in July on three felony counts of child endangerment.
Etheridge’s girlfriend turned over two videos to the police, both showing Etheridge picking up his one-year-old son by the neck. The question in the hearing was whether this was proof of misdemeanor or felony conduct.
While Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Aarseth argued that the actions of Etheridge were subject to leading to harm of the child, Assistant Public Defender Courtney Zane argued the actions were being being exaggerated by the officer and Etheridge did not act in a way worthy of a felony.
“When I saw the first video,” Detective Konrad VonScheoch stated, “I saw a child in a…playpen, then I saw the bottom half of a man walk up to the crib—or the playpen—and pick the child up by the neck.”
He added the child looked like a one-year-old, the scene of the video was Etheridge’s home, and the legs of the adult had identifiers—tattoos—which were in the same place as Etheridge’s tattoos. Thus he believed he established that it was Etheridge making the maneuver in the first video.
According to the officer, the maneuver had the potential to “cause a lot of soft tissue damage around the neck which could also cause the tissue to swell and ultimately prevent the child from obtaining oxygen.” He then concluded that “bad things could happen.”
When asked about the second video, the officer said he saw a child playing with a remote control near a couch, then when “the TV goes off, then Christopher Etheridge is seen picking up the child, yelling at the child, grabbing the child by the neck, lifting the child up off the ground, and I can see the feet dangling.”
He continued, saying that “…at some point the child begins to scream and cry, and then at some point it doesn’t cry or scream. And then Christopher Etheridge then grabs the child again, by the neck, and swings him into a playpen and leaves him there.”
Then, “he is seen looking at the camera…picking up the camera and turning it off.”
The officer also commented on Etheridge’s girlfriend and how she was “suspicious of Etheridge’s treatment of the baby” and that she confronted him after she caught each incident on video. According to her, when she confronted him, “he excused it on his drinking [and] promised to go to anger management and stop drinking.”
Based on his training and experience, Officer VonSchoech found that the conduct in the videos—especially the second video—“absolutely” could have brought significant harm to the child and that he was “afraid for the child’s safety.”
While conducting the cross-examination of the officer, PD Zane tried to make it clear that there was little proof that the maneuvers could have led to great harm and that Etheridge was remorseful and was trying to improve his parenting skills.
Zane also emphasized that Etheridge’s girlfriend did not want to press charges, that she and the baby were “fine,” and when he had hit her on July 4 in 2020, “it was the first time he had ever hit her.
“You testified that it could have been harmful to the child but to your knowledge, there wasn’t any harm done to the child,” PD Zane stated, “[Etheridge] admitted he picked up the baby by the head and the neck but he did not choke him.”
While Zane found “the action…is not enough to inflict injury,” DDA Aarseth held that “it is enough to say picking up a child by the neck, it is significant injury ]because] if a child stops breathing, that does lead to death…Picking up a child by the head and neck and moving it to a different location is enough to cause significant injury.”
Zane also brought to attention Etheridge’s remorse, his efforts to improve as a father, and even the fact that he “gave one of his kidneys to his brother.”
But, at the same time, DDA Aarseth noted that his girlfriend’s brother mentioned Etheridge was abusive and that the girlfriend was “terrified by the defendant.” The defendant also allegedly “yells at the baby all the time” and, at one point, “tried to run [his girlfriend] over with his car.”
The judge found that the elements of “unjustifiable physical pain” and “mental suffering” were met. He held that the incident was worthy of being tried as a felony, “in totality of the rest of the events.”
A jury trial is scheduled for July 26.
Aziza Nussipov is a junior at UC Davis majoring in Political Science. She is also a DJ for a free-form radio station, KDVS 90.3FM, and a part of the ASUCD Gender and Sexuality Commission.
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