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Two Ardmore residents facing charges for child abuse, officials urge community to report abuse

Sierra Rains
srains@ardmoreite.com
Officials urge community to report abuse during COVID

On February 11, 2020 an individual who works in close contact with children contacted the Ardmore Police Department to alert authorities to a possible case of child abuse.

APD Capt. Claude Henry said the reporting party had noticed some unusual injuries on the children, ages 5 and 11. During the investigation, police spoke with the father of the children, 37-year-old Luis Reyes Escutia of Ardmore.

“He admitted to disciplining his children, which caused the injuries to the children,” Henry said. “However, some of his stories were not consistent with the injuries that the children had.”

According to Carter County court documents, Escutia is believed to have struck both children with a belt multiple times, causing bruises to different locations on the lower halves of their bodies.

Once the investigation was completed, recommendations were submitted to the district attorney’s office and two felony counts of child abuse were filed against Escutia on May 18.

As with this case, adults who normally have contact with children such as teachers, school staff, church members and other community members are often the eyes and ears for law enforcement when it comes to reporting child abuse.

However, many of those individuals have lost the daily contact they once had with children during the pandemic, said Lara Welch, a forensic interviewer with Sara’s Project.

Sara’s Project offers child advocacy services in Ardmore and coordinates with local law enforcement, the district attorney, Department of Human Services, Child Advocacy Center staff and medical and mental health professionals to ensure the proper investigation of child abuse.

Reports of child abuse and neglect in Oklahoma have declined dramatically. According to the Ardmore Police Department, child abuse reporting in the area has dropped nearly 45% to 50% since the state enacted safer at home policies in early March.

“Reports of child abuse are currently down during this time,” Welch said. “That is not to say however, that child abuse has been cured.”

A second individual from Ardmore, 18-year-old Christopher Lee Hill, is also facing May 18 charges for a count of child abuse stemming from a February investigation.

On February 13, Henry said APD officers received a call from an employee at the OU Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City regarding an infant who had head injuries. According to Carter County court documents, the 5-week-old child suffered a fractured skull.

With assistance from the Department of Human Services, Henry said officers interviewed the parents, who allegedly gave police stories that were not consistent with the injuries the child had sustained.

“The father of the child, Christopher Hill, gave several different stories on how the child obtained the head injuries and through the interviewing process it was determined that Christopher Hill caused these injuries to the infant and charges were submitted for him on child abuse,” Henry said.

Investigators were reportedly able to determine that the mother was not in the presence of the child at the time when the injuries occurred and Henry said she was ruled out as a suspect in the case.

Welch said there is some concern that children may be in more danger of abuse during this current period of crisis and economic instability.

“With the uncertainty and stress that this pandemic has brought, it has created a pressure cooker for many,” Welch said. “Fear and anxiety can create overwhelmingly strong emotions and for far too many children, they receive the brunt of those emotions from adults.”

Increased burdens such as financial pressure can lead to anger and frustration in adults, Welch said adding that financial burdens can also cause some to go hungry and the stress of the situation has caused substance abuse to rise.

All of these factors can sometimes lead to increased physical or sexual abuse. “While many of us can take time to work on home projects or just enjoy a bit of down time; many are left struggling,” Welch said.

Children in the community need all adults to report child abuse, especially during the COVID-19 crisis when they are not going to school, activities, places of worship or other public places. Anything that appears unusual or concerning should be reported.

“If you see a child with injuries and the explanation doesn’t match or if you wouldn’t think it would be consistent with normal play, if you see a child that looks malnourished, if you may be face timing with a child and you see holes all in the walls of their home or if their home doesn’t look safe, if a child has felt safe enough to disclose abuse to you, or if there is a child that you are just concerned about; please report it,” Welch said.

Individuals can contact the Oklahoma Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-522-3511 or their local law enforcement agency to make a report. The Ardmore Police Department can be reached at (580) 223-1212.

“Your call can make a world of a difference for a child,” Welch said. “They need your voice.”

The defendants in both child abuse cases have court dates set for next month. Escutia’s initial appearance is set for June 9 and Hill’s initial appearance is set for June 17.

Child abuse is punishable by life imprisonment in the Department of Corrections, a fine of up to $5,000, or both a fine and imprisonment.