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Woman faces felony charges in child abuse case

WORTHINGTON -- Charges were filed Thursday in Nobles County District Court against a woman who is accused of breaking her child's clavicle and causing internal damage.

Deborah Denise Brown, 24, is charged with third-degree assault and malicious punishment of a child, both felonies that each carry a maximum penalty of five years incarceration and/or a $10,000 fine.

The complaint states a 3-year-old male was brought to the emergency room Jan. 30 at approximately 6:30 p.m., where it was discovered the clavicles (collarbones) on each side were broken. The ER doctor said she had never, in her 10 years as a doctor, seen a case where both clavicles were fractured, and was suspicious as to the cause of the boy's injuries.

The boy was brought to ER by his father, who had not seen the injury occur. The child's mother had told him the injury happened when he fell off a bed into a dresser.

The doctor allegedly told authorities she did not believe the mother's version of events was likely to have caused the injuries. After further exam, it was discovered the child had a traumatized liver. In a Sioux Falls, S.D., hospital, a doctor determined there was fluid around the adrenal gland, which likely represented hemorrhage, either secondary to trauma of the gland or to the adjacent liver surface. The liver was at the very least bruised, the doctor said, due to trauma.

Before leaving for Sioux Falls, the father had asked the child, in front of an officer, who had hurt him, and the child responded it was his mother, using her first name. Brown, the father allegedly told the officer, had been rough on the children while disciplining them in the past, especially while under stress. He said it didn't happen all the time, but had happened before.

When questioned, Brown said the child had been on the bed playing with a toy while his younger sister jumped on the bed. The girl bumped her brother, Brown said, and he fell forward onto the night stand.

Brown told an officer they had just moved to Worthington, and that she was young, but trying to care for the children the way she was supposed to. She allegedly said she had spanked the children in the past, and admitted to using a belt strap on them.

Besides the 3-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl, the couple also has a 1-month-old infant.

All three children were examined at Child's Voice in Sioux Falls. The examiner's assessment of the injured child was that the child had suffered physical abuse, with the mechanism of injury not consistent with the history provided by the patient's mother.

While in the hospital in Sioux Falls, the child allegedly told staff his shoulder hurt. When asked who hurt him, he again indicated his mother, calling her by her first name. When questioned as to how she had hurt him, he allegedly mimed a stomping action with his foot.

Brown is scheduled for an initial court appearance Feb. 17 at Prairie Justice Center, Worthington.