Burns and bruises lead to child abuse charges for solider

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By Susan Sharp

When Joseph Smith joined the Army, he promised to protect America and the people who live here.


Now he stands accused of severely abusing one of the country’s littlest citizens.

Late Tuesday evening Smith, 23, 6763 Desert Storm Avenue, Fort Campbell, Ky., was bound over to the grand jury on the sole count of aggravated child abuse. The child at the center of the case is 22-month-old Peyton Douglas, the son of Smith’s one time girlfriend, Michelle Douglas.

Testimony at the preliminary hearing indicated that Peyton Douglas had been injured at a Caryville home in mid- June. Just after the abuse is alleged to have occurred Smith, Michelle Douglas, her son and another solider, Trevor Daniels returned to the Fort Campbell Army base where Smith is stationed.

It was there at the home of friends that Peyton Douglas’ bruised and broken body was reported to authorities.

Sheriff’s Detective Jamie Hall said on June 18 she along with Detective Brandon Elkins and a Department of Children’s Services employee traveled to Montgomery County. Once there, the details of the allegations began to come together.

Smith and Douglas were at a home on base when a sergeant noticed Peyton Douglas’ extensive injuries, Hall said.

Sometime that same day the little boy was taken to Vanderbilt Hospital via an ambulance for treatment. That is where Hall first encountered the toddler.

“He was bruised from head to toe and had a broken arm,” was Hall’s reply when asked by Assistant District Attorney General Scarlet Ellis to describe Peyton Douglas’ injuries. Hall elaborated on the wounds saying the child had “bruises inside his ears,” “cigarette burns on his hands” and “both eyes were black.”

As Ellis showed Hall a stack of 13 pictures, the detective explained the multiple injuries depicted in each one. “That is a cigarette burn on the end of his nose,” Hall said of one of the first pictures. As the pictures were entered into evidence one by one, the child’s inventory of injuries grew.

By the time Hall’s narrative of the photos stopped, she had noted that the majority of Peyton Douglas’ small body was either bruised, broken or burned.

While in middle Tennessee, Hall said she and Elkins attempted to interview Smith and Michelle Douglas.

“He refused to talk to us,” Hall said of Smith who was being held in the Montgomery County Jail.  

Testimony revealed that Smith and Michelle Douglas had been charged with neglect in that county for failing to seek medical attention for the toddler’s injuries.

Smith’s attorney, Charles Herman of the public defender’s office, asked Hall why the delay in charging his client. She said charges were not filed locally until Oct. 16 in hopes that would give the other county adequate time to dispose of the neglect case.

While Hall testified, Smith sat shackled at the ankles and wrists making notes on a legal pad.

After allowing Hall to leave the stand, Ellis introduced two items she wanted included in the record. One was three pages of diagrams that outlined Peyton Douglas’ injuries. The other was a medical report that specified the child’s injuries that included numerous cigarette burns, skull fractures, rib fractures and an arm that required surgery to be realigned, Ellis told General Sessions Judge Joe Ayers.

Detective Damon Chestnut of the Clarksville Police Department Major Crimes Unit then took the stand. He had the job of interviewing Smith just after Peyton Douglas was taken by ambulance for medical care, he said.

“Initially he said he had no knowledge (of the injuries),” Chestnut said of Smith. “As the interview continued he took responsibility for some of the injuries.”

Through the course of the interview, Smith said he was guilty of the bruises on the toddler’s back and buttocks, Chestnut testified. Smith also said the injured arm was his fault as well. “He said he snatched him (Peyton) up by the arm,” the detective continued.

Ellis then asked Chestnut if Smith gave any indication why he had handled the child in that manner.

Using language that contained multiple expletives, Chestnut quoted Smith’s explanation for grabbing Peyton Douglas by the arm. Essentially, during a diaper change the child had an accident with an amount of it ending up on Douglas, testimony revealed.

This brought an objection from Herman. He said if the interview had been taped, which it had been, that should be submitted in lieu of the Chestnut’s testimony. After determining the courthouse lacked the technology to play the DVD, Ayers allowed Chestnut’s testimony to continue.

But not before Herman attempted to keep the statement out.

“Then don’t consider the statement,” was Herman’s reply when he learned the detective’s verbal account was the only way to learn during the hearing what had been said.

Ellis quickly objected to that.

Ayers instructed for the clarifications on a transcript to be expedited then allowed Chestnut to continue.

He said as Smith’s interview progressed, he told the man things “were not adding up.” Specifically when Smith gave his version of the events compared to Peyton Douglas’ injuries.

By the end of the interview Smith had admitted to “snatching the arm,” the bruising of the child’s back and buttocks and “smacking him on the side of the head,” Chestnut said.  

“But he did not take responsibility for the burn marks,” the detective said. Smith had also admitted he left Michelle Douglas a vehicle to take her son to the hospital.

“Why do you think he said that,” Ellis inquired.

Because the conversation was centered on the child’s injuries, Chestnut said was the reason.

“There was no way that child should not have been seen at a hospital in any city, county or country,” Chestnut said.

“Did he ever ask for a lawyer,” Herman said beginning his cross-examination. No was Chestnut’s reply.

“What do you think changed his story,” Herman asked further into his questioning.

“The injuries were so severe and obvious there was no way he could have not known,” Chestnut said.

Herman then wanted to know how long it took his client to change his story.

“When he couldn’t lie about it anymore,” Chestnut said.

In his closing, Herman disputed that prosecutors had shown probable cause Smith had inflicted the injuries.

“It is obvious the state has shown this child was severely injured but the question is ‘Did Mr. Smith do it’,” Herman argued. “We ask that the charges be dismissed.”

Ellis countered Herman’s contention saying Smith had confessed even saying he knew Peyton Douglas needed medical care.

“The state has certainly met its burden,” Ayers said sending the case to the grand jury.

Herman then asked for Smith’s $250,000 bail be reduced. He cited his client’s commitment to his country and the Army as supporting reasons for the request.

“There is no reason he should sit down here and rot in jail when he could be serving his country,” Herman said.

Ellis said that was the reason the bail should stand. He could be released with the Army sending him to Iraq or Afghanistan meaning he would not be available for trial, she argued.]

Ayers allowed the bond to stand. The grand jury is scheduled to convene Dec. 3.

Michelle Douglas remains in Montgomery County waiting to be brought back to Campbell County on the same charge.

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