DOWNTOWN — Santa Monica detectives on Monday arrested a man for allegedly murdering his 2-month-old stepdaughter, her death the result of a type of child abuse called “shaken baby syndrome,” police said.
Donald Hillman, 33, was arrested in North Hollywood around 3:30 p.m. Monday after the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office declared the death a homicide.
Police did not provide any further details before presstime.
The baby girl was injured on or around Oct. 4 in the 1000 block of 12th Street. Police said Hillman brought his stepdaughter to a local hospital around 12:30 a.m. She was in full cardiac arrest and was not breathing. Emergency room staff was able to resuscitate her twice and placed her on ventilator.
The SMPD and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services were notified.
An initial examination by a medical specialist revealed injuries to the victim that were consistent with “shaken baby syndrome,” also known as abusive head trauma, the result of violently shaking an infant or small child, causing the fragile brain to bounce back and forth inside the skull, causing bruising, swelling, and bleeding, which can lead to permanent, severe brain damage or death.
There are various signs and symptoms of shaken baby syndrome. The consequences of less severe cases may not be brought to the attention of medical professionals and may never be diagnosed, according to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. In most severe cases, which usually result in death or severe neurological consequences, the child usually becomes immediately unconscious and suffers rapidly escalating, life-threatening central nervous system dysfunction.
In the case involving Hillman, the baby was taken off of life support per a court order. She was pronounced dead at 10:24 a.m. on Nov. 22, more than a month after she was initially injured.
On Nov. 25, an autopsy was performed and the coroner found evidence consistent with the previous medical findings and declared the death a homicide.
The investigation is still ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to contact SMPD Detective Michael Bambrick at (310) 458-8932 or Sgt. Ira Rutan at (310) 458-8959 or the Santa Monica Police Department (24 hours) (310) 458-8495.
Those wishing to remain anonymous can call the We-Tip hotline at 1(800) 78-CRIME (27463).
When a baby is shaken, the brain rotates within the skull cavity, injuring or destroying brain tissue. When shaking occurs, blood vessels feeding the brain can be torn, leading to bleeding around the brain. Blood pools within the skull, sometimes creating more pressure within the skull and possibly causing additional brain damage. Retinal bleeding is very common.
The long-term consequences can be learning and physical disabilities, blindness, cerebral palsy and seizures, among others.
Shaken baby injuries usually occur in children younger than 2 years old, but may be seen in children up to the age of 5, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Prevention is similar to the prevention of child abuse in general. New parents, baby-sitters and other caregivers can be warned about the dangers of shaking infants. A child’s crying and irritation are common triggers for the frustration that can lead to violence in the caregiver. Some experts offer caregivers strategies to cope with their own frustrations; for example, they may be reminded that they are not always responsible when babies cry.