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Florida Keys News
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Sheriff: Dad choked, beat infant
Doctor calls injuries 'severe child abuse'; man jailed

A 23-year-old man was jailed Tuesday on allegations of felony child abuse after the Monroe County Sheriff's Office said he held his own 6-week-old infant upside down by his ankles and repeatedly struck him with his hand.

Humberto Rojas

Humberto Rojas told deputies and doctors that the baby had stopped breathing after he swallowed a baby wipe. Rojas was home alone with his son when the incident occurred on the afternoon of June 28, the baby's mother told investigators.

Yet the investigation by the sheriff's office -- based on extensive medical evidence -- determined the infant was "developmentally incapable" of swallowing the wipe on his own.

"The pattern and location of the injuries are not consistent with resuscitation, but more attributed to a severe beating," Detective Manuel Cuervo wrote in his seven-page arrest warrant released Wednesday. "In [the Miami Children's Hospital doctor's] medical opinion, this case represents severe child physical abuse."

Identified in the arrest warrant only as H.F., the baby born on May 17 arrived at the hospital with bruised lungs, several broken ribs, and a broken bone in one leg and one foot, according to deputies.

Rojas was arrested on suspicion of aggravated child abuse, a first-degree felony in Florida which carries up to 30 years in prison upon conviction.

Rojas told doctors that he dug the baby wipe out of the baby's throat, patted him on the back and the infant coughed and blood came out of his nose, according to deputies.

Rojas called his girlfriend, the baby's mother, Bobbi Jo Fisher, 20, who was working at Walgreens in Big Pine Key. Fisher told her boss she had to leave. While driving home, she called Rojas to ask if he had called 911. He hadn't, she told the detective, so she hung up and made the emergency call.

When paramedics arrived, Rojas ran out to them and handed them the infant.

Rojas was arrested at 4 p.m. Monday at a home on Stock Island. On Wednesday he remained in jail. Judge Peary Fowler set bond at $500,000.

Fisher told the detective she had bathed the infant a day earlier and hadn't noticed any injuries or marks. When she left for her 3 to 11 p.m. shift, "the baby was fine," Cuervo wrote in his report.

Fisher said she had trusted Rojas to watch the baby on his own and that "despite his known anger problems, he had been acting fine lately."

On the phone Wednesday, however, Fisher said that wasn't her statement.

"I told them he didn't have anger problems," Fisher said.

Fisher said she has never seen Rojas strike anyone or act out angrily. She and Rojas separated after the baby was hospitalized and aren't together right now, she said.

Before June 28, however, the couple had been living together for two years, she said.

The baby has been in foster care since leaving the Miami hospital two weeks ago, said Fisher, who will find out later this month if he can come home.

"The baby is perfectly fine," said Fisher, who on May 17 was airlifted from Key West to a South Miami hospital, where she underwent an emergency C-section. The baby was born one month premature.

'I wasn't there'

As for what transpired on June 28, when Rojas was home alone with the infant, Fisher says she isn't taking a side -- Rojas' or the sheriff's - but is focusing on being reunited with her baby.

"I don't understand any of this," Fisher said. "I wasn't there. My belief? I don't think he would do it at all."

For now, she just misses her baby. For several weeks since he was hospitalized, Fisher could visit him but had to stay three feet away at all times.

But Fisher couldn't afford to stay in Miami where the baby remained in the hospital. She has been working full-time as a cashier at Walgreens to pay her bills -- something she says she couldn't change.

"It is hard, let me tell you," Fisher said.

On June 28, Fisher said the thought of Rojas harming their baby never crossed her mind.

"I thought it was an accident," she said, recalling the moment Rojas called her to say their baby had stopped breathing. "I didn't even get the full story until afterward. He was always upset and crying, telling me the same story. I can't take sides right now."

Terrie Fisher, the infant's maternal grandmother and a certified foster parent for 27 years, told the detective that she had never seen Rojas strike the baby, but she watched him "having some difficulties understanding the difference between needing to feed the baby and the baby wanting a pacifier," the warrant stated.

Once, Fisher said, Rojas took the baby from her when she told him the infant was hungry and did not want a pacifier. Rojas insisted on trying to place a pacifier in the infant's mouth rather than feed him, Fisher said.

"When he watched the baby, [Rojas] spent most of the time behind the closed door to his bedroom and did not want her advice," Cuervo wrote.

Dad sticks with story

Rojas said he was playing video games in his bedroom at the family's Donna Road home on Big Pine Key while the baby was in his crib at the foot of the bed.

Earlier, Rojas said he gave the infant a mixture of apple juice and water for constipation and the baby began to hiccup.

Rojas said he placed the infant on his side to burp him, and when the baby spit up, he grabbed a baby wet wipe to clean the infant's face and the bedding, Cuervo said.

The infant began crying, Rojas told the detective, so he turned to find a burping blanket from the bed and noticed the crying had stopped.

"When he turned around, he noticed the baby appeared to be having difficulty breathing and was turning blue and cold," Cuervo wrote. "[He] could not find the wipe."

That's when Rojas says he lifted the infant and put him on the bed to look into his mouth "by grabbing his cheeks and squeezing them to see inside the mouth," the arrest warrant stated.

Dr. Jefry Biehler, with the University of Miami Child Protection Team, told Cuervo that Rojas stuck to his story that the infant swallowed the baby wipe on his own, and that he only used "enough force as he would normally use to burp the baby," when he noticed the infant had turned cold and blue, the warrant states.

On Wednesday afternoon, deputies said the baby was recovering at Miami Children's Hospital, where he was airlifted in critical condition after doctors at Lower Keys Medical Center deemed the injuries suspicious.

Cuervo interviewed doctors at Miami Children's Hospital, the University of Miami's Child Protection team, the baby's doctor, and people at the state Department of Children and Families, along with the mother and others who had cared for the child.

The baby's doctor saw the child June 29, June 19 and June 5, and told Cuervo she didn't see any such injuries during those exams.

Doctors in Miami said the baby had old and new fractures on both the front and back of his torso and rib cage.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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