Over two and a half years after his month-old daughter died from blunt-force injuries to her head and chest, a man pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse in Hamilton County Criminal Court on Friday, according to a news release from the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office.
Ivan Dominique Dunton waived his right to a trial by jury and, as part of a plea agreement, was sentenced to 25 years in the state prison without parole eligibility.
When Chattanooga police arrived at a residence in the 2100 block of Raulston Streeton on March 4, 2019, they found the child lying face-up on the carpet with Dunton over her frantically saying, "She's not breathing." The baby girl was rushed to a hospital and soon pronounced dead.
Dunton initially told police his daughter fell down a flight of 13 steel and concrete stairs at his apartment in the 2200 block of East 27th Street while partially strapped into her car seat. He said he believed his leg must have hit the car seat and knocked it down the steps before attempting to find the victim's mother, who left the house after an argument with Dunton that morning.
He changed his story when police confronted him with evidence.
Dunton admitted to being "frustrated" with his girlfriend and the 4-week-old's nonstop crying. Police say that's when he grabbed the baby and "shook her violently until she stopped crying," court records show. He then put the infant in a car seat and placed her on some stairs when his 11-month-old son started screaming. He turned around to run back upstairs to tend to his son, but in the process he kicked the car seat over, causing the seat with his daughter to "tumble down the stairs."
The police department's investigation revealed that Dunton drove around with the girl for 30 minutes to an hour, even stopping at the child's pediatrician looking for the child's mother. Dunton never mentioned to the child's pediatrician that the child was in the car injured, called 911 or brought the child to the emergency room, the release states.
An autopsy conducted by the Hamilton County medical examiner's office found signs of both recent and healing blunt-force injuries on the girl's body, suggesting the day she died wasn't the first time she was abused. Among the injuries found were bruises on her face and scalp, skull fractures, subdural hematomas, spinal cord damage, damage to the eyes, blunt force trauma to the chest, lungs and ribs and bruises on the lumbar area. There was also evidence of malnourishment, past trauma to the child's ribs and a past subdural hematoma.
The medical examiner determined the cause of death as homicide due to inflicted trauma and indicated that the injuries were inconsistent with a fall down the steps. The findings were supported by Dr. Mary Palmer, a board certified expert in child abuse trauma for East Tennessee Children's Hospital who was hired by the state as an expert and was prepared to testify in Dunton's trial that was scheduled for December 7.
- Compiled by Kim Sebring