Video: Parents in infant death case appear in Whatcom Superior Court
A Bellingham couple faces manslaughter charges after their 3-month-old baby died from a “prolonged period of parental inattention,” according to police.
Prosecutors allege Cody James Shields, 23, stayed up all night playing video games in his living room at 1800 Alabama St. in the hours before his son, Lucian, died in his crib on Dec. 8, 2015.
Shields later told police he fed Lucian three times throughout the night and that the boy drank all three 6-ounce bottles of formula. Shields reported he last fed the baby at 7 a.m. before falling asleep. As usual, he told officers, he propped the formula up on a blanket and left it for him to drink.
His girlfriend, Brittany Shane Daniels, 22, told police she fed Lucian 4 ounces of formula at 6 a.m. Later on she corrected herself to say it had been a few hours earlier in the morning, according to a statement read in court by Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Eric Richey.
Daniels claimed she fed him the night before, too. She left for work around 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 8.
Shields — unaware if Daniels had fed Lucian — woke up around 2 p.m. that Tuesday afternoon but didn’t go check on the child for another three hours, Richey said.
Daniels was at work on that Tuesday when Shields messaged her via Facebook at 5 p.m. He told her the baby was dead in his crib. She called 911 for an ambulance as she rushed home. Police responded with paramedics.
“There was nothing obvious that suggested foul play,” Richey said.
Police noticed the baby looked thin and asked Shields if there were any concerns about his weight.
“No, he’s been putting on weight since he was born,” Shields told officers. “To me, he’s been getting bigger.”
An investigation, however, suggested that “the circumstances leading to Lucian's death began far before the day that he died,” Bellingham Police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht wrote in a media release. “Evidence indicates that he had been fed little to nothing in the days leading up to his demise.”
An autopsy revealed Lucian Mykael Shields had almost no fat on his body. The baby’s stomach and small intestine were empty, Richey said. The county medical examiner, Gary Goldfogel, found the child died from malnutrition, dehydration and “neglect of ordinary care of infant.”
The death was ruled a homicide.
Over the months that followed, Bellingham detectives combed through medical records in search of a reason, other than neglect, that could explain the death, Vander Yacht said.
They found Lucian weighed in at 8 pounds and 6 ounces on the day of his birth, Aug. 25, 2015.
A check-in two weeks later at a Sea Mar clinic showed his weight had dropped 8 ounces. Staff recommended a higher-calorie formula, and to check in again in a week. The parents did not return. Instead they switched to a new clinic, and police have suspicions about why: Either they didn’t want to hear that or they wanted to avoid further scrutiny, Vander Yacht said.
The boy was last seen by a doctor on Oct. 19, according to the prosecutor. Charts noted he was in a low growth percentile for height, head circumference and other areas, but no alarming weight concerns.
Lucian died at the age of 3 months and 13 days. His weight was 9 pounds and 7 ounces at death. He had gained about 17 ounces since birth.
Daniels told police Lucian had bowel movements every three days or so, on average, but sometimes went as long as a week without pooping — “because when they are short of money they have to buy milk-based formula that Lucian didn’t like,” instead of the soy-based formula he tolerated better, Richey said.
Both parents were aware of the Women, Infants and Children program that provides baby formula to low-income families. Lucian was not in the program. Daniels’ older son, who has another father, was in the program. That toddler boy has been living with his father since December.
Detectives got a warrant for Facebook messages between Shields and Daniels. Some texts complained about the child’s incessant crying, Richey said.
The deputy prosecutor read a few messages aloud:
“Do you remember the last time Lucian was fed?” Daniels wrote to Shields on Nov. 12. She got no response. “No? OK, thanks.”
She sent him another text on Dec. 1, about the baby: “Can you make him another bottle, please? He’s hard to sleep through.”
“Yeah, sorry, I couldn’t hear him,” Shields replied.
“It hasn’t been very long. I forgot you couldn’t hear him,” Daniels wrote back.
Shields often wore headphones while playing video games and kept the baby’s bedroom door closed, Richey said. He shared that room with Lucian, but Shields told police he slept in the living room about 80 percent of the time.
Sometimes, he told police, he couldn’t hear the baby crying.
Both parents were booked into Whatcom County Jail around 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, to face one count of manslaughter in the second degree — the state law against acts of “criminal negligence” that lead to a death.
Shields has no felony record in Washington state as an adult. As a teen he had a few brushes with the law for death threats, misdemeanor assault and obstructing police. His juvenile history has been wiped from his record, however.
Daniels’ criminal record is blank.
Child Protective Services had not been investigating the family until Lucian’s death in December, said Norah West, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Health Services.
At the defendants’ first court appearance, the deputy public defender, Alan Chalfie, emphasized that the charges alleged criminal neglect, not intent. Chalfie whispered back and forth with Shields before addressing the court.
“Although he has some dispute about the facts that are part of the probable cause statement, he doesn’t want to raise that challenge now,” Chalfie said.
Superior Court Commissioner Alfred Heydrich set bail at $10,000 each for both Shields and Daniels.
“Again, this is a homicide, it is a serious matter,” Heydrich said. “But it is not an intent offense.”
Shields and Daniels grew up in Whatcom County. Both attended Nooksack Valley High School.