A mother who wouldn't break off contact with the boyfriend who swung her baby around by the ankles, threatened to rape the child and then started to follow through was, herself, liable for abuse because she went back to the boyfriend, an appellate court has ruled.

The case is reminiscent of but unrelated to another one about which NJ 101.5 has recently reported — one in which authorities say a mother failed to get help for her 2-year-old daughter, after the mother's boyfriend sexually assaulted the toddler. The 2-year-old girl in that case died.

In the case decided Tuesday, the court recounted a troubling history of abuse. It said the boyfriend had "brutally and repeatedly" assaulted the mother, causing numerous injuries, from the time they began their relationship — a few months after the baby was born.

In September of 2013, the court wrote, when the baby was about 20 months old, the mother and boyfriend got into a fight, because she refused to be in a music video he was making. The boyfriend punched the mother in the stomach and face, threw a rocking chair at her, and beat her with a broomstick, the court wrote.

The boyfriend then drove the mother to the base of the George Washington Bridge, told her to get a ride from there and to never come back to his house, the court wrote.

The mother stayed at her aunt's house, then picked up the baby from a grandmother's house — before returning to the boyfriend's house, the court wrote. He wasn't home, and the mother went to sleep with the baby in his bed, the court wrote.

The boyfriend reacted in rage when he came home the next morning, the court wrote, asking her "What the f--- are you and your daughter doing in my bed?" 

The court wrote that he punched her in the chest, slammed her against the wall, and yelled "you and your motherf---ing baby need to get the f--- out of my house."

According to the court, he grabbed the baby by the ankles, swung her around, and hit her head against one or more pieces of furniture.

The boyfriend also slapped the baby and said he was "going to rape the s--- out of" her, the court wrote.

When the boyfriend began taking the baby's diaper off and digitally penetrating her, the mother jumped on the boyfriend and started hitting him — a fight that continued as he threw the mother on the floor, kicked her in the head and hit her more, the court wrote.

When an officer responded and found the mother sitting on a porch, then took her to the police station, she refused to obtain a temporary restraining order, saying she "will always love (the boyfriend) and want to be near him at least to be a friend," the court wrote.

The mother also initially refused medical treatment for both herself and her daughter, and didn't tell anyone about the assault on the baby, the court wrote. It was only after the officer heard her talking on the phone about it that he told her to hang up and explain what happened, the court wrote.

Eventually, she agreed to be taken to a hospital for treatment, the court wrote.

There, a physician saw bruises — old and new — all over the mother's body, the court wrote. The baby's injuries included bruises on both ankles and a red mark on her face. When emergency room personnel examined the baby's vagina, they didn't find signs of trauma.

Even in the ER, she accused staff there of "trying to take away" her "best friend," the boyfriend, the court wrote.

According to the court, the mother told two Division of Child Protection & Permanency (the agency formerly known as DYFS) caseworkers the abuse wasn't serious, and that while it had gone on for months, the boyfriend never targeted the baby before. She also admitted taking a Percocet without a prescription after the most recent fight, the court wrote.

A few days later, in October, DCP&P removed the baby from the mother's care — and in January successfully obtained a court ruling that the baby was an abused or neglected child, as part of DCP&P's move to take custody of the child.

In an appeal, the mother argued the abuse and neglect case wasn't based on "substantial or credible evidence" — even though DCP&P had presented evidence and testimony from five witnesses, and she hadn't presented any. She also argued there wasn't any value to putting her name on a central registry for abusers.

In most such cases, the appellate court defers to the Family Part that makes an original ruling, unless there's reason to believe the Family Part made a clear error evaluating the underlying facts. The court wrote it would hold to that standard of review.

Both DCP&P and a law guardian — who represents the child, not the agency — found the child was the victim of abuse, the court noted.

It also pointed to case law saying the harm inflicted on a child doesn't need to be inflicted by a parent personally for the child to be a victim of abuse — that if a parent puts a child in circumstances where abuse is likely, the parent can be held responsible.

It said the trial court correctly found the harm to the baby was "reasonably foreseeable" — even though the mother argued the boyfriend never harmed the baby before. She'd known about the months of abuse she'd suffered, and about the boyfriend's angry order never to return — before doing so with her child, the court noted.

"To place (the baby) in an environment with such a volatile and dangerous individual clearly placed her in imminent danger and (at) substantial risk of physical harm," the court wrote.

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